Category Archives: May 11

‘Bring back the fish!’

As this issue of The Dragon appears, many people in midcoast Maine are eagerly awaiting the spring run of alewives, the herring-like anadromous fish (meaning they move from fresh water to salt water) that are what St. George Conservation Commission member Les Hyde refers to as a “keystone species.” “Keystone” because alewives eat plankton, produce a lot of eggs and are an oily fish that are high in nutrients for other fish. As Hyde puts it, “If you don’t have alewives, there are a lot of other fish you don’t have, too.” Fish like Atlantic salmon, cod and hake.

While the alewife runs in Damariscotta Mills and Warren are the most notable ones in the midcoast, until the late 1980s, there was also a significant native run of alewives into the marsh in Tenants Harbor. The fish followed a route from the harbor into Ripley Creek, under a stone bridge on Route 131 and on up the outlet stream from the marsh and over the dam into the marsh itself. Then the state Department of Transportation (DOT) replaced the stone bridge with a new metal culvert. The problem was that the culvert was positioned too high above the creek for the town’s native alewives to navigate their way back to the marsh to spawn. Unlike salmon, alewives don’t leap. “They can swim flatwise,” Hyde notes, “so they don’t need much water to swim, but they do not leap.”

An effort to restore the alewife population was first spearheaded nearly 10 years ago by St. George resident John Shea, resulting in the state’s restocking of the marsh with alewives over the course of 2009 to 2013. The hope was that these fish would spawn here, leave their fry in the marsh over the course of the summer and then these young fish would leave (moving through the metal culvert with the flow of water out of the marsh) to spend the next four years at sea. The hope was that by the time they were ready to return to spawn, a new alewife-friendly culvert would be in place to welcome them.

The DOT installed the new culvert in.the fall of 2015. Hyde says that is when Alison England and her science students at the newly independent St. George School gave the effort to bring the alewives back a badly needed shot in the arm.

“When we withdrew from the regional school unit, many of the staff met regularly over the summer to articulate a collective mission and vision for our school,” England recalls. “It was a very empowering process to talk with one another about our ideas of what education could look like, and about the kind of school we wanted to be here in St George. Those ideas included having our students feel connected to their community in the sense of both people and place. We also wanted them to develop a sense of stewardship of the natural resources that make St George such a special place. To me, bringing that vision to life meant engaging students in place-based science projects that are meaningful to the community and that help solve problems. So I went to the Conservation Commission to ask how our students could help the Commission.”

The answer, Hyde says, was to help the Commission determine, now that there was a new fish-friendly culvert in place, whether conditions were right for the return of the alewives. England embraced the project as an opportunity for her students to engage in “citizen science,” a model of volunteerism where community members play a role in science research and see themselves as contributors to solving authentic community issues. “My hope,” says England, “was that doing a community-based project like this would help our students see science in a more practical and tangible way.”

One of the most important questions that needed answering was whether the flow of water out of the marsh was sufficient to allow fish passage into the marsh. Another was whether there had been changes to the marsh since the last runs. Finally, as May approached in 2016, there was the question of where were the offspring of the stocked alewives?

“We combined science and math classes and worked on site practicing our methods, then collecting our ‘official’ data that we would communicate to the Conservation Commission,” England explains. “As we gained momentum in understanding the nature of our questions about whether the water flow would be adequate and whether the site conditions were optimal, students started forming their own questions and would suddenly appear while I was teaching other classes and ask if they could grab a pair of waders and go check on something they were wondering about—like the height of the water in the culvert during a particular part of the tide cycle or if they could use a GoPro camera to see if fish were coming into the culvert. Students even borrowed the waders over the weekend to check the water conditions and the culvert.”

As the students wrote in the “Abstract” section of their report to the commission, “Early in the season water flows were adequate to provide passage up into the marsh, especially with flood tides (spring tides) early in May. Alewives in neighboring midcoast communities began heavy migrations upstream the third week of May (May 15-21) after a cool, yet dry start to the month.”

It wasn’t until May 25th that the students saw alewives in the Tenants Harbor culvert. The problem, the students’ report noted, was that “by then, water flow from the marsh outlet was inadequate to bring them farther upstream. As of May 25th, average heights of high tides do not provide adequate water flow beyond the upstream end of the culvert, given the lack of flow from the marsh.”

Based on interviews with community members who were familiar with the conditions in the marsh before the metal culvert was installed, the students found that “the water levels of the marsh are nearly two feet lower than during historical runs of alewives.” In addition, “the habitat of the outlet stream is different today than in the past. The water is not as deep as before and does not have deeper pools of water that alewives could ‘rest’ in before going into the marsh. The habitat on Ripley Creek is different than when alewives ran. Today there is no water that is pooled either by a man-made structure or rocked pools for alewives to ‘rest’ as the tide goes out.”

