Camden, Maine, and New York: Coastal Mountains Land Trust and Aperture,
Hardcover, $50.00

This is a spectacular book. Large in format, eloquent in artwork and design,
high in price, quietly well-spoken in its text, “To Save A River” is, in effect, a
lesson plan for protecting a significant natural area.

The river in question is the Ducktrap, a stream of a dozen miles that flows
into Penobscot Bay just north of Lincolnville Beach. As author Scott Dickerson
explains, the Ducktrap is important because it is one of a handful of rivers in the
northeastern United States with naturally-occurring runs of Atlantic Salmon. The
Ducktrap’s sea-run salmon, in turn, are highly visible indicators of the health of
two ecosystems — the Ducktrap River and the Atlantic Ocean — where they
spend their lives.

Dickerson managed geographic information systems (GIS) and the
Penobscot Bay Research Collaborative for the Island Institute before joining the
Coastal Mountains Land Trust and taking on the leadership of the Ducktrap Coalition.
Those experiences, plus graduate work in GIS at the College of the Atlantic,
gave him a systems-level perspective on environmental protection; an
understanding of the need to consider the natural world in the broadest possible

In the case of Atlantic salmon, he writes, what’s needed is an “umbrella” of
protection: a forested buffer that captures suspended solids, moderates high and
low water flows, provides habitat for insects that are food for salmon, and shades
the river and its tributaries during hot weather. The Ducktrap Coalition’s task
from the start, Dickerson makes clear, was to create this umbrella by protecting a
significant amount of riparian land.

The Ducktrap River and its surrounding landscape look “wild” today, but
appearances can deceive. The river’s banks are littered with signs of long-ago
human activity: foundations of lost houses and barns; the remnants of dams,
bridges and mills; stone walls; fields and orchards that have reverted to woods;
abandoned gravel pits. It’s the landscape that evolved in much of Maine,
including its islands, in the late 19th century after the region’s farmers departed
for the richer lands of the Midwest. Fortunately for the Ducktrap and its run of
salmon, subsequent decades of obscurity and neglect provided time for the
watershed to restore itself: spring freshets breached the dams and destroyed the
bridges, while woods filled in the abandoned pastures and homestead clearings.

Still, natural regeneration could not have protected this river from the sprawl
and development of the late 20th century. By the time the Ducktrap Coalition and
the area’s several land trusts were organized in the early 1990s it was
abundantly clear that protecting wild land meant much more than benign neglect.

Dickerson salts his ecological description of the watershed with land-
protection stories: the stand of old-growth pines that might have financed an
owner’s business startup had the Coalition not come up with an imaginative way
to protect them; the couple who found themselves in possession of a gravel pit
that was damaging the river and came to the Coalition for help; the seven heirs
who decided to sell their former family homestead and were able to do so while
protecting the land in its wild state. These accounts — inserted into several of
the book’s chapters — help put the emphasis on the “saving” as well as the
“river” of the book’s title.

I haven’t mentioned what will prompt many to buy this book in the first place:
the magnificent black-and-white photographs of the watershed by Dennis C.
Schultz. These are platinum prints, made using a process patented in 1873.
Schultz’s photography is reminiscent of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston (who
also used platinum printing), and at times suggests the work of Eliot Porter.
Schultz spent three years photographing the Ducktrap in all seasons from its
headwater wetlands at Briggs Meadow in Belmont to the Penobscot Bay inlet
known as Ducktrap where the river meets the sea. The results are stunning and
evocative, to say the least, and they come as close to capturing the essence of a
wild river as human artifice can.