The deeding of the Dennys River Sportsman's Club's 40 acres along the river to the Downeast Salmon Federation (DSF) will help in reviving public uses on the land and may be the first step in creating a salmon hatchery there. The property, which boasts about 15 of the most famous salmon pools on the Dennys, was recently turned over to the salmon federation.
DSF Executive Director Dwayne Shaw says the salmon federation has a vision of constructing a salmon hatchery just below the clubhouse and up from Charlie's Rips that could produce 200,000 to 300,000 salmon a year. The DSF currently has hatcheries on the Pleasant and East Machias rivers and is hoping to construct them on the Narraguagus and Machias rivers, too.
"Stream-side salmon hatcheries have a much improved success rate over trucking them in," explains Shaw. He hopes that the hatchery could be constructed within five to 10 years, but he notes that the plans are dependent on funding. During its upcoming session, the Maine Legislature will be considering a bill to provide funding support for expanded capacity for breeding wild salmon in the Downeast rivers.
In addition, the salmon federation is looking to make more use of the property for outdoor sporting events such as fly-fishing instruction and skeet shooting. It will continue to be open for swimming and fishing. "It's important to us that the recreational uses continue," says Shaw. The DSF also may offer outdoor programming like the two-week summer program for Washington County youth that it holds on the Machias River. The Wigwams Program, which is run in conjunction with the Cobscook Community Learning Center, includes education, experiential learning such as canoeing and work programs for river habitat enhancement and the construction of trails. The salmon federation also works with Project SHARE, which seeks to enhance salmon habitat and populations, and hopes to work in the future with the Schoodic Riverkeepers, the Passamaquoddy group that has helped restore the alewife runs on the St. Croix River.
Shaw notes that the salmon federation was created by salmon and sporting clubs in Washington County -- the Dennys River Sportsman's Club, the Narraguagus Salmon Association, the Two Rivers Salmon Club that included the Machias and East Machias rivers and the Pleasant River Fish and Game Conservation Association. Except for the Pleasant River association, none of the other clubs are now active. The salmon federation's board also now includes representation from the Union River Salmon Association, and Shaw hopes to include members of the Dennys River Sportsman's Club on the board or as volunteers.
"I think it's an important heritage location," Shaw says of the Dennys River property, pointing to the club's long and rich history. "The relationship between the river and the town -- we're trying to build upon that connection with our work."
Shaw also points out that the Dennys River is unique because of its long-standing conservation easements protecting it all the way from the clubhouse almost to Meddybemps Lake. That includes an 18-mile stretch that International Paper Company sold to the state and is protected as a forever wild corridor. Also, the salmon federation has worked with the Downeast Coastal Conservancy to protect key properties on the river, including Gilman dam, which is an access point for canoeists. In addition, the salmon federation owns almost 700 acres on Cathance Lake that includes the Hog's Neck Peninsula and that will be maintained as forever wild. Both Cathance and Meddybemps lakes are in the headwaters of the Dennys River.
"We'd like to protect the corridor along the entire river and make it accessible to the public for hunting, fishing and trapping," along with ATV and snowmobile use, says Shaw.
He notes that the Dennys River clubhouse is in need of repairs, including a new roof and base logs, and the DSF is calling upon volunteers, including former members of the sportsman's club and current DSF members, to assist. The salmon federation, which is a nonprofit, is seeking tax-deductible donations to help with the effort, with the campaign being conducted in honor of the late Ed Bartlett of Eastport, Ray Robinson of Edmunds and Vernon "Lippy" Cushing of Pembroke, all of whom were very active in the club.
Salmon club has rich history
Jim Robinson, president of the sportsman's club, says the club is still incorporated with an executive committee but is essentially defunct and has been struggling to pay its bills. Once the salmon runs stopped "nobody had interest in the club," he says. "It was the salmon population that kept it going."
Robinson says the executive committee had two choices: either donate the club's property and assets to another nonprofit or let the assets be taken over by the state, which he guesses would have torn down the clubhouse. The club's remaining funds will be used to help maintain the clubhouse.
Robinson, his father, grandfather and uncles helped to build the clubhouse in the 1950s, and a large stone fireplace was constructed in the winter of 1965-66 by his father, Ed Bartlett and Don and Lippy Cushing. Jim Robinson remembers that his father Ray kept a fire going in the clubhouse throughout the winter to keep the mortar warm until it dried. Ray Robinson was also one of the founders of the Downeast Salmon Federation.
In 1995, the club signed a conservation easement with the Quoddy Regional Land Trust to preserve the river frontage for low-impact public use and wildlife habitat. The easement, now held by the Downeast Coastal Conservancy, has created some friction, as Robinson believes that it's too restrictive on public uses. "You can't ride a horse down there, and the Cub Scouts were not allowed to camp there," he says. The overnight camping restrictions that were placed in the easement were meant to prevent motor homes from staying on the property, he says. An agreement has since been reached that those under age 18 can camp on the property, but he would like it available for efforts like the Wounded Warrior Project for veterans. Shaw says the salmon federation may work with the Downeast Coastal Conservancy to ease the restrictive language concerning camping.
Sales of the book written by Ray Robinson and Ed Bartlett, Salmon on the Dennys, financed the club for awhile in recent years. Along with looking into issues faced by the Dennys River watershed, the book includes much of the club's history, explains how the club tried to make the Dennys a productive and self-supporting fishery and tells numerous salmon fishing stories. The club was formed in 1936 and within a year the number of members had increased to nearly 750, mostly from out of state. Among them was the boxer Jack Dempsey, and the club received support from the singer Bing Crosby. At the club's height, when the salmon were running every motel and boarding home from Cherryfield to Eastport "would be filled up," Robinson relates.
The Dennys was one of the last eight runs of wild Atlantic salmon in the country and historically produced nearly 20% of the total U.S. Atlantic salmon run. Robinson blames the decline in the salmon runs on the high-seas fisheries off Greenland, although scientists point to numerous other possible causes, including habitat loss, water pollution, aquaculture and the warming of the oceans.
In 2000 the federal government listed Atlantic salmon in eight Maine rivers, including the Dennys, as endangered, and the Downeast Salmon Federation is among the groups trying to bring back the salmon runs Downeast. Along with using stream-side hatcheries, the DSF hopes that changing the stocking practices for salmon -- from stocking fry stocking in the spring to parr in the fall -- will be successful in rebuilding the populations of Salmo salar, the leaper, known as the king of fish.