CAMDEN — A College of the Atlantic student studying conservation and river restoration has had the unique opportunity to take part in community discussions about this exact subject in her neighboring town of Camden.

Hallie Arno, who is from Lincolnville and a Watershed School graduate, is now a senior at College of the Atlantic. With a lot of her study about river restoration, she was drawn to look at what was going on in Camden with the Montgomery Dam and the Megunticook River.

Arno explains that like all the students at the College, she has studied human ecology, a broad field covering connections between humans and the environment. Within that field, she focused on conservation biology, which looks at conserving species and the environment from a scientific lens.

Through her studies, river restoration has become something she is really interested in and wants to have a career in, Arno said.

Students at the College design their own majors, take on a major senior project and are encouraged to get involved in community projects that interest them.

Last winter when she heard about the Montgomery Dam study in Camden, she wanted to get more involved. She read reports the town put out and taught a couple of lessons to Watershed students based on what she has learned about river restoration.

In March she took part in a Zoom series with Select Board Vice Chair Alison McKellar and Chair Bob Falciani on the Megunticook River, the Montgomery Dam study, and effects of climate change.

Arno surveyed public opinion on dam removal in August. Through the survey she created, she hopes to learn about people’s perceptions about dam removal.  The survey is based on other surveys that have been sent out in areas of New England discussing dam removal.

She plans to use the results of her survey to compare the perceptions of people in Camden to other areas in New England. She plans to compile the survey data when she returns in November from field study in several Western states. The survey is not for decision making purposes in regard to the Montgomery Dam, she said, though she would be happy to share the data with the Select Board.

Before going back to college to begin her senior year, Arno hosted a community event on Aug. 27 at the Watershed School in August about the Megunticook River and its native species, history, effects climate change will have, and mitigating those effects. The event featured Parker Gassett, marine extension agent at Maine Sea Grant.

Dan McCaw, Fisheries Biologist with Penobscot Nation, spoke on Aug. 27 in Camden. He said the opportunity in Camden to make decisions about the Montgomery Dam is extremely unique because “the community can make all the decisions right here” without interference from regulatory agencies. “Even if it is challenging, and people are divided and getting angry with each other, it will be you who make it and it won’t be someone else dictating it to you.”  Susan Mustapich

Arno’s interest in river restoration began with a summer 2020 internship with Maine Sea Grant, where she looked at bird and fish populations in the Penobscot River and Gulf of Maine between Bangor and Sandy Point, before and after dams were removed.

Data collection in this area began before the Great Works and Veazie dams were removed in 2012 and 13, and before there was a fish bypass to help fish around the Howland Dam upriver on the Piscataquis River, she explained. As part of her internship, she learned first-hand about pollution mitigation work, and the Penobscot Nation’s integral role with their “great water quality program” and partnership in dam removal efforts on the Penobscot River, that helps fish get to the tribe.

Arno has also done work along the Ducktrap River mapping invasive plants like barberry to help Coastal Mountains Land Trust better understand where they are and how to get rid of them. This area is often talked about as a conservation success because so much of the land along the river has been conserved by land trusts, she said. It was that experience that led her to take a class on river restoration where she learned about laws and policies for restoring rivers, and effects of restoring rivers, pollution, and climate change.

Arno’s perspective is that removing dams or opening up the Megunticook River for fish passage is not just about Camden.

“The river as it is now doesn’t just effect Camden,” she said.

Because of climate change and overfishing, a lot of fish populations and wildlife are in danger. If there were more fish, that could lead to more sea birds and marine mammals and benefits to fishermen, according to Arno.

If there’s more alewives, she explained, there’s more bait for fishermen, more lobsters and lobstermen and fish for recreational fishermen. There are ripple effects a healthy ecosystem will have on the economy.

“We will all do better in a healthy ecosystem,” she said.

On Aug. 27, Arno talked about how one of her favorite things to do is walk along the Ducktrap River. Throughout the spring, she walked the entire river from the Ducktrap beach to the head waters. One day in April she saw hundreds of alewives coming up the river where it is shallow, and the alewives were sparkling, she said. She saw an eagle come down and get one of the fish. “It was a really beautiful, amazing sight, and I hope that is something we can have in Camden.”

Arno also hopes that in discussions about what’s best for Camden, “we can open up our view to how we are affecting the entire watershed, the Bay and the Gulf of Maine.”

The full Aug. 27 event and presentations by Gassett and McGaw can be viewed on Facebook.