Woman paddling the Androscoggin for the health of it

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MEXICO — Paddling down the Androscoggin River from Errol, New Hampshire, to Topsham, Maine, 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 Friday in Mexico, 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. Classes C . . . 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 saw eagles every day, including three nests with eaglets, a loon, geese, merganser ducks and sandpipers.

Deraspe she said she thinks the area could be utilized as a natural resource for ecotourism. “I think it’s just waiting to happen, to become a nature-based economy. I’m saying, how could we create jobs that are more earth friendly?”

Deraspe believes that businesses interested in ecotourism and activities such as fishing, boating, canoeing, hiking and camping would benefit the state and the river.

In order to create healthier waterways Deraspe believes Mainers need to examine the dams and get rid of those that aren’t in use and have “more regulations on hydropower so it’s at a healthy level of oxygen and temperature.”

She also notes the importance of maintaining natural buffers of trees and plant growth by the river to keep farmland fertilizer, manure and pesticides out of the river, which cause algae blooms and have other detrimental effects on the river’s health.

“I see this as part of a sustainable economy, the river itself. For beauty, for natural habitat, and for the intrigue that Maine still holds,” Deraspe said.

She plans to end her canoe trip June 14 with a public celebration at Sea Dog Brewing Co. in Topsham.

To donate to mainerivers.org, see her Nurture Through Nature Facebook page gofundme link.

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Jen Deraspe paddles from the Swift River boat launch in Mexico on Friday. A native of the town, she is canoeing the length of the Androscoggin River — 173 miles from Errol, New Hampshire to Topsham, Maine. Her goal is to raise at least $5,000 for mainerivers.org. (Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times)

Jen Deraspe views the Androscoggin River from her canoe, which she’s paddling from Errol, New Hampshire to Topsham, Maine this month to raise money for mainerivers.org. (Submitted photo)

Jen Deraspe is paddling the entire length of the Androscoggin River to raise awareness of the river’s health and beauty. Her goal is to raise $5,000 for mainerivers.org, whose mission is to protect, restore and enhance the ecological health of Maine’s river systems. (Submitted photo)

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