It’s hard to say just how long it has been since a section of the Little River in Georgetown flowed naturally.

A logging road, built sometime in the past, had been preventing the steady flow of water for decades. Now, thanks to the work of the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, the water will flow normally again this summer.

Ruth Indrick, Project Coordinator at KELT, spearheaded the project to return the tides to the small estuary. She said the road has likely been there for over 50 years.

“I talked with someone who is probably 70 now who said when they were here as a kid they told her not to walk on the old road,” she said.

The old road isn’t exactly in a well-traveled spot these days. Signs of the logging that once went on thanks to the road are sparse. “It’s tucked in the upper marsh, a lot of people don’t know it’s there. The only people who might have known are hunters who might have walked across it.”

Despite its seeming insignificance, the road posed a big problem for the health of the estuary. It served as an unnatural barrier to the flow of water between the Little River and the more saline waters further south. In times of heavy rain, large amounts of fresh water would build up behind the causeway. The tides too, are dammed by the old road.

That meant all the water north of the road would become slow moving, and mostly fresh. The sun would heat the water up in the summer, turning it into a habitat very different from the estuary it once was. That causes things to change. Plants used to colder, more saline water start to die out and other move in. Invasive plants, as well, find the environment more friendly.

“The types of plants start changing, and the whole dynamics of the upper area are different,” said Indrick.

Water temperatures also affect fish species. Juvenile fish have narrow temperature ranges in which they thrive, and the warmer fresher water kept a lot of species out.

Fixing problems with estuaries fits well with KELT’s mission. Actually changing the flow of water in a coastal estuary, however, isn’t exactly a walk in a park.

The project first started in 2012, with a survey from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Then, KELT had to secure grants necessary to fund the work, in this case obtained from the Maine Natural Resources Conservation Program. Monitoring of the water, both upstream and downstream of the causeway, was necessary to determine what the flow of water should have been without it. Then, there was permitting.

“There was a lot of permitting,” said Indrick.

Army Corps of Engineers, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, a review by the Maine Tribes and Maine Historic Preservation Commission, and more. Plus, the grant from the state required specific evidence that the project would be beneficial.

While the permitting took a lot of time, it did have the benefit of making it clear the project would work. “When we got equipment on the ground, we felt confident that it would be able to carry out the work and that it would turn out the way we hoped it would.”

Six years of surveying and permitting amounted to two days of on-the-ground work. Linkel Construction brought an excavator to the site and removed a pre-planned amount of material that should restore the waterway to its natural state.

Monitoring of the water will continue, and time will tell whether it worked. One thing is certain: The tides will flow once more on the river.

“It’s really exciting. It will be fun to see how the plants change in the upper wetland,” said Indrick. “It will be interesting to see how quickly everything comes back.”