If you’ve read this column with any regularity, you know that I was born and spent more than 31 years living in Florida. Now firmly entrenched in Bristol, I’m coming to appreciate a lot of the things that make Maine such a wonderful place to live. One of those unique things is the Bristol Mills Dam and Fish Ladder.
When my wife and I first met in the summer of 2012, we took a trip to Maine to visit her parents in Bristol. Before that late-night drive, my only experience with Maine was a short drive over the border with my family while I was a kid just to say we were in Maine. That first trip with Kirstin saw me do things that many might expect were regular occurrences for me in Florida: swimming in a local swimming hole and kayaking on a local river.
Jumping off the cement dock and into dark black water wasn’t something I’d ever do in Florida, and I can say I didn’t spend a lot of time on rivers in my home state. Rivers and swimming holes in Florida are where you’re just as likely to have an enjoyable afternoon as you are likely to encounter alligators and water moccasins. No thanks! Apparently, there are some creatures lurking beneath the surface at the Bristol Dam swimming hole, but Kirstin didn’t mention that before I took the plunge.
Kayaking is a lot of fun, save for the sore arms that I still experience when we get out on the Damariscotta or Pemaquid rivers. We’ve gone out on kayaks and canoes with Evan and Lydia a few times, and we’ve had a good time during each excursion. Hopefully this summer will include even more river and lake adventures.
Growing up in Florida as a child of New Yorkers, I didn’t experience certain things someone from Florida might expect to do with their dad, namely fishing. My knowledge of fish and the act of catching them can fit inside the smallest tackle box. I’m not good at just sitting still for hours, so going fishing never appealed to me — and it still doesn’t. But I am very intrigued and impressed and amazed by the Bristol Mills Dam and Fish Ladder.
Here’s some background. The original Bristol Mills dam was built in 1914 as a source of hydro power in the community. It isn’t used for that purpose today, but it does provide the aforementioned swimming hole, regulates the water level of a chain of lakes above the dam and provides water to the Bristol Fire Department.
Sixty years after the dam was built, a fishway was constructed to allow alewives and other fish species to pass to the lakes above the dam in order to spawn. An alewife, a fish I had never heard of until moving to Bristol, is an essential baitfish for the lobstering and other fishing industries. In 2013, volunteers began counting the number of alewives making it to the top of the fish ladder. It ranges from about 14,000 to approximately 200,000 fish per year — the Maine Department of Marine Resources estimates the lake system above the dam could support over 600,000 fish.
In 2018, Bristol residents voted nearly unanimously to make repairs to the dam and replace the 1974 fish ladder. The work has taken place over the past few years, and what exists now is simply wonderful. The new fish ladder helps the alewives climb more than 12 feet from the river bottom through a series of resting pools separated by weirs that raise the water level by about nine inches between pools. There are enhanced walkways, signage, new stonework and a few walking bridges that make viewing the alewives’ journeys accessible for almost everyone.
Last year, we took my parents to the fish ladder, and I expect we’ll take them again this week when they’re in town. If you’ve never experienced a fish ladder — or if you’re well-versed in the trials and tribulations of the alewife—the Bristol Mills Dam and Fish Ladder is something to see.
Pafundi family update
As expected, my wife and kids also tested positive for COVID-19 a few days after my positive test. It was a very trying week. Evan was tired, and Lydia had a day with some high fever, but they were relatively unscathed by the virus. Kirstin had the worst of it. She had a sore throat, heavy chest, cough, congestion, and extreme fatigue. We all did what we could to help around the house and not go stir crazy, but that was a huge challenge.
We’re all clear of the virus now. Kirstin and Evan are back to school, and Lydia is back to her normal sassy self.
Thanks to the scientists and doctors who made vaccines and boosters available. Without those, we might’ve had a much more troubling COVID-19 experience.
If you have any things you think I should check out and write about in “Bristol Bound,” email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.