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Nature's course is good news at Popham
Portland Press Herald/ Friday, March 12, 2010

Powerful February storms altered the Morse River, which had threatened a new septic system.
Staff Writer

In just two years, one of Maine's most popular beaches could be much bigger and even more spectacular.

The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands and a state geologist attribute the expected changes at Popham Beach to a radical shift in the course of the Morse River, caused by Mother Nature.

They say a powerful rain and wind storm Feb. 25-26 carved a hole in a sandbar at nearby Seawall Beach that was large enough to alter the course of the river, bending it away from Popham Beach State Park directly into the ocean.

The river's course had threatened than last to overrun new year with bathhouses and the promise submerged several hundred yards of of being prime sandy beach.

"There will more beach blanket space," Stephen summer of Dickson, a marine geologist with the Maine Geological Survey, said Thursday.

Dickson said new beach is already beginning to form, and while it will still be narrow this spring at high tide, the beach area this summer will be "better than last year, with the promise of being spectacular by the summer of 2012."

For months, state officials and property owners watched as the Morse River flowed closer and closer to the park, pushing the high tide mark inland by about 180 feet, and to within 73 feet of the bathhouses.

The Maine Geological Survey said the incursion uprooted trees, eroded dunes and caused a significant loss of beach space on the western side of the park, and was beginning to threaten Popham Beach State Park's new $1.4 million bathhouse and septic system.

Some property owners called for the state to dredge and fill the river, to force the river to take a more direct outlet to the ocean.

But after February's storm, things changed - for the better.

The state Bureau of Parks and Lands flew over Popham Beach on Wednesday, taking aerial photographs that verified what observers on the ground were starting to see.

"This is certainly what we've been looking and hoping for, for the Morse River to return to its original channel and allow the beach to rebuild itself," said Will Harris, director of the Bureau of Parks and Lands, in a prepared statement.

Even Dick Hill, who owns a cottage at Popham Beach, said he was excited after visiting the Morse River on Sunday at low tide.

Hill had been vocal in calling for the river channel to be filled to protect the state park from further damage.

"It was amazing," Hill said Thursday night "There was not one drop of water draining out by the state park side."

But Hill urged the state to keep a closer eye on the Morse River over the next several years and take more aggressive steps if it starts to curve back toward the park.

Dickson, the marine geologist, couldn't have been happier. Though Mother Nature could alter the course of the river again, Dickson said he doubts it will happen in the near future. Dickson said it could take another 10 to 15 years for the river to change course.

In the meantime, he encourages people to visit Popham Beach to see the changes that are happening there. "As scientists," he said, "we are excited because it was such a rapid geologic change."

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6565 or

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