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Trout Unlimited Embrace A Stream Project

Through WWRI's assistance, The Central Massachusetts Trout Unlimited chapter #148 has been funded by TU National with matching funds provided by Nestle Waters North America's Sustainability Division to restore a portion of the Wekepeke Brook in Sterling, MA. We will be using this page to detail the project and provide information and updates as we transition from planning to restoration.

Central Massachusetts Trout Unlimited Chapter #148 (CMTU) proposes to undertake the Wekepeke Brook Reconnect Project, which will remove fish passage barriers and reconnect the upper portion of the brook. Wekepeke Brook is a recognized Cold-water Fishery Resource and tributary to the Nashua River. Recent studies demonstrate that due to the degradation of habitat structure, caused in part by the long-term presence of remnant infrastructure, native eastern brook trout and brown trout are present, but in lower than expected numbers. Our goal is to leverage the wealth of available data to design and implement a restoration plan to improve a highly impacted section of the brook. The project is located in the Town of Sterling, MA downstream of the Heywood Road crossing; this 100-meter long stretch is characterized by numerous restrictive concrete barriers and an abandoned stone box-culvert that impedes fish passage and reduces habitat connectivity.

Check back soon, as this content will continue to change.

Project Press

8/09/2013 The Item article click Here for a link or Here for a PDF

8/24/2013 Sterling Meeting house News article (page 17) click Here for a link or Here for a PDF

8/30/2013 The Item article click Here for the link or Here for a PDF

8/30/2013 Sentinel and Enterprise article click Here for the link or Here for a PDF

9/04/2013 Telegram and Gazette article click Here for the link or Here for a PDF

September Central Massachusetts Trout Unlimited Newsletter click Here for a PDF

Project Time Line

Below you will find the Central Massachusetts Trout Unlimited Project timeline for the Wekepeke Brook re-connect project. The project officially covers one year ending in April 2014. We anticipate having most of the work completed in the fall of 2013 leaving time for us to evaluate the planted native vegetation in the spring to ensure that it survived the first winter.

Main Project Elements

Award of Trout Unlimited’s Embrace-A-Stream Grant

CMTU’s proposal was well received and one of the few fully funded projects chosen by Trout Unlimited this year. It is also the only project within the State of Massachusetts this year. The proposal was developed with the assistance of the Rushing Rivers Institute and the Wekepeke Watershed Restoration Initiative. We believe that our established networks within the watershed communities through WWRI greatly strengthened our proposal, especially when considering the available in-kind services through these groups. Additionally, the availability of a 1:1 cash match from Nestle Waters North America’s Sustainability Division ensured that there would be sufficient funds available to cover the proposed work.


Wetland Boundary Delineation and Engineering Survey

In late June a consulting firm was hired to map the topography of the study area and to produce a survey map that could be used for both project planning and permitting purposes. Important structures were identified on this map, as well as the flagged wetland boundaries, and property lines.

The generated project survey map can be found Here.


Invasive Species Removal

One of the goals of the CMTU project was to remove invasive plants from within the project area. While the main focus of the project was to remove the physical barriers and restrictions to fish passage that were present in this section of the brook, the removal of invasive species was also very important. This was done for several reasons. Invasive species can out compete and shade native plants that play a vital role in the life-cycles of native fauna. By removing non-native species we are allowing native plants to reoccupy areas that were lost. The presence of native species along the river banks can have a beneficial effect for the fish within the stream as well. They provide fruits, seeds and organic materials that may fall into the river, and attract native birds and animals that contribute to the life cycle and dispersion of aquatic life. Additionally, since the banks would be disrupted by excavation equipment during the proposed demolition, there would be a greater likelihood of spreading invasive plants due to their ability to occupy disturbed ground. By removing them in advance, we are providing the native plants that are present and those that we will replace with a better chance of survival. CMTU teamed up with Fitchburg State University and enlisted the help of plant biology students to identify the species present in the work site and help to remove them.

Click Here to read the Blog post about Invasive Plant Removal on the Wekepeke.

Photos from the Invasive Plant removal work days


Conservation Commission Notice of Intent Approval

Since this project involves the restoration of a stream and impacts both the stream and the adjacent wetlands, it is therefore subject to the Wetlands and Rivers Protection Acts. In order for this project to proceed we needed to follow the appropriate permitting protocols, including filing a Notice of Intent with the Sterling Conservation Commission and Massachusetts Department of Ecological Protection. After filling out the necessary forms and providing supplemental project information, a public hearing was held and the project was approved subject to the Commission’s Order of Conditions. The Town of Sterling joined Trout Unlimited as a co-applicant on the project due to the replacement of a failing culvert at the upstream end of the project site.