Based on their findings the students made several recommendations to the Conservation Commission for how to improve conditions for the alewives. This past March the Commission brought a number of biologists to the project site to determine which of the recommendations should be pursued. “One of the recommendations was to raise the water level in the marsh,” Hyde noted, “but that would require restoring the old dam and the biologists said ‘We are into stream restoration now, not dam restoration.’ The students also recommended creating small resting pools in Ripley Creek and the outlet stream to help the alewives get up into the marsh, which we all agreed would be a good approach.”

So developing an engineering plan for the stream restoration—Hyde is hopeful the Nature Conservancy will prepare this—and finding funds to implement it is now firmly on the Commission’s agenda as the necessary next steps to bringing the alewives back to Tenants Harbor. “We’re calling our effort stream restoration, restoring the ecosystem to what it was,” Hyde says. “That’s our goal. Bring back the fish! That stretch of stream from the culvert to the marsh is also pretty ideal habitat for smelt, so when that engineering is done it will be done with alewives in mind but also with smelt in mind.”

As for the effect of the alewife project on her students, England points to what may seem like the most intangible aspect of their impressive “citizen science” research activities, but which to her is the most important one—the excitement the students felt when alewives were first sighted in the culvert. “While two students were out one day, they found an alewife wedged in a glass jar, halfway through the culvert. That really got us all excited that maybe, despite such dry conditions, that alewives could be returning. When alewives were actually seen swimming in the culvert it was like we had wished them back. It was on the day of our last observation of stream flow, as we literally measured zero flow! It seemed unbelievable that they were really there. In the morning, as we took turns tip-toeing over to view the culvert, several students at a time, community members began pulling into the parking area or pulling over on the road. A day or so later, the Conservation Commission, with their special permit, allowed students to net and carry alewives into the marsh to spawn. When students can literally say they helped alewives back into the marsh, that makes a lasting impact!”—JW

(“Report to the Conservation Commission from the St. George School Eighth Grade Class, June 1, 2016” is posted on the town’s website ( Click on the “Documents” section and scroll down to the Conservation Commission heading.)

PHOTOS: Alison England


Dear Editor,
As you may know, with the exception of our sailing instructors, the workforce of St. George Sailing is all-volunteer.  Members of the Board of Directors pitch in to do everything including accounting, fundraising, registration, boat hauling and maintenance, daily management, and much more.  With the support of so many in St. George, we are proud to have established St. George Sailing as a contributing member of the community.  But to keep our organization operating smoothly, we need help.

If you value St. George Sailing and would be willing to contribute some time to help out, please let us know.  We could really use some additional hands and can tailor the tasks to suit your skills and the time you have available.  As examples, we’d love for others to take on any of these tasks:

· Coordinate St. George Sailing participation in St. George Days (this year, Saturday, July 15)
· Coordinate participation in the Red Jacket Regatta (this year, Sunday July 16)
· Coordinate Parents on the Water day for each sailing session.
· Volunteer to bring refreshments to the Awards Ceremony and/or sell St. George Sailing merchandise

If none of these seems right for you, we have plenty of other ideas, and we are ready to give you all the help you need to get started!  You don’t need to be a current or former sailing parent and you don’t need to live in St. George full time—all you need is an interest in keeping St. George Sailing available as a resource for the children of the area!
Many thanks,

Kate Bourne
St. George Community Sailing Foundation
PO Box 435
Tenants Harbor, ME 04860

Wet paint on the Weskeag!

The Kelpie Gallery announces a call for artist submissions for “Wet Paint on the Weskeag!,” the 4th annual juried Wet Paint benefit auction for the Georges River Land Trust. During the weekend of the event, selected artists will paint en plein air on properties protected by the Land Trust. Artists will create works on Friday, August 11 or Saturday, August 12, which will then be previewed at the gallery on Sunday, August 13 during a cocktail reception and auctioned off that evening. Proceeds from artwork sold will be split 50/50 with the artists and the Georges River Land Trust.

For the past three years, artists have painted along the Weskeag River and Marsh to create the works for this event. Through the Land Trust’s “Bridging 2 Rivers” initiative, over 1,000 acres of land between the Weskeag and Georges Rivers are now protected, and this year the artists are invited to explore more of these areas.

Interested artists are invited to submit by email two images of original plein air paintings in any medium for juried consideration to participate in this year’s “Wet Paint on the Weskeag!” Please include at least one in the medium that will be used for the event. All entries must arrive by the deadline of Monday, May 15th. Application information and details can be found online at Please call 207-691-0392 or 207-691-3416, or email with questions or for more information.

An artist who explores the relationship of art and word

“Geraniums” by DiTa Ondek

In April of 2017, Tenants Harbor artist and poet DiTa Ondek participated in the inaugural exhibit of “Artword: Ekphrasis at the PMA,” a weekly series at the Portland Museum of Art intended to celebrate the relationship between poetry and visual art.  Ekphrastic poems are written in response to works of visual art, and illuminate what the eye might not see. Therefore, the art and poetry illuminate one another. At the exhibit, DiTa and other Maine poets were featured reading their original ekphrastic poetry aloud in the galleries where paintings were on display.

Born and raised in Southport, Conn., DiTa’s artistic journey in both poetry and visual art began with her interest in foreign language, which she studied at Marietta College in Ohio for three years. During that time, her primary creative outlet was writing poetry. However, her interests soon turned to teaching, and she transferred to Central Connecticut State University where she completed a degree in Education followed by a Masters Degree in Elementary Education at the University of Bridgeport, Conn. After completing her education, DiTa enjoyed a 20-year career as an elementary school teacher in Fairfield, Conn.

It was during her years as a teacher and poet that DiTa’s interest in the visual arts emerged. In 1985 she took up watercolor painting. Influenced by her training in foreign languages, she painted a series of portraits of ethnic peoples. This led to her first solo show in New York. Furthering her interest in the visual arts, DiTa served as an assistant to a post-modernist photographer in the 1990s.  The two met regularly with other post-modernists for lively discussion about the arts, which deepened DiTa’s understanding of fine art and design.

By the time she retired from teaching and moved to Portland, Maine in 1998, DiTa was ready for a new career. Her background in language, poetry and art laid the foundation for her next enterprise as a website designer. Self-taught in that field, she began a new company, DiTa Group LLC, that became a viable business and remains so today.

About six years ago, DiTa developed a deeper desire to spend more time painting. She enrolled in an adult education class on acrylic painting taught by Deb Arter at Gardiner High School.  There she developed a passion for the medium and has since completed many different series based on themes such as Monhegan Island, farm animals, cupcakes, birds and florals. DiTa describes herself as a “colorist” in both poetry and painting. “My work is a connection to the everyday: evocative colors, unexpected patterns of light or the sublime quality of ordinary subjects. I work to create a vibrant painting.”

Her ability to conceptualize is the common link to DiTa’s engagement in foreign language, poetry writing, painting and web design. Last year she decided to investigate encaustics, painting with wax, which led to a show of encaustic assemblages with ekphrastic poetry at the Granite Gallery in Tenants Harbor.  Her encaustic bird paintings were accompanied by a chapbook, “A Goldfinch’s Winter Garden.” Perhaps another common link may be her desire to share with others through each of these disciplines. As a visual artist, DiTa expresses a concern that “everyone should be able to own original art, and my art should be accessible to everyone.” Therefore, her prices are affordable and her works have broad appeal.

DiTa Ondek

Although DiTa has lived in various Maine communities flipping houses over the past 20 years, she feels most at home in St. George, where she feels a warm welcome she says never before experienced. Appreciative of this “inclusive, diverse community that supports the arts,” as she puts it, DiTa’s creativity is nourished by the many other local artists that have welcomed and encouraged her. Therefore, she is slowly retiring from her web design company in order to exclusively write poetry and paint.

DiTa’s series of acrylic paintings of vintage cars is presently on display at the Atlantic Motor Company in Wiscasset. Her new series, entitled “Laundry,” will be exhibited at the Port Clyde Art Gallery this summer. And her encaustic paintings that explore a mashup of Victorian dress and abstract expressionism will be featured at the Granite Gallery from August 17th to 23rd.  Additional works may be seen on her website:
—Katharine A. Cartwright

PHOTOS: Katharine A. Cartwright

SGBA Business Expo

The St. George Business Alliance’s Business Expo and Job Fair was held at The St. George School on April 29. Shown: Ryan LeShane of University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Blueberry Cove Camp.

PHOTO: Betsy Welch

Signs of spring at St. George School

By Sophia Vigue and Allison Gill
It’s springtime! And that means new projects at St. George School. We interviewed students and teachers from each grade.  Here are some springy highlights:

Ms. England and the 8th grade class have been studying local vernal pools with support from the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Amanda Devine and Kirk Gentalen. Using a GoPro camera, they’ve spotted different amphibian species including salamander and wood frog eggs.

The 6th grader has been learning about the watershed and ecosystem of the marsh. They have been going down to the marsh to study the water resources, habitats, and history of the marsh. See their blog here:

The 6th graders are also raising worms for compost in their math class. The students are working to design a vermicomposting system to match their food waste.

The 4th graders took advantage of the good spring weather to visit the Norlands Museum in Livermore, Maine. When they were there they experienced what life was like in the 1800s. They got to encounter what school, chores, and everyday living was like.

Ms. Smith and her 2nd grade class planted milkweed and some “mystery seeds” and have been taking care of them. They have also been writing spring haikus.

Ms. Babb’s 2nd grade class is doing an expedition on lobsters and lobstering in Maine this spring. The students are very excited!

Ms. Albright’s kindergarten class has been planting marigolds for the classroom. They have also hatched ducklings and chicks in their classroom, and everyone loves the little peeps coming from the cage!

And finally, students spotted a spotted salamander that had made its way into the hall at school one morning. Students gathered around to see the little guy hanging around the trophy case.
So now that flowers have popped up, the sun has come out, and little creatures have come around, we hope you have a great spring!

(Vigue and Gill are 7th grade students at the St. George School.)

PHOTOS: Ashby Bartke, Alison England, Rebecca Albright