Camp Wihakowi Dam, Northfield (2020)

Friends of the Winooski River, working with funding and technical support from Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, Lake Champlain Basin Program, The Nature Conservancy, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, and Vermont Natural Resources Council—and local landowners Lisa and Jonathan Burr—removed a breached 100-foot long concrete dam that was posing safety hazards and causing property damage on a former summer camp in Northfield that is now The Woods Lodge, a local inn and retreat center.

Read an op-ed by Lisa Burr, owner of The Woods Lodge, about the benefits of removing their dam.

The crumbling structure blocked fish passage on Bull Run, a tributary to the Dog River, and its removal eliminates the last barrier to its headwaters, and opens up 26-miles of stream habitat, creating better cold-water conditions for fish, like brook trout. Access to cold headwaters is especially important as climate change brings us warmer summers; trout need a refuge from the warm, dry conditions we see this year.

Friends of the Winooski River began the project by in 2018, hiring Milone & MacBroom, Inc (MMI) to conduct a feasibility study and design for removal at the former Camp Wihakowi. Fundraising and permitting continued through 2019, leading up to about twelve weeks of excavation work by Hilltop Construction this summer. Once complete, 24,000 cubic yards of sediment that had built up behind the dam will be removed—the equivalent of more than 1500 full dump trucks.

The Camp Wihakowi Dam created an impoundment and a barrier to aquatic organism passage on Bull Run in Northfield. The dam was built circa 1920 to create a large pond for a youth summer camp. A small portion of the dam was breached in the late 20th century, but the dam continues to hold nearly 100 years’ worth of accumulated sediment behind it. A dam failure would have released the impounded sediment downstream towards Lake Champlain. A sudden release would have destabilized downstream reaches, and had a significant negative impact on habitat and biota.

After dam removal

The partial breach of the dam notwithstanding, the dam continued to disrupt downstream sediment transport, resulting in upstream sediment accumulation and downstream scour. During Tropical Storm Irene, and other recent large storms, the dam was reported to have exacerbated upstream flooding, which caused severe erosional damage to land and infrastructure. Removal of the dam, which is located at the head of a bedrock reach, restored stream equilibrium and reduce downstream erosion.

It also restored fish passage to at least 6.3 miles of main stem river (third order or larger), as well as many more miles in smaller tributaries, and allowed native trout to access miles of upstream habitat that will be critical for providing cold water refuge as temperatures rise.

Bull Run rises in Roxbury and flows north into the Dog River in Northfield. The total watershed area of Bull Run is approximately 9.3 square miles, with 8.6 square miles above the Camp Wihakowi Dam. Bull Run contains abundant brook trout upstream and downstream of the Camp Wihakowi Dam, and it is a B1 water for fishing.