Tuesday, December 10, 2013
By BETH STAPLES Morning Sentinel
BENTON - A festival in May will hail the return of alewives to the Sebasticook River and celebrate the financial and cultural impact of the sea-run fish.
First Selectman Ryan Liberty said Benton has considerable history with alewives and the festival on May 19 will give a nod to all things fish -- including an alewife chowder contest, paddling with alewives and fly-fishing.
The gray, green and silver fish have been linked with the community for centuries.
In 1809, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources, Benton selectmen demanded a mill dam be dismantled because it was blocking runs of alewives on the Sebasticook. Since 1814, the town has owned harvesting rights to alewives coming up the Sebasticook to spawn.
For decades, though, because of other dams, industrial pollution and over-fishing, the alewife population plummeted and didn't get upstream to Benton. But since the Fort Halifax Dam in Winslow was breached in 2008, alewives have made their way back to Benton Falls from the ocean.
Those unfamiliar with alewives will be able to experience them up close at the festival. The Maine Department of Marine Resources will have video equipment on site so people can watch a live underwater-camera feed of the fish making passage at Benton Falls Dam.
If that's not close enough, there's also the World's Best Alewife Chowdah Competition, an alewife chowder public supper and an alewife fish smoker demonstration, complete with free samples.
Liberty, a history buff, said he also wanted the festival to honor unique aspects of Benton's past. Thus, the festival begins at 10 a.m. with the ringing of the Paul Revere Bell at Benton Falls Congregational Church.
The 708-pound bell was purchased in 1828.
"It came up on a barge in 1828," Liberty said. "And it fell off the barge."
The bell was fished out, and Liberty said it's been at the church ever since.
A few other local landmarks will also be part of the festival.
"Old Charlie," a prominent rock in the river, will be the site of a fly-fishing demonstration and the Run with Alewives Fun Run/Walk will kick off on the Rotary Trail, which is part of the Kennebec Messalonskee Trails.
The Benton Grange, built in 1915, will host musicians and a community dance and Benton Family Fun Park's mini-golf and batting cages will be free for festival-goers. Representatives from Sebasticook Regional Land Trust, Kennebec Messalonskee Trails, Benton Historical Society and Kennebec Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited are scheduled to attend and emergency vehicles from the Kennebec County sheriff's office, Maine State Police, Emergency Management Agency and Fairfield Fire Department will be displayed.
A bonfire and fireworks over the Sebasticook River will cap the day at Benton Memorial Park.
"At some point, I'll be leaving town and this was important for me to get up and running," Liberty said of the festival, which is being made possible by volunteers. "People were hungry for a community event."
Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Beth Staples can be contacted at 861-9252 or at: