The Orange River Watershed Initiative

Maine Coast Heritage Trust is working in partnership with a group of organizations committed to restoring the health of coastal rivers and watersheds in eastern Maine.

Our flagship project is the Orange River and the land, lakes, and streams surrounding it, which represent one of the most significant conservation and restoration opportunities on the coast of Maine.

Timely conservation of two key parcels of land in Downeast Maine will protect important wildlife habitat, restore once-thriving recreational and commercial fisheries, and reconnect people to the land, creating a lasting positive impact on both the economic and ecological well-being of the region.

In March of 2016, Maine Coast Heritage Trust made a huge step in the Orange River Watershed Initiative through conservation of 2,352 acres of land on Rocky Lake, for which we’re still raising stewardship funds. At Whiting Corner, we continue to work collaboratively with local landowners, the town, and multiple organizations to restore fish passage at the mill pond dam.

Key Components of the Initiative

Fish Passage

Ensuring fish passage and protecting the health of the freshwater wetlands and waterways in the Orange River watershed promises to rejuvenate once-abundant river herring populations (alewife and blueback) and other ocean-run fish species. Restoration of the ecological balance of the Orange River watershed will have a far-reaching impact on Cobscook Bay, one of the most biodiverse marine ecosystems in the northeast Atlantic. This is a crucial first step to restore groundfish to eastern Maine and diversify fisheries in support of sustainable local economies.

Recreation and Public Access

Maine’s storied Route 1 runs through the heart of this region, yet the river and lakes retain the pristine, wilderness feel of a more remote area. Linking the extensive network of conserved lands and waterways in the region will increase the community’s public access to fishing, hiking, paddling, hunting, and camping, while providing economic opportunity for tourism-based businesses and services.

Wildlife Habitat

In response to development pressure in Maine’s coastal communities, MCHT is committed to creating and protecting permanent wildlife corridors. These large contiguous tracts of land allow wildlife to thrive and move unimpeded through a variety of habitats. Conservation in the Orange River watershed will provide a critical link between Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge (8,735 acres) and the Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land (12,234 acres). Successful conservation will also protect important habitat for migratory shore birds, waterfowl, and wading birds.

Economic Benefit

MCHT seeks to contribute to the strength, resilience, and vitality of coastal Washington County communities by conserving the land and water resources necessary to support sustainable economic opportunity. Public preserves guarantee community access and provide infrastructure to support ecotourism. Restoring a healthy fish migration will revitalize a seasonal source of income for local fishermen and provide high-quality, low-cost bait to local lobstermen. The herring run will also make the area a destination for tourists and school groups interested in learning about this unique part of Maine’s ecology and heritage.