The first few months of 2003 were a low point for Friends of Tunk with almost no money in the bank and little hope that things would get better. Our yearly mailing was sent to only 26 households to save money. The January third weekend event was fun with 10 people and 7 dogs attending. But in February I snow shoed alone and only Jeff showed up for the March watershed workshop. He donated $50 to keep FoT going for another month and said we could invite people back to his house after the spring paddle for council. With Gerry's help, I got a grant proposal off to the Downeast Maine Salmon Recovery Fund. I also wrote some comments for the Rt. 182 corridor management plan and a timeline for a model FoT year. We did a good job of monitoring the pH of Tunk stream during the spring melt. Between Mark, Denny, and myself we did not miss any rain on snow events. The pH readings were all in the 5’s. Then toward the end of March I went to the first management plan meeting for the Maine Public Reserved Lands and got us on the advisory committee. For the first time I saw maps showing the boundaries of the Eco-reserves that surround much of the headwaters of Tunk stream. We have been waiting 9 years for this plan to be written and from that point on FoT had a reason to exist.
On April 11th I got an email from the Downeast Maine Salmon Recovery Fund saying our grant proposal for $15000 had been approved! From that point on things happened very fast. We had a great spring paddle, as always, and a good council afterwards. Next, I was contacted by one of the Steuben selectman to see if FoT could help restore the alewive run by clearing fish passage up Tunk stream. The beavers had been trapped out of the main-stem during the winter and a good run of alewives made it to Spring River Lake to spawn. I watched the eagles feeding on them with Tunk Mountain in the back ground and wished I could get a picture. Also, in April, I sent an email to Mark Midden about the role of Tunk stream in the Atlantic salmon Recovery Plan. His reply was encouraging but vague. A draft of the recovery plan still has not been release to the public.
At the start of the year there were two properties for sale bordering the Maine Public Reserve that we were very concerned about. One, the peak of Spraque Falls Mountain had been targeted for a cell phone tower, which would have spoiled the wilderness aesthetic of Downing Bog and much of the Eco-reserve. A new friend of Tunk purchased the property to protect it from development and keep it open to the public. Later in the year we opened a short steep hiking trail to the top of the mountain. The view from the peak is one of the best in the area, taking in all of Washington County and the public lands. The other was the Knapp property near the end of the Spraque Falls road. This piece of land includes frontage on the West Branch of the Narraguagus River and is the trailhead for the West Branch tote road. This old woods road goes upstream along the river for miles and has been used by hunters and fisherman for generations. ATV’s and hikers now use it as well. The Knapp property has been donated the Downeast Rivers Land Trust, the land trust arm of the Downeast Salmon Federation, and will be protected with a conservation easement. The next property along the West Branch tote road, the Goldwater lot had been donated to DRLT last year and will also be protected by an easement. This summer The Nature Conservancy announced that they have an agreement with H C Haynes to buy 10000 acres from him in the northern part of township 10 at the end of 2005. The West Branch tote road runs into this area where it joins I.P.s huge ATV trail system. In 1999, I documented a series of non-point source pollution site along the West Branch tote road. We hope that with the trailhead and the destination protected it will be easier to raise the money to stop the erosion and restore the trail. FoT is a member of the DSF and I am now the chair of DRLT so we will be actively involved in this project.
In May, I created a database of the 70 NPS sites documented in 2002. I put away several small sites with just hay, lime, and grass seed. A few others have largely healed themselves. A 60-foot piece of silt fence was installed across the Unionville blueberry field sandpit. The Henderson Logging subdivision has been worked on but is still putting mud in the river during heavy rains. There is no progress to report on the Steuben ballpark site. The sites in the Public Reserve Lands have been reported to the Bureau of Parks and Lands for inclusion in the management plan. I have shown DOT the 10 sites along Rt. 182 and they are working to stabilize them. Follow up on the rest is on going. There are many places where there is only a thin strip of vegetation between the road and the water. Because road runoff is loaded with sand, salt, and car exhaust the plant life suffers and cannot prevent erosion. These areas are prime candidates for liming. A soil enhancement facility will be needed to stockpile erosion control materials to take on the remaining sites.
The June third weekend hike and paddle up Tunk stream to Downing Bog was attended by 13 people including 4 children. Six of us in four boats made the last portage and paddled out across the bog. This is as close to the middle of nowhere as you can get anymore. We saw lots of wildlife and a good time was had by all.
In the spring, I wrote a grant proposal to the Aristotle Fund of the Maine Community Foundation for $2000 to conduct a membership drive and write a vision statement. This grant was approved giving us a good start on fund raising for 2004. During the summer, I put a lot of time into writing a NFWF proposal. These grant were supposed to be announced August 4th. Through the grapevine I have heard that our proposal was turned down. To date I have not received a rejection letter. In September, I took a grant writing and fund raising workshop where it was recommended that government grants be avoided.
During the absolute lowest flow of the year we did our first DEP streamteam macro-invertebrate survey at our four water quality monitoring sites. We did two sites on Saturday with volunteers and children and I went back on Monday and did the last two by myself. The results were a water quality rating of fair out of good, fair, or poor. Which maybe right considering how low the water was. But we found many beautiful and pollution sensitive insects. This was a learning experience for us and we hope to have the system fine-tuned for next year. The streamteam bug count is great fun for kids and will become our third weekend event for September.
During the spring break up our water quality-monitoring program confirmed the low pH problems we have been following for years. The weather in early summer was very hot and dry and the water temperature rose to levels that are dangerous for salmon and trout. Mark and I had left two tidbit temperature loggers in the river over the winter. We lost one but the Steuben village one survived. We also placed one up the Tunk stream side of the confluence of Tunk and Bog streams and one up the Bog stream side. We found that the clear lake water gets if anything hotter than the bog water and the bog water temperature does not go up in the day time and down at night. Late in September, Mark and I placed a data-sonde automated water quality monitor down stream from the confluence to track the pH of fall rainstorms. By the end of the month we began finding acid rain fish kills among the young alewives migrating to the sea, just like last year. These fish kills followed every major rainstorm for a month. I saw well-developed alewives in great numbers indicating our fish passage efforts in the spring were successful. In response to the low pH problem, we have begun riparian liming and storm water chemistry enhancement projects along the river.
In 2004, FoT must focus on our existing programs. The watershed walkabout land use monitoring that allows us to be the eyes and ears of the river. The informal third weekend hike and paddle which introduces new members to the trailheads and canoe launches and serves as recreational educational public outreach. The monthly water quality monitoring which leads us in fascinating new directions all the time and suggests ways that humans can play a positive role in the environment. The development of FoT the non-profit itself is an on going project. We will start 2004 with our first membership drive; this will increase our base of support and the number of volunteers. The art as fundraiser program will continue with cards, T-shirts, and original works of art to sell or give as “thank you” to volunteers and those who make generous donations. We must seek funding for our core programs and to develop new ones to address the problems documented through out the watershed. Our record keeping and computer systems need to be updated. As always, we must keep it fun.