Youth work to restore Trout Brook

CAPE ELIZABETH – This summer a hard-working crew of local high school students completed more than a dozen different projects designed to help restore Trout Brook, a nearly 3-mile-long, impaired stream running through Cape Elizabeth and South Portland.

Dubbed the Youth Conservation Corps, the group of students was led by Caroline Gleason, who is a sophomore at Tufts University and a resident of Cape Elizabeth. Overseeing the corps was also Ryan Messier from the Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District.

A total of 20 students applied to take part in the corps, according to Fred Dillon, the stormwater program coordinator for South Portland, but only four were selected – Andrew Volent, a senior at Cape Elizabeth High School; Brandon Ledoux, a junior at CEHS; Sage Waldron, a junior at South Portland High School and AJ Romano, a recent SPHS graduate.

The goal was to help restore the water quality and aquatic habitat of Trout Brook. The brook does not meet state water quality standards and is now under a watershed management plan, Dillon said.

South Portland initially received a $35,000 grant from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection four years ago to create the management plan, part of which identified the various sources of impairment to the brook along with a series of recommendations for improvement.

The city then received a $70,000 grant from the department to make improvements along the shoreline of Trout Brook. That work, undertaken by the Youth Conservation Corps this summer, included the removal of invasive species and establishing vegetated buffers between the brook and residential properties.

In addition, the grant covered the cost of stabilizing sections of the stream bank to prevent soil erosion; installing landscape features to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff into the brook; and canvassing the neighborhoods around the brook to increase awareness about how residents can reduce their impact on the watershed.

Dillon said that although the state required a management plan to restore Trout Brook, it’s also an important project because the stream is a “tremendous community asset.”

He added, “The impacts of development in the watershed over the past century have resulted in the death-by-a-thousand-cuts syndrome. As the landscape was converted from forests to fields and then residential housing lots and roads, the amount of pollutants flowing into the brook increased, making it harder for fish and aquatic insects to survive. The Youth Conservation Corps’ important work will help the brook heal.”

This was the first year for the Youth Conservation Corps, but it will be back next summer to continue making improvements to the brook thanks to a $25,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which is being administered by the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership.

The South Portland Conservation Commission also contributed $5,000 to this summer’s efforts and will likely be contributing again next year, Dillon said. And, the town of Cape Elizabeth recently received $100,000 from the state environmental protection department to make improvements in the upper reaches of Trout Brook.

Overall, Dillon said the kids taking part in the inaugural Youth Conservation Corps “exceeded all of our expectations. They completed over a dozen projects – many of which were very manually intensive – and generated lots of interest for participants in next year’s program.”

A group of four local high school students has been hard at work this summer on a restoration plan for Trout Brook, which runs through Cape Elizabeth and South Portland. Pictured, from left are, Andrew Volent, a senior at Cape Elizabeth High School, Brandon Ledoux, a junior at CEHS, Sage Waldron, a junior at South Portland High School, AJ Romano, a recent SPHS graduate, and Caroline Gleason, the team leader, who is a sophomore at Tufts University. Seated is Ryan Messier, the overall crew leader from the Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District.  AJ Romano and Sage Waldron, both from South Portland, work on the bank of Trout Brook. Brandon Ledoux, from Cape Elizabeth, planting vegetation on the banks of Trout Brook. He is a member of the local Youth Conservation Corps.