North Country's Nash Stream: Putting On The Environmental Wayback Machine

Aug 20, 2013

Jim MacCartney, left, and John Magee are trying to restore Nash Stream.
Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

Almost 150 years ago loggers in the North Country began changing the course of Nash Stream to make it easier to float logs downstream to the Upper Ammonoosuc River in Stark. But an effort is underway to get Nash Stream back to what Mother Nature intended.

Nash Stream is almost 14 miles long. It runs through the state-owned Nash stream Forest and its problems began around 1870.

“The then Nash Stream Improvement Company straightened parts of the channel, removed wood that was in the channel, dynamited boulders to help facilitate those log drives,” said  Jim MacCartney, a river restoration specialist with Trout Unlimited in New Hampshire.

Back then helping logging by diverting a river or stream’s normal course without regard to the possible environmental harm was an accepted practice in the North Country.

Jim MacCartney of Trout Unlimited
Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

But for Nash Stream things got worse.

“And, then in 1969 there was a catastrophic dam break,” said MacCartney.

The dam was upstream at Nash Bog and the breech sent a huge amount of water blasting down the channel, said John Magee, the fisheries habitat biologist for New Hampshire Fish and Game.

“It really destroyed a lot of the fish habitat and probably, almost certainly killed all the fish in the stream,” he said.

Also gone were the deep pools and clusters of submerged wood that trout favored. Flood waters widened the channel and ripped away nearby trees.

But since 2005 there has been an effort to fix Nash Stream.

The $1 million project involves the New Hampshire Fish and Game, Trout Unlimited, state and federal agencies and charitable groups, with the bulk of the money – about $700,000 - coming from private groups.

The goal is to take Nash Stream back to where it was in the 1800’s before it was altered for logging, said MacCartney.

Of course the project benefits residents or tourists who love to fish for trout.

But MacCartney says the bigger picture is restoring an ecosystem badly damaged more than a century ago.

“Really what we have been seeking to do is to accelerate the natural recovery process of the stream after the flood,” said MacCartney.

There’s already been a lot of work on tributaries. That includes removing small, culverts that make it difficult or impossible for fish to move into the tributaries. Now, there are wider, more fish-friendly culverts.

Those bigger culverts also mean the road is less likely to be washed out during major storms.

This year the focus is on the stream’s main channel and making it a better habitat for fish.  On a rainy August day a huge excavator is carefully placing entire trees in the water.

The reason, said Magee, is that trout think wood is good.

“That’s principally for two reasons. One is wood can help create scour pools and trout, we know, like to have deep water. We also know they like cover over head to avoid being eaten by predators,” he said.

The excavator is also adding some huge boulders.

The hope is that in time Nash stream may regenerate to the point where it is as fertile a place for wildlife as it was before it was altered for logging.

The restoration project is expected to be finished in 2015, Magee said.

Nash Stream flows for almost 14 miles.
Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR