Recently a colleague and I visited the Alewife Brook in Essex and peered into what looked like granite boxes and found glass eels, phoebe nests, rainbow trout, and ebony jewelwings. Circa the 1920s these boxes, as it turns out, are culverts through which Alewife Brook passes.
Starting its journey at the outlet of Chebacco Lake, Alewife Brook flows through the coastal town of Essex to The Great Marsh. The stream’s course intersects with Pond and Apple Streets in Essex, making its way to industrial parks and single family homes. At the points of intersection the river submits to the roads, diving beneath and into culverts, reappearing as quickly as it disappears.
These culverts are focal points for those interested in assessing and restoring stream health. Stream crossings if poorly designed and constructed can be choke points that restrict movement of fish such as eels, trout and alewife as well as wildlife including mink, otter and moose.
While it has been a time since moose were seen in Essex, large, wildlife-friendly culverts preserve vital travel corridors and reduce wildlife mortality by allowing terrestrial and aquatic wildlife to remain along the river’s edge as opposed to forcing animals onto roadways. Culverts and bridges that span from bank to bank, allow ample head room and provide sufficient flood capacity are the ideal.
Essex, perhaps owing to its proximity to the quarries of Rockport and Gloucester, has its share of granite box-type culverts, although more common are the concrete or corrugated metal culverts that dot the Massachusetts landscape (it’s estimated that in the Commonwealth alone there are 30,000 road and river crossings). From the Berkshires to Cape Ann these culverts are being assessed based on their condition and ability to pass wildlife as part of a coordinated effort spearheaded by the state and local groups to prioritize opportunities to restore river continuity; volunteers are conducting a brunt of these assessments.
Our review found that the bridges and culverts of Alewife Brook are fairly wildlife-friendly – although it is estimated that a significant percent of crossings in Massachusetts are unfriendly barriers to fish and wildlife.
Visit the Divison of Ecological Restoration webpage for more information about river continuity. The site has pictures of a recently installed culvert that meets the new standards of fish and wildlife passage.
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