On Watch for the Bagaduce River

Written by Ciona Ulbrich, Bailey Bowden, and Hans Carlson

For much of his life, Bailey Bowden has waded in, fished, hunted, dug clams, or boated on the Bagaduce River that runs through his hometown of Penobscot. Over that time, he has seen a lot of change: in fish and wildlife populations, in how streams flow, in water quality, in shoreland development. These are things he worries about a lot, and he has been actively involved as a volunteer for years to try and address the challenges associated with change.

In 2018, Bailey’s volunteer role in watching over the river was given more shape and added capacity when he became the Bagaduce River Monitor, a position funded by Blue Hill Heritage Trust and Maine Coast Heritage Trust. These two conservation organizations share the cost of a stipend that allows Bailey to work a bit less at paid jobs and put that time into doing more volunteer advocacy for and on the river.

BWB“The Bagaduce River is a defining feature of this peninsula and an ecologically and culturally significant place on the coast of Maine,” reflects Hans Carlson, Executive Director of BHHT. “The collaboration between our two organizations and a passionate and knowledgeable local expert has been a force multiplier for conservation. I hope that this can serve as a model for other partnerships.”

The River Monitor moniker gives Bailey more of a platform to be a voice for the river: writing letters, being in the press, or attending meetings. “Bailey has a strong set of skills that range from excellent correspondence to public speaking, and boating and fishing, to scientific understanding and awareness. He also is a fast learner, unafraid to tackle new lessons. All of that made him such a great fit for the idea of a river monitor,” notes Ciona Ulbrich, Senior Project Manager at MCHT.

Mike Thalhauser, Co-Management Specialist at Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, heads out on the water with Bailey, with all manner of nets and sampling equipment to collect data on just about everything you can think of that has to do with alewife. “Bailey and the towns on the Bagaduce River are absolutely committed to their role in local fisheries management and stewardship and have served as a model example of how to do it right.”

Not only does Bailey collect real data, he also serves as a voice on issues potentially impacting the river. His well-worn truck can be spotted driving up to Washington County for fisheries partnership meetings, driving south for harvesting meetings or heading over to Augusta to testify before the legislature on bills. “People might not always like to hear the words that come out of Bailey’s mouth, but they can’t deny that his knowledge, words and the capacity that he brings, have had great positive effects on alewife restoration and policy in the state of Maine and beyond. I have seen that first hand,” Thalhauser adds.

“The role that Bailey fills so well requires him to be ‘multilingual.’  He is an accomplished translator and interpreter of science and policy as well as local knowledge, heritage, and on-the-ground observations,” notes Dwayne Shaw, Executive Director of Downeast Salmon Federation. “Collection of information and interpretation of that information between and across all sectors is an immense undertaking. Bailey is showing us how this can be done. He does so while never losing sight of the collective interest in making positive change and bringing people together to take action.”

Actively monitoring and caring for the ecological health of the river has also made Bailey care a lot about its future. Each year, Bailey is outside with kids talking about the importance of pollinators, birds and fish migrations, or getting them into streams to help alewife move upstream, just the way he and his friends got wet as kids. This spring, nearly every school in the peninsula has a field trip or classroom visit lined up with Bailey and helpers. “One day it dawned on me that a huge pitfall of gentrification is that many of today’s youth are no longer connected to our local natural resources and that the best way to introduce these kids to our environment is through educational field trips. This effort is more than simply conserving real estate, preserving resources, or restoring habitats, this is an effort to introduce our youth to the values that promote the good stewardship that has defined and will sustain Maine’s heritage,” he says.

image001During the 2023 alewife migration, Bailey led eight field trips to Pierce’s Pond in Penobscot, hosting 145 participants including 62 elementary school students, 21 college students, and 62 adults. Some of the adult participants came from Georgia, Florida, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii. As a huge supporter of collaborative efforts, Bailey enlisted the help of Mike Thalhauser from the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, Ciona Ulbrich from Maine Coast Heritage Trust, and Sarah O’Malley from Maine Maritime Academy to help with the educational field trips for elementary school students. Activities for these events included a discussion about alewife biology and life history, moving fish over an obstruction, catching macro-invertebrates from the pond, and making a fish-print T-shirt using a Japanese art form known as gyotaku.

The idea of enabling more community science and community engagement is a natural one to both Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Blue Hill Heritage Trust. The impacts of Bailey’s work are tangible and multi-faceted, helping to take better care of this place than our organizations could alone. Owning a few properties will not in itself keep a natural system intact and functioning over time, but helping people learn to notice it, care about it and care for it, sure can help. BHHT and MCHT are proud to continue this pilot support of the Bagaduce River Monitor, and hope that we can continue it well into the future.

Learn more about the collaborative effort to conserve and restore the Bagaduce Watershed through the beautiful film “A Watershed Moment.”