MEXICO — Paddling down the Androscoggin River from Errol, New Hampshire, to Topsham, Jen Deraspe wants people to see the river through her eyes.

She is blogging about her trip on her Nature Through Nurture Facebook page, and hopes to raise at least $5,000 to donate to mainerivers.org, whose mission is to protect, restore and enhance the ecological health of Maine’s river systems.

“We really made a huge comeback (on the health of the Androscoggin River) since the ’80s,” Deraspe said in Mexico on Friday, the seventh day of her 13-day canoe trip.

Deraspe grew up on the Swift River in Mexico, where she spent plenty of time playing in and beside the rippling water in the 1970s.

She noticed the contrast of the clear, clean waters of the Swift River as they dropped into the smelly, foaming waters of the Androscoggin. It made her sad and confused, she said, because she knew the pollution was mostly because of paper company and other businesses’ waste products being dumped into the 173-mile-long river.

The confusion lay in the fact that her father and grandfather worked at the Rumford mill at that time and so did many of their neighbors. The mill provided good jobs for families but it was not regulated to keep pollutants out of the river.

“I lived a split life where the culture and its families honored and bowed to the paper mill industry as it allowed regular folks to make a great living,” Deraspe said.

In 1972, Rumford native and U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie helped to create the Clean Water Act, which regulated pollutant discharges into rivers.

During her sixth day paddling the river, Deraspe met with a representative from the Catalyst mill in Rumford, which was recently purchased by Nine Dragon Paper of China. She said she was told the river’s water quality from the Rumford area to Topsham has a C classification. Under the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, a C classification means the waterway has “the least restrictions on use and the lowest (but not low) water quality criteria. (Such) waters are still good quality, but the margin for error before significant degradation might occur in these waters in the event of an additional stress being introduced, such as a spill or a drought, is the least.”

“I feel like if we can make this river an example we can change all rivers,” Deraspe said. “And I’m not saying close the mill. I’m saying, can we do it a little better? Let’s pay attention to this resource that we have. Because it was ‘death’ and it’s not anymore.”

One of the most dangerous effects of the polluted water is there isn’t enough oxygen in the river to support healthy fish for humans or other things to eat, she said.

While on her journey she was surprised by how few signs of human activity there are along the riverbanks. Except for some “old homesteads and farmland,” she said she didn’t see anything besides wildlife.

She plans to end her canoe trip on Thursday with a public celebration at Sea Dog Brewing Co. in Topsham.

Marianne Hutchinson can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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