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Rallying 'round the river

By Suzanne Thompson

Publication: The Day

Published October 09. 2012 4:00AM   Updated October 10. 2012 11:08AM

While it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a lot of local communities to save - and celebrate - a river.

The Eightmile River, designated wild and scenic by Congress in 2008, is being celebrated this Saturday. Members of the Eightmile River Wild and Scenic Coordinating Committee, mostly volunteers in towns that share the river, invite people to come out and celebrate the river as a resource and as a community.

With miles of pristine rivers and streams flowing through relatively undeveloped rural land in Lyme, Salem and East Lyme, the Eightmile River watershed is a rarity, according to Pat Young, program director, a part-time position federally funded under the wild and scenic designation. The watershed includes large areas of unfragmented habitat, an array of rare and diverse wildlife, scenic vistas, high water quality, unimpeded stream flow and significant cultural features.

This is the fourth Eightmile River celebration event; two prior parties were held while organizers completed studies and encouraged Congress to act. The federal recognition process started many years ago and involved several conservation and land trust organizations and towns. The biennial outdoor event in Devil's Hopyard usually draws around 500 people for a relaxed afternoon of music, nature-related activities and information displays.

Young or old, you're bound to come away knowing more about the river, wildlife, plants and the impact of people on natural resources. Some of the state's master wildlife conservationists will answer questions; Hammonasset State Park's Meigs Point Nature Center will display reptiles and fish; and A Place Called Hope, the raptor rescue, rehabilitation and education center in Killingworth, will feature rescued birds of prey. Eastern Mountain Sports employees will give advice for backpackers and campers.

The Eight Mile River Band, a local bluegrass band (no apparent relation to the coordinating committee), will entertain, and wildlife artist and cartoonist Wild Bill Taylor will tutor and inspire budding cartoonists. The Children's Museum of Southeastern Connecticut will have hands-on water experiences for kids, a troop of Girl Scout cadets from Lyme-Old Lyme has volunteered to help out, and the Moodus Sportsman Club will serve up chowder, chili, apples, cider and kettle corn. Other volunteers are baking lots of cookies.

"This is truly a community event - our chance to give back to the public and let them know what we're doing and to celebrate what's been accomplished and their part in it," says Young.

The Eightmile River is one of seven New England rivers in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. One of the requirements prior to special recognition was a comprehensive watershed management plan, agreed to by communities in the territory, to protect and preserve the resource.

"Every water management plan is different because it addresses both the resources and needs or the threats to its environment," says Young. "The Eightmile River plan is about maintaining a high quality river, which is still relatively pristine and undeveloped. That would be done through maintaining stream buffers, carefully planning development and trying to preserve parcels of land as much as possible."

Since one of the objectives is to create a greater sense of community and to involve residents and stakeholders in recognizing the river's significance, a number of public outreach efforts are in the works, Young says. These include mini-grants to communities and organizations for river clean-ups, research projects and other activities that promote protection of the river's resources and scholarship awards to area high school students who plan to study further in related fields.

Young says because of its pristine condition, the river often serves as a "control" or natural comparison to other areas that study and measure what happens to aquatic ecosystems strained by more development, which causes faster runoff of water and pollutants. These include studies of sedimentation, aquatic species, bats and other wildlife.

"It's very unusual to have a watershed in this condition this close to the coastline," Young says. "It's about as untouched as you can get."

Suzanne Thompson of Old Lyme has a weekly radio show, "CT Outdoors," on WLIS 1420/Old Saybrook and WMRD 1150/Middletown and online at www.wliswmrd.net, Tues., Sat. and Sun. Reach her at suzanne.s.thompson@sbcglobal.net.

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IF YOU GO

What: Eightmile River Fest 2012, free celebration of the river

Where: Devil’s Hopyard State Park Pavillion, 366 Hopyard Road, East Haddam

When: Saturday, Oct. 13, from 2 to 5 p.m. Rain or shine event, but severe weather cancels; check www.eightmileriver.org.

Pets on a leash are permitted in picnic areas and on hiking trails. Check park rules at www.ct.gov/deep/devilshopyard.

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