Local NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands 90.1 91.1 94.3
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Let's Party Like It's 1909: Bringing Back the Herring River

Friends of Herring River
Herring used to swim up the Herring River in huge numbers a century ago

In 1909, the Town of Wellfleet and the State of Massachusetts built a dike at the mouth of the Herring River to dry out a wetland and get rid of a plague of mosquitos. 

It worked, and tourism flourished. But there was a cost. Water quality in the estuary got worse. Shellfish beds disappeared. And migratory fish couldn’t reach their spawning ponds.

Now, more than 100 years later, the federal government, along with state and local officials, are working together to put the area back the way it was. They’re going to take down the dike and restore 1,100 acres of wetland, most of which is west of Route 6.

It’s largest project of its kind between Maine and New York and is expected to cost $40 million and take until 2020 to complete. 

Don Palladino is the president and founding member of the Friends of Herring River and John Portnoy was an ecologist for nearly 30 years, during which he studied Herring River extensively. They tell WCAI it took until now for public opinion to shift to the point that people were willing to restore the wetland. The project needs to be done slowly and carefully, they say, to avoid flooding the area too quickly and causing even more problems for the plants and animals that live there. 

Credit Friends of Herring River
Herring River in 1908 as the dike was being built
Credit Friends of Herring River
Herring River today