Existing Fish Community

The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife conducted a fish survey of the project area to document the species present in the brook prior to the restoration. It is our hope that a survey will also be conducted after the area has been restored and has stabilized. Any data about the fish that were sampled will be made available Here when possible.

The survey documented three age classes of eastern brook trout in the project area, which confirms the presence of a reproducing population. The population dynamics of the preliminary data suggest that there is some impairment (as we suspect) in this section of the brook. About half of the fish sampled can be considered warm-water tolerant fish, likely present because of the Heywood Basin upstream from this location. The survey confirmed that reproducing brook trout are present in the study area and our restoration project will help the species within the watershed.


Culvert Replacement

The Trout Unlimited project begins where the brook emerges from a culvert under Heywood Road. Culverts can often act as obstacles for fish passage in a number of ways. Currently, this culvert can be considered only a minor obstacle; however it has exceeded its life expectancy and is rapidly deteriorating. There was some concern that it could fail, jeopardizing the road and the downstream habitat. Therefore, CMTU partnered with the Town of Sterling to look into options for repairing the culvert in conjunction with the stream restoration project. The old culvert was removed by the Sterling DPW while Wekepeke Re-connect project personnel were on site.

Culvert photos


Fish Passage Barrier Removal

The main element of this project is the removal of unnecessary man-made structures from a 300 foot portion of the Wekepeke Brook. These include several concrete retaining walls, some clay piping, and some stacked stone walls. The concrete retaining wall in particular poses the greatest obstacle to fish. The brook in this location is restricted from what would normally be 6 or 8 feet down to approximately 18 inches. This restriction causes an increase in water velocity, especially during higher flows that may prevent some fish from moving upstream. Additionally, the small gap is prone to collecting debris and becoming clogged. Debris jams in this small stretch of river not only affect the fish in the brook, but could also undermine the upstream culvert and roadway. The presence of stone retaining walls along the site also prevent easy access to the stream by animals due to the absence of natural banks. This project will remove the man-made materials from the stream and restore natural river banks along this portion of the brook.

Photos of obstacles and their removal

Removal work on the old coffer dam took place using a jack hammer and sledge. The structure was located too far out in the wetlands to bring in heavy machinery with out causing major disruption to the area. The old dam has a slot for inserting riser boards to raise the water height. There is a clay pipe that goes through the structure and allows for water to leak through. This pipe was too clogged with debris to adequately allow for fish passage and during periods of low flow, there is no possibility for fish to move over the structure. Our removal focused on the large (6 ft x 5 ft x 2 ft) concrete slab with the pipe culvert. By removing this structure we will ensure fish passage under any flow conditions.



Boulder retaining walls were removed from a section of bank to re-connect the brook to it's flood plain. The concrete restriction point was removed and some large stones were dislodged from the stone bridge culvert.


Erosion Control

In the project area, the natural river banks were long ago replaced with the concrete and stone retaining walls. After these structures are removed, there will be temporarily exposed and un-vegetated soils along the brook. To prevent the erosion of these soils until new vegetation can take root and stabilize the banks, we will be installing erosion control measures such as netting, hay bales and mats. This practice will prevent the top soil from washing away during rain events until we can replant the disturbed area.



Native Plant Re-vegetation

As we mentioned in the section above about invasive plant species removal, it was important to us that this project take a holistic approach to ensure the long-term success of the restoration activities. To do this we wanted to improve not only the conditions within the stream, but also those along the adjacent floodplain. We successfully removed a large quantity of invasive plants from the project area in preparation for the restoration work. After the demolition and removal of the in-stream structures, we returned to the site to plant native sedges, shrubs and saplings in the disturbed area. Fourteen students from Fitchburg State University, their professor Dr. John Ludlum, and Landscape Architect/Medicinal Plant Specialist Todd Lynch ( volunteered to plant the 90 saplings and four pounds of seed selected for the project. Once established, the shrubs and trees will control bank erosion, keep the brook cool by adding shade, and provide fruit and habitat opportunities for birds and other animals.


Photos of native plant efforts

Invasive Species Removal Part II

With the project nearing completion, we decided to hold an additional invasive species removal day to tackle a grove of multiflora rose that had become established in the lower end of the site. Volunteers from Nestle Waters North America and Central Massachusetts Trout Unlimited came together to cut, haul and dug up the invasive roses. An enormous quantity of vegetation was piled up for removal from the site. Silky Willow plugs were planted along the banks where no other native shrubs remained after the effort. Between our three removal days we hosted nearly 30 volunteers. CMTU is committed to additional work on the site in 2014.

Post-Project Evaluation

Once completed, we will be able to summarize the project, evaluate our efforts and comment on the process.


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