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Webhannet Watershed

Public Swimming Beaches

The Webhannet River Watershed covers approximately 14 square miles entirely within Wells, Maine. It includes the main stem of the Webhannet River, Blacksmith Brook, Pope Brook, other small tributaries, numerous wetlands and ponds, and a large salt marsh estuary. Several large blocks of undeveloped forest and wetlands exist within the watershed and include habitats of high value to rare and endangered species. The most significant of these forest blocks sit west of the Maine Turnpike, in the headwaters of the watershed. Several parcels of conservation land are located around the estuary and associated marsh, at the mouth of the Webhannet River. These belong to the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge and small private easements. Most of the development in the watershed is concentrated near the coast along Route 1, and along Sanford Road heading inland. The coastal areas are characterized by a high percentage of impervious surfaces, which often results in increased stormwater runoff. Wells harbor is located at the mouth of the Webhannet River and is dredged periodically to allow access for private and commercial boats.

Two swimming beaches are located at the mouth of the river. These beaches are separated from the estuary by dunes that have been densely developed with homes. Some of the remaining dunes provide habitat for the endangered Piping Plover.

Wells Beach runs for over a mile and a half, from the mouth of the Webhannet River, to Fishermans Cove. It is bordered by hundreds of homes along Webhannet Drive and Atlantic Avenue.

Drakes Island Beach extends north from the mouth of the Webhannet River, to the end of Island Beach Road. It is bordered by homes numerous homes along this road.

Town is seeking money and permits to redredge the mooring area and channel.

The area open to annual clamming is shrinking on the upland edges.
Ongoing Projects:
Water quality of Wells beach being compiled weekly during the swimming season;

Impacts of the 2001 dredging of the harbor area are being monitored;

Key Resource(s) for Webhannet Watershed:
(Click the Title of the entry below to learn more.)
Great Works Regional Land Trust
Community Assistance Providers

Serving the communities of Berwick, Eliot, Ogunquit, and Wells.

Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve
Community Assistance Providers
The Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve is dedicated to protecting and restoring coastal ecosystems of the Gulf of Maine through integrated research, education, stewardship, environmental learning, and community partnerships.
Webhannet River Conservation Strategy
Outreach Publications
Outlines the current conservation status of the watershed with possible goals to ensure that the river is buffered against changing landuse.
Towns located in Watershed:
Wells [ME]
Counties located in Watershed:
York [ME]
 Website: www.co.york.me.us
 Phone: 207-324-1571
 Population SWIM Towns: 121,400
 Total County Population: 202,232 (U.S. Census Est. 2006)
 Area SWIM Towns: 645.3 square miles
 Total County Area: 1002.6 square miles
Waterbodies located in Watershed:
(WC-watercourse, WB-waterbody)

Blacksmith Brook [WC]; Bragdon Brook [WC]; Depot Brook [WC]; Pope Creek [WC]; Stevens Brook [WC]

The tidal portion of the Webhannet River and its adjacent uplands were used by the Native Americans (Abenaki, Sokaki) for perhaps up to 11,000 years for both agriculture, hunting, and fishing. Europeans first started to settle along the tidal shores in the1630s, attracted by the access to the Gulf of Maine and protection from storms for their boats with the Town of Wells being incorporated in 1641. Fish, fur, and timber were the first resources to be exploited and farming soon followed. The marsh edges were intensively used for commercial shipping, boat building, and houses. Livestock were grazed on and degraded the salt marshes.

In 1692 there were 5 lumber mills operating on the Webhannet and Little Rivers. In 1790 a vessel of 800 tons was built on its banks. By 1850 there were 24 registered shipwrights using local materials. 132 ocean going ships were built between 1800 and 1884. The marsh was ditched and diked in the 1890s in a failed effort to produce more livestock feed.

The railroad arrived in 1842 and trolleys in the early 1900s. These transportation improvements moved the center of the town’s activity from the marshes inland to what would become Route 1. The last boat to be built in Wells was in 1905. Improved transportation also brought the first visitors for “farm stays” following the Civil War. Vacationing at the beach began to become popular at the turn of the century and the beach dune system of the Webhannet was divided up and sold in small lots.

In an effort to improve safety and navigation the mouth of the river was dredged in the 1960s and the present stone jetties constructed. The 382,000 cubic yards of sand removed created 43 acres of upland where the town dock, boat yard, park, and restaurant are presently located. The jetties and subsequent efforts to manage and maintain the harbor have impacted both the tidal flow of the estuaries and the movement of sand along the barrier beaches.

Webhannet Falls
The Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve at Laudholm Farm, Wells, Maine Copyright 2006 All rights reserved. Collaboration with NOAA CSC, Charleston SC