The Friends of the Presumpscot River is hoping all eyes will be on the river for good reasons next week in Westbrook, when the organization hosts two events on Wednesday, July 13 – putting a focus on the recreational and ecological importance of a healthy river.  

First, from 1-6 p.m., the public is invited to try canoeing, kayaking or paddleboarding for free on the Presumpscot River, with professional guides from Portland Paddle and Maine Path & Paddle Guides. The event, based at the Brown Street boat launch on the northern side of the river, will also feature a community barbeque.

The event is part of a series of “river floats” that the group is hosting, intended to renew focus on the importance of the river. The downtown location was chosen to hopefully bring out residents to try the activities, hopefully promoting more use of the river. 

Jennifer Cook, the communications consultant for the Friends organization, said last week that the Brown Street neighborhood seemed to be a perfect location for such an event, and that they are working with other community organizations in the neighborhood to promote the event. 

Also on Wednesday, a screening of the award-winning film “Return of the River” will take place at Walker Memorial Library from 6:30-8:30 p.m. The film’s writer, producer and co-director Jessica Plumb, a Maine native, will be on hand to discuss the film, which focuses on the successful restoration of the Elwha River in Washington. The film took four years to shoot. 

Cook said the film highlights similarities to the current process on the Presumpscot River at Saccarappa Falls, with ongoing fish passage discussions between Sappi Fine Paper and the Friends and other environmental groups. 

The Friends of the Presumpscot River has been a leading proponent of establishing natural fish passage at Saccarappa Falls and other sites along the Presumpscot. Sappi, which owns the hydroelectric dams, recently received a one-year extension of its Saccarappa fish passage deadline, to May 2018.

The film, Cook said, shows all stakeholders taking a “forward-thinking” approach in order to come to an agreement to make the restored river a reality. When completed in 2014, it was the largest dam removal project in the history of the country. 

The press release for the event calls the film “an inspiration for what a fully restored Presumpscot River would bring to our community.” 

She said Plumb routinely returns to Maine to visit family, and is familiar with similar focuses on Maine rivers, including the Presumpscot and Penobscot. 

Plumb is from Portland, where “Return of the River” was screened at Space Gallery prior to Plumb and other filmmakers taking it on the film festival circuit, where it has won awards. 

The event is part of “river talks,” the second part of the Friends of the Presumpscot River’s new programs running all summer. 

According to a press release issued by the group in June, the purpose of the lectures and kayak events is to connect people to the river and demonstrate its importance.

Michael Shaughnessy, the organization’s board president, called the river a vital natural resource, and described the events as a way to “demonstrate all that a restored Presumpscot will bring to its surrounding communities, including recreational, environmental and economic benefits.”

A Closer Look:

The Friends of the Presumpscot River downtown river float is Wednesday, July 13 from 1-6 p.m. at the Brown Street boat launch. Kayaks, canoes and paddleboards will be available, along with a community cookout. No registration is required. 

A film screening of “Return of the River” will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Walker Memorial Library in Westbrook. The award-winning film examines the restoration of the Elwha River in Washington, and provides parallels to fish passage talks in Westbrook.  

“Return of the River” co-directors John Gussman and Jessica Plumb are pictured here during filming. The film, to be screened Wednesday, July 13 at Walker Memorial Library, looks at the successful restoration of the Elwha River in Washington. 


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