In 2006 the Northern Forest Canoe Trail received a photo from a paddler showing his kayak wedged against a remnant dam wall in the Missisquoi River in East Highgate, Vermont. The paddler had become pinned against the wall and then pulled through a hole beneath the surface of the water.
With large cement walls that jut from river right and river left, it’s the right side remains that extend further into the river and hide the underwater hole. With reports of similar incidents that occurred prior to the establishment of the trail corridor, this location was made a top priority of our stewardship efforts on the Missisquoi River.
Ten years later, we are very close to having the 270-ton section of dam remains on the right side of the river removed. We need support to raise $10,000 to help us with the final costs for a contractor. Tax-deductible donations can be made here.
Then and Now
From 1837 to 1956, the Rixford Manufacturing Co. made scythes and axes at their East Highgate location and used the dam to power the factory.
Most of the dam was demolished by a flood in 1927, one of the most destructive floods in Vermont’s history having killed 84 people and taken out 1,285 bridges.
Today, during flows of certain levels, the dam remains can be a dangerous feature. The center-line current of the Missisquoi River is directed at the river right concrete remains.
Just above the site is the Machia Road Bridge with a large cement pier that stands in the middle of the river. The pier adds another element to navigating this part of the river just before reaching the dam remnants.
With the help of Swanton Village, the town of Highgate, and private landowners, NFCT installed a portage route around this section in 2007. That same year, we organized an on-site meeting of local and state officials to view the dam remains and start the conversation about removing them from the river.
Since then we have continued to take the lead in aligning partners to have the dam remnants removed, obtaining permits, and raising funds to make it happen. Coordination efforts have been funded primarily by donations made to NFCT’s Trail Fund.
In 2015, Wenonah Canoe created a one-of-a-kind ‘Cownoe’ (an 18 ft. touring canoe with black and white graphics) for NFCT to raffle and raise funds for our overall work on the Missisquoi River. Part of the $3,100 raised went towards staff time on this project.
In the past year, the town of Highgate and the Highgate Historical Society both provided approval for the removal project. Swanton Village, which actually owns the dam remains, also gave approval.
This past spring, the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife awarded NFCT a $10,000 Vermont Watershed Grant. This significant funding moved the project into the fast track.
The Northwest Regional Planning Commission has pledged funds to cover the necessary historic preservation survey, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has committed to helping NFCT navigate the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permitting process.
Most recently, Fox44/ABC22 interviewed trail director Walter Opuszynski at the East Highgate, Vermont location to report on the story. View the news story here.
With so many partners at the local, state, and federal level getting behind this project, we are getting very close to making it happen. Now we need to raise an additional $10,000 to help pay for a contractor to have the dam remains removed.
You can help now by making a contribution to NFCT’s Trail Fund. Donations are tax-deductible and can be designated to the East Highgate Dam Removal.
To learn more about the project, contact trail director Walter Opuszynski at [email protected], 802-496-2285 ext. 2.