Ruth Indrick, project director for the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, inspects Swett Marsh in Georgetown. Work at the marsh will improve water flow and make it more hospitable to plants and wildlife. Contributed / KELT

Swett Marsh in Georgetown has experienced ongoing environmental degradation due to agricultural impacts from centuries ago. Now, the town and Kennebec Estuary Land Trust are collaborating to restore the marsh for the betterment of species that live there and the health of the broader marine ecosystem.

“Swett Marsh was extensively farmed in the 16- to 1800s, so the farmers working those marshes made modifications to help them grow better hay,” said Ruth Indrick, the land trust’s project director. “You could get better hay when you keep the salt water out, so they built embankments to keep water out and dug ditches.”

The embankments and ditches are inhibiting the natural flow and drainage of the wetland, and causing plant species to grow differently or more sparsely in areas where they’re needed.

“We’re figuring out how to reconnect areas that are trapped in by the embankments,” Indrick said.

Swett Marsh in Georgetown. Contributed / KELT

“Saltwater plants are particularly attuned to how much time they spend flooded,” she explained. Flooding “ends up decreasing health of some of the plants, which means the marsh has a harder time staying healthy and growing.”

Healthy plant life in the marsh is vital to catching sediment before the water filters out to the Kennebec River and eventually the Gulf of Maine.


The marsh is also home to a variety of fish and bird species, including the saltmarsh sparrow, which is quickly declining in population and without conservation of their habitat could be extinct by 2050, according to the American Bird Conservancy. The land is also used by indigenous communities for harvesting and basket making, among other things.

“Georgetown has been proactive about identifying that need” to restore the wetland because of its importance to the greater marine ecosystem of Maine, Indrick said.

The land trust plans to reopen channels that are no longer flowing as they should, she said, and they’ll also fill in ditches that interrupt the marsh’s natural process.

“The marshes around Georgetown are incredibly important and the Conservation Commission realized that there were ways we could help to make the marshes healthier,” said Cathy Gravino, head of the Conservation Commission in Georgetown.

Gravino said that a group of UNH students had first studied the marsh and found unusual patterns in plant life, and noticed how the water was blocked. When the land trust further looked into it, they discovered the ditches and network of embankments that were interrupting water flow.

“Now there’s so much interest in marsh migration and preserving our resources,” she said. This is partly because the marsh “supports the Gulf of Maine and Maine fisheries,” she said. She added that adjacent to Swett Marsh is Haul Bay, which supports a lot of local clamming.

The town is going to replace the culvert, and that should change the flow of water through the marshes quite a bit,” she said. The plant life in the marsh, when growing properly, “cleans water from pollution,” Gravino said.

We take the marsh for granted as just an incredibly beautiful thing, and to preserve that, if we can, is a wonderful opportunity,” she said.

For more information on the restoration project, contact Indrick at The land trust will likely call for volunteers to assist in this project in the coming months.

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