The Columbia Lake Dam was built on the Paulins Kill River in New Jersey in 1909 for ice harvesting and generating power for local communities. But it cut off the river’s water flow, preventing migratory fish like American shad from reaching their spawning habitat. Over time, sediment accumulated in the lake that formed behind the dam, choking fish and depleting food sources for birds and other wildlife. So after more than a century, The Nature Conservancy and a multitude of partners deconstructed the dam during the summer and fall of 2018.
Now, the Paulins Kill flows more freely, and 32 acres that were underwater serve as floodplain for the river. According to Beth Styler Barry, TNC’s river restoration manager in New Jersey, native plant seeds that had been buried underwater for years began to sprout only days after the lake drained. Bald eagles, blue herons, kingfishers and other wildlife are returning. “The river has not forgotten what to do,” says Beth. “All we had to do was get out of its way.”