By BEN WESTCOTT
The Ausable River Association has completed a three-year restoration project on a renowned stretch of trout water known as the “Dream Mile.”
In late August the nonprofit watershed group finished three summers’ worth of recontouring to reverse the effects of sedimentation and other changes.
“It was very exciting to watch the last excavator go out of the river and leave behind a really beautiful system,” said Kelley Tucker, the group’s executive director. “I was really thrilled to get to finish this up this year.”
The Dream Mile runs abreast of Haselton Road between Wilmington and Black Brook. Though in actuality it may be less than a mile in length, this reach of the Ausable provides great opportunities for fly fishing. It has garnered attention well outside of the Adirondacks, having hosted the fly fishing portion of ESPN’s Outdoor Games in 2001 and Outdoor Life’s East Coast Fly Fishing Competition in 2001 and 2002.
The Dream Mile is a privately owned stretch of the Ausable. In 2015, Tucker said, the landowners approached the Ausable River Association after observing that their stretch of the river had undergone changes that hurt fishing and overall river health. The landowners showed association representatives how a large pool on their property known as the Culvert Pool—a spot where the Big Brown Brook enters the Ausable River—was getting shallower as a result of sediment buildup at the pool’s bottom. This shallowing of the Culvert Pool resulted in it holding fewer fish than it had previously.
According to the association, the owners also noticed that their portion of the river was considerably wider than it had been in the past, a change that was in large part a product of substantial rainfall from Hurricane Irene. At some locations the expanded river was on the verge of encroaching on Hazelton Road. This widening of the banks resulted in the river losing some of its natural curving.
After hearing these concerns from the landowners, the Ausable River Association went out to survey the reach, walking the strip of river and performing some measurements. Workers agreed with the landowners that it would aid river health to amend the stream, Tucker said. After presenting a proposal to the landowners, the association began the physical work of reshaping the body of water.
Work on the Dream Mile began in earnest in 2017, when a construction team removed a bar of cobble in the river channel’s center, diverting flows that had previously forced water against the banks. Rock and sediment from that cobble bar were then used to build a 400 foot long earthen bench, known as a toe wood structure because it creates a new “toe” of the bank submerged under the water. Local trees and attached roots were used in addition to rock and sediment from the riverbed.
The work crew also placed boulders into arranged columns in the river’s channel. These boulders were set in place by smaller rocks. This work was instrumental in combining previously separate river flows, thus reinforcing a single channel that would transport sediment more effectively. All of this construction was done in the warmer months, when the river is low.
“This work is done by people who are trained in river restoration,” Tucker said. “We work with the expertise of the Fish and Wildlife Service as the overseeing agency.”
Though Tucker estimates that from half to three-quarters of the association’s work over the past seven years has been done on private land like the Dream Mile, this does not mean that the work only benefits private landowners.
“This is a public resource,” Tucker says of the Ausable River. “Even if you can’t fish the Dream Mile as a private person, the fact that the owners are caring for this length of river benefits the river upstream and downstream, and improves water quality for all of us.”
“Whenever a private owner steps up or a town steps up, that’s a benefit for everyone.”