April 05, 2020

Boardwalk offers peek at long-lost natural treasure Long cleanup pays off in Corinna

CORINNA – A new boardwalk that provides astounding views of Corundel Lake, the East Branch of the Sebasticook River and former pastureland was completed last week using labor from the Charleston Correctional Facility.

The beauty of the area may surprise those who have come to know it as a contaminated, poisoned SuperFund site.

The wooden walkway meanders along the northern edge of the river from the town’s veterans’ park on Route 7, offering seasonal views and experiences. Snow geese land on the lake, resting during migration. Beavers, muskrats and raccoons feed on freshwater mussels in the river.

There is an scenic overlook with benches about halfway on the 840-foot-long walkway, and eventually the boardwalk will continue across Corundel Dam to the south side of the river.

“This is a treasure,” Town Manager Dalton Mullis commented last week while walking the trail.

But beginning in 1912, the site was anything but pretty. The former Eastland Woolen Mill once was located at downtown Corinna, on both sides and over the river. Dye and dye products were dumped into the river, poisoning the water and contaminating underground water supplies in fractured bedrock.

The six-year cleanup of the site not only required the demolition of the mill and the removal of the soil, but relocation of the riverbed and Route 7. Every building formerly on Route 7 in the downtown section was moved or demolished.

“The Dexter sewers, our sewers, the former Snowflake Canning Company potato waste and the dye from Eastland all ran into this river,” Mullis said last week. “It was dreadful.”

But the blank slate gave Corinna leaders a chance at a new beginning.

“We spent months and years on plans and dreams,” Mullis said, including making it a priority to provide recreational and scenic access to the river and lake that for so many years had been hidden behind the hulking mill.

It took a $20,000 grant from the Maine Department of Conservation, 19 days, thousands of board feet of lumber and 34,000 brass screws to complete the boardwalk.

Steve James, a Charleston inmate who worked on the boardwalk, was proud of the accomplishment.

“They originally said it would take five weeks,” he said. Getting through the swampy area to cut the boardwalk’s path was the most difficult part.

“We thought we were going to have to give the guys malaria shots,” Mullis joked. The walkway was originally planned to be 8 feet wide, but the Maine Department of Environmental Protection shortened that to 6 feet. “You can see, we did not disturb any soil,” Mullis said.

But as they worked, the inmates began seeing the possibilities – and a whole lot more.

They saw deer, hawks and a muskrat. Hundreds of ducks, snow geese and Canada geese began landing on the shores of the lake, resting before their winter migration.

Even the vegetation is varied and interesting. Wild raspberries grow along one section, while in another area there is a vast field of wild grasses, once a cow pasture. One section of the boardwalk had to be rerouted when the inmates demanded that a small tree be saved.

“They have done a spectacular job,” Mullis said.

At the end of the walk is Corundel Lake, which is the outlet of Lake Wassookeag in Dexter.

Corundel Lake is recognized as one of the most important stopping points for waterfowl migrating north and south on the Northeast flyway. April through November, the lake and surrounding marshes are alive with a variety of waterfowl.

The area is also popular with birding enthusiasts who have reported spotting red-winged blackbirds, mourning doves, swallows, loons, cormorants, belted kingfishers and bobolinks.

“There is really no development on this lake,” Mullis said, which makes it perfect for wildlife viewing.

The surrounding land is owned by just a handful of people, including a large section owned by the town of Corinna.

The boardwalk begins on Route 7, just behind the newly constructed Veterans Monument in downtown Corinna. It will be open year-round.

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