Citizen Magnet Fishers co-founder Colt Busch reels in his line in Westbrook May 26. He did a little fishing before accepting the Chief Polin Award from the Friends of the Presumpscot River. Chance Viles / American Journal

The Citizen Magnet Fishers and Portland kayaker John Chandler were recognized last week for their “nitty gritty” work cleaning up the Presumpscot River.

They received Friends of the Presumpscot River’s Chief Polin Award, named after the Abenaki tribal leader who advocated for the health of the river during industrialization in the 1700s.

Kayaker John Chandler, of Portland, left, accepts his award from Friends of the Presumpscot River President Mike Shaughnessy. Chance Viles / American Journal

The awards in the past have been given to scholars, attorneys and others involved in protecting the 25.8-mile river, but this year’s recipients are special, Friends President Mike Shaughnessy said.

The Magnet Fishers and Chandler physically do the “nitty gritty” work of pulling trash out the river, he said.

“This award is great because both are kind of the opposite,” said Shaughnessy, who also is a Westbrook city councilor. “The Citizen Magnet Fishers bring a lot of attention to the river and abuses it has gone through, while John Chandler rides his kayak and quietly picks (trash) up.”

“We really appreciate all of your hard work, because otherwise, I don’t know how it would get done,” Shaughnessy said at an awards ceremony May 26 at the Black Bridge off Brown Street in Westbrook.


The Citizen Magnet Fishers, a group of about 20 volunteers who use large magnets to pull scrap metal from the river, have focused the area around the Black Bridge for the past couple of years. They have pulled bicycles, scooters and shopping carts from the river, along with vacuum cleaners and other metal items.

“It feels really great to get recognized, we hadn’t had something like this before,” said co-founder Colt Busch, of Lewiston.

This year, the group has added divers who help the fishers attach their magnets to metal scrap on the riverbed.

The fishers plan to continue to work off the Black Bridge and also will have a presence at Westbrook Together Days this weekend to spread awareness of their work and try and recruit more fishers.

Chandler has a one-man operation. He paddles his kayak around the lower part of the Presumpscot River, below Saccarappa Falls, and picks up floating trash as he goes. His effort may be quieter than the magnet fishers, Shaughnessy said, but his work is just as important.

“I’ve never been one for a lot of attention, but this award is great,” Chandler said. “I love seeing other people who want to help the river and that people care.”

Chandler, who has a Facebook page called “Just a Guy Picking Up Trash,” pulls plastic bags and bottles from the Presumpscot, but he’s also been known to pick up larger refuse, like tires and machine parts, and carry them away on his kayak for proper disposal.

“The river is important, and these people have been great stewards. We really appreciate that,” Shaughnessy said.

The Presumpscot River is the main outlet of Sebago Lake, and runs through Standish, Windham, Gorham, Westbrook, Portland and Falmouth before emptying into Casco Bay at Falmouth.

Diver Lou Christen has been helping the magnet fishers connect their magnets to scrap in the water. Chance Viles / American Journal

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