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Stories

Restoring Trout Brook with the Trout Brook Youth Conservation Corps

On a cloudy day in July, I met with the crew members of the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC). Rain fell steadily that morning and by 10 am, despite the peeking sun, the yard beside Kimball Brook was a swamp.

Rain fell steadily that morning and by 10 am, despite the peeking sun, the yard beside Kimball Brook was a swamp. The YCC crew members, comprised of five teens and young adults, were unfazed by the soaking grass and sinking mud. AJ Romano seemed excited about the wet ground as he dug the toe of his new Timberland boots into the dirt. It’s only a matter of time before AJ’s pristine boots are covered in mud, and he was eager to speed up the process. The rest of the crew sport scuffed up boots, orange tee shirts, and dirty jeans: the unofficial uniform of the YCC. 

The YCC crew members, comprised of five teens and young adults, were unfazed by the soaking grass and sinking mud. AJ Romano seemed excited about the wet ground as he dug the toe of his new Timberland boots into the dirt. It’s only a matter of time before AJ’s pristine boots are covered in mud, and he was eager to speed up the process. The rest of the crew sport scuffed up boots, orange tee shirts, and dirty jeans: the unofficial uniform of the YCC. 

The Trout Brook Youth Conservation Corps - crew members from left to right, Andrew Volent, Brandon Ledoux, Sage Waldron, AJ Romano, Caroline Gleason and team leader Ryan Messier

“I mean everything on earth needs water… humans, plants, animals, it all revolves around water.”
- AJ Romano

The YCC restores the land around Trout Brook and its tributaries, like Kimball. They rip out invasive plants, manage erosive banks, and redirect stream patterns, all in an effort to improve the water quality of the streams. Trout Brook runs through many backyards in South Portland and Cape Elizabeth. It’s an urban impaired stream – meaning that years of urban runoff, storm water, and pollution have damaged the water quality. Trout Brook is small, just 2.9 miles long. Despite its size, this stream has a great impact on the water quality and ecosystem of the Casco Bay watershed. The water running in Trout Brook drains to Fore River and eventually Casco Bay.

Sage Waldron looks on as AJ Romano digs holes for new plants on the riverbank 

It’s not often that I meet teenagers (or adults, for that matter) who really love their job. But the YCC are surprisingly enthusiastic about the work they do. They’re quick to tell me why it’s important and how the restoration is helping the brook. Some members, like Caroline Gleason, study environmental science, while others joined the crew simply to get paid to be outside in the summer. 

Brandon Ledoux lives in Cape Elizabeth and the upper watershed is his backyard. He likes to be outside, he likes to get dirty, and he cares about the stream because he likes to fish – those are the reasons he joined the YCC. After a few months working with the YCC, Brandon can tell me why they plant certain native species and how sediment affects the water quality. “One of my favorite parts is seeing the before and after and how far it’s come so far.” He feels like he’s making a difference, and he’s learning about an important ecosystem in his own backyard.

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Brandon Ledoux and Sage Waldron show off the YCC tools. “I feel like we’re making a difference in the long run.”
- Sage Waldron

This morning the team finishes the restoration quickly. They transformed what was a mess of invasive species into a landscaped garden - with native bayberry and dogwood plants. With the hard work behind them, the crew begins posing for photographs. They joke with me as they pose with sledgehammers, some of the tools they have on hand for whatever work may come their way. “You can never predict what’s going to happen next with this job.” Says crew member Andrew Volent, “It’s just fun.”

The restoration of Trout Brook is possible through the work of many partners including the towns of South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, as well as the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District. For more information about the Trout Brook Restoration Project visit http://www.cumberlandswcd.org/troutbrook/ 


Written and photographed by Galen Koch.