Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Wetland Wander: Snowshoeing along the Presumpscot River Estuary: A winter wander highlights connections between wetlands and nonpoint source pollution

by Brenda Zollitsch

Despite the frigid winter, when a sunny day comes around here in Maine, we take advantage of it.  Rather than hit the slopes a couple of weeks ago, we headed out with a trunk full of snowshoes to the Gilsland Farm Audubon Center.  The Center is situated along the Presumpscot River estuary just north of Portland.  Notably, the Presumpscot River is the largest river in the Portland area and the largest freshwater input into Casco Bay.  Gilsland Farm Audubon Center provides a 65-acre sanctuary with trails through varied landscapes, including a salt marsh.  The variety of habitats and easy trails make the location ideal for a family winter wetland wander.

My passion for the Gilsland Farm site stems from its link with the local estuaries that feed into Casco Bay.  As a professional decidedly interested in encouraging reductions in stormwater pollution and its impacts on the Bay, I know that despite the stunning and pristine look of the estuary, the site allows one to observe the key contributors of nonpoint source pollution which is a serious problem in Southern Maine, as it is across the country.

The site has a view out over miles of productive estuary that are frequented by an array of shorebirds and all manner of estuarine aquatic life.  And yet Maine’s largest city lies on the estuary’s horizon and I-295 hugs the shoreline.   In addition to major changes from altered flow regimes from impoundments, and impacts from industry and sewage treatment facilities, nonpoint source pollution from changing land uses and related stormwater runoff have all impacted both the Presumpscot River and its estuary.

These impacts come from continuously expanding impervious surface and contributions of sediment, metals, oils, pesticides, and other chemicals  that flow untreated into stormdrains from populated areas.  Additionally, from the Farm’s shore, one can see I-295 winding along the estuary’s banks, reminding of the issue of persistent chlorides during what is likely to be the region’s largest seasonal application of deicing materials in years.  We must continue to recognize how important individual- and community-level behavior change is to this and other estuaries.  In this location, as in estuaries and other wetlands across  our nation,  we must continue to emphasize the importance of BOTH wetland preservation and stormwater pollution prevention, two closely connected efforts.

While none of this was on the minds of my young ones as they enjoyed tromping through the icy snowpack, hurling snowballs with their Dad and me, and pretending to be arctic explorers, I am hopeful that organizations and individuals who become aware of these interconnections will become more open to finding ways to connect the dots between these highly complex issues.  I invite you to come take a wander with me (whether on snowshoes or online) and chat about it.

For more information about Gilsland Farm Audubon Center, click here.

For information used in this report about the impacts to Presumpscot River & Estuary, click here.

For information about Maine’s salt marshes, click here.

For information about the economic value of estuaries, click here.

For a link to The Friends of the Presumpscot River, click here.

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