Volunteers Plant 2,000 Trees At Bishopville Dam Site

Volunteers are pictured continuing restorative work at the site of the Bishopville dam. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

BERLIN – Changes continue at the Bishopville dam restoration site.

Last week, Maryland Coastal Bays Program volunteers planted 2,000 trees around the new pools that have replaced the old Bishopville dam. It’s just one of many activities Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP) volunteers will be performing at the site in the coming years.

“The restoration isn’t just dumping rocks and sand in and walking away,” said Roman Jesien, science coordinator for MCBP. “This is an ecosystem restoration. There’ll always be opportunities for folks to come in and do stuff.”

Jesien said his organization has committed to monitoring the recently rebuilt area for the next five years. He said it was critical that the site be studied to track water quality, collect data on fish species and ensure that invasive species didn’t become a problem. Jesien wants to make sure the Bishopville dam restoration project, unlike many that have been done in the past, actually works.

“This isn’t business as usual,” he said. “We’d like to use it as a classroom for the way things should be done.”

In addition to the detailed monitoring that will be done at the site in the future, what makes the project different from many done in the past is the series of pools, connected by rock weirs, that was created to enable fish to access the area.

“We’ve opened up seven miles of stream for fish to move into,” Jesien said. “We’re not confining the water. The idea is to create more of a floodplain and let the stream go where it wants to go. It’s an innovative approach.”

While the old dam blocked the passage of fish to the area, the step pools — connected by one-foot drops — allow fish to get through and improve water quality at the same time. The new design prevents water from getting stagnant and increases the amount of oxygen in it. According to Jesien, the level of oxygen in the water has already increased 40 percent.

Keith Underwood, who helped develop the site, said the lack of oxygen in the water before had been responsible for nearby fish kills.

“This is having a positive contribution all the way to the coastal bays,” he said.

Underwood said the Bishopville project was an example of “honest ecological restoration” and should continue to benefit the area over time.

The 2,000 Atlantic white cedars planted Friday are expected to stabilize the ground around the dam site while filtering the water. Underwood hopes the trees, which were prevalent in the area years ago before being wiped out, will go to seed and reproduce.

The long-awaited Bishopville dam restoration project was made possible with funding from Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, the Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the MCBP.