SKOWHEGAN — Bright orange ribbons marked the rough outline of a path through the Whitten Brook Conservation Area Monday morning, while a handful of local students worked to clear trees and pull roots.

The conservation area, a small portion of the brook’s 300-acre watershed, is one of just a few urban wild brook trout streams in the state, but has been damaged over the years by urbanization along the U.S. Route 201 corridor, which has brought metals and other pollutants into the brook through run-off.

Restoration efforts have been ongoing since 2012, including a new trail that was started by the students on Monday.

“The more this area gets cleaned up, the more it gets treated well,” said Derek Ellis, a member of the Skowhegan Conservation Commission and the park director at nearby Lake George Regional Park. “People are here anyway, and the trail will help keep them focused.”

Over the last year, Ellis has been working with a group of students from the Marti Stevens Learning Center, the alternative education program in School Administrative District 54, on conservation projects at the lake as part of an “outdoor classroom” project.

While most of the work the students have done so far has been at Lake George, on Monday they visited the conservation area to start on a new project. The conservation area, which many students said they didn’t know existed before Monday, is located off Russell Road.

The trail will help to better preserve the pond for the trout because it will keep people focused on a designated area of the woods and prevent littering, Ellis said. It will also help stabilize the steep bank around the pond, preventing erosion and protecting the fishes’ habitat.

Restoration efforts at Whitten Brook have been underway since 2012, when the town received an $88,649 grant from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to change the flow of run-off from downtown Skowhegan that was carrying pollutants into the brook.

Since then, retention ponds have been built behind Madison Avenue to collect polluted storm-water runoff from downtown and prevent it from entering the brook. The water quality, which is monitored by the Skowhegan Conservation Commission, has improved, but there is still work to be done, Ellis said.

“It has come a long way. With the creation by the EPA of those retention cells, that’s cleaned it up significantly. It’s an ongoing thing. It’s a lot bigger project,” he said.

The students will also be working on trail restoration at the Yankee Woodlot behind the University of Maine Cooperative Extension on Wednesday, Ellis said. The two projects are something that they will complete in the fall.

“This is the type of stuff I like to do even when I’m not in school,” said Benton Stamper, 18, a senior who will be graduating in a few weeks. He said he hopes to find a job in landscaping or a similar field.

In addition to the two projects the teens are working on with Ellis, their teacher, Josh Harris, said he hopes they can take the skills they’ve learned and apply them to restore a trail behind the Marti Stevens center next fall.

“I hope they can take the skills they’ve learned at Lake George and out here and work on the trail that we have,” he said. “Not only that, but they’re building a connection to the community.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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