Eightmile RiverFest celebrates a natural gem

Connecticut's rivers and streams don't get the respect they deserve. Organizers of this weekend's RiverFest on the Eightmile River say it's time to savor and celebrate the "Wild and Scenic" river in our midst.

The Eightmile River Watershed, which starts in Colchester, stretches through Salem, East Haddam and Lyme, and abuts East Lyme, was designated worthy of protection in 2008 by federal legislation. It joins less than one-fourth of one percent of the nation's rivers in the National Wild and Scenic River system. The Farmington River is the only other river in our state in the system.

The point of the river festival, held every two years at Devil's Hopyard State Park in East Haddam, is enjoyment and reflection on what makes the area so significant for protection, says Patricia Young, program director for the EightMile River Watershed Coordinating Committee.

"It's truly about being outdoors, relaxing, enjoying nature," she says of the festival. "People can get information, children can learn, it's a free event."

There will be live reptiles from Meigs Point Nature Center at Hammonasset Beach State Park, birds of prey rescued by A Place Called Hope in Killingworth, activities by the Children's Museum of Southeastern Connecticut, Thames River Valley Trout Unlimited will teach fly-tying and casting, and master wildlife conservationists and master gardeners will answer questions.

The Eight Mile River Band, a local bluegrass band, will perform, and there will free chowder, chili, apples, cider and kettle corn.

Young says the festival has become something local residents and communities anticipate. It's also a soft sell of the watershed management plan, a non-regulatory document that outlines the partnership of local, state and federal interests voluntarily agreeing to take steps to protect the near-coastal river system that still functions much as it had prior to European colonization.

What the river towns, The Nature Conservancy and UConn Cooperative Extension service found in the 1990s as they collectively studied the watershed is that a number of factors led to it still having enviable water quality, unimpaired surface and groundwater systems, and habitat to 160 rare, threatened and endangered native species of plants and animals, five of which are considered "globally rare." The pace of development has meant that the cultural landscape still contains multiple historic sites and connections with our colonial past.

Even though only six percent of the land is developed, and a quarter of the 62-square-mile area is in chunks of forest that are 500 acres or more - an important mass for supporting wildlife - the impacts of development are felt, according to Young.

The ERWSCC encourages property owners to keep or reintroduce natural vegetation on river and stream banks, instead of mowed lawns that increase pollution runoff. Impervious surfaces are to be managed and minimized in new construction to slow water runoff and erosion, and open space preservation is looked at from a strategic wildlife habitat perspective. The designation also drives improvement of stormwater management along roads and stream crossings to minimize sand, salt and auto pollutants.

The management plan tome and maps are available online or in hard copy, as are more facts about the Eightmile River Watershed and efforts to protect and enjoy it.

You don't have to live in the Eightmile watershed to be a RiverSmart household. That's an online pledge program by the ERWSCC to help homeowners minimize their footprint on the land and water. To see how well your household is doing, take the pledge at http://eightmileriver.org/riversmart.

When she's not gardening in Old Lyme, Suzanne Thompson hosts a weekly radio show, "CT Outdoors," on WLIS 1420 AM and WMRD 1150 AM on Tuesdays from 12:30 to 1 p.m. and from 6:30 to 7 p.m. Listen to archived shows in the On Demand section of www.wliswmrd.net.

IF YOU GO

What: EightMile RiverFest 2014
When: Saturday, Oct. 18, from 1 to 4 p.m.

Where: Devil’s Hopyard State Park Picnic Pavilion

What: Music, educational displays, food

Cost: Free

Info: Check the Eightmile-River-
Watershed Facebook page for
weather updates

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