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Sun Power Keeps Herring Counter Running At Upper Shawme Pond 5-31-17

Sun Power Keeps Herring Counter Running At Upper Shawme Pond
The Sandwich Enterprise
By: JULIA B. GAGNON

With two hands planted firmly on the steering wheel, Neal F. Holmgren navigated his truck, emblazoned with his company's logo, Solar Rising, around the curves and bends of Grove Street. The steady roar of his engine stopped at a location marked only by a large metal gate and the tire tracks of previous travelers.

He stepped down from the truck and began making his way up a narrow dirt path with an air of familiarity, unfazed by the overgrowth that threatened to claim the path for its own.

As each footprint left its mark on the soft, muddy earth, another aspect of daily life was replaced by a different sound. The noise of cars passing by was replaced with the quiet chatter of birds, and the rush of water over the dam that contains Upper Shawme Pond.

Mr. Holmgren stopped at the top of the grassy hill and stepped out into a field of white daisies, each one pointing the way to a small wooden bridge that looks out over the pond, keeping watch over the herring population that the town works hard to protect.

However, the destination was not the weather-worn boards of the bridge, but their newest addition—a small patch of solar panels elevated upon a wooden structure that stands over the pond's herring run.

In a longstanding effort to bring the local herring population back after years of depletion, these panels—donated and installed three months ago by Mr. Holmgren and his team at Solar Rising—power a machine that counts the herring as they make their way upstream into the pond to spawn. While the counter has been in place since the dam was rebuilt, it had been run on batteries that needed to be replaced regularly.

Now the counter is powered by the sun.

"Really what we're trying to do is restore natural fish runs that have been depleted throughout Cape Cod, either through pollution of the waterways or building economic development which has shut off those paths," said Mr. Holmgren, raising his voice slightly to be heard over the churning waters below, "So this is a way that they can count how many fish are coming and find ways to improve the natural migration of the herring."

The town's endeavors to promote herring migration, which began in 2008 with the reconstruction of the Upper Shawme Pond dam, continue to have a lasting impact. This season the newly installed panels counted more than 3,000 herring—an average number for repopulation in the area. However, there is speculation that this year's numbers will prove to be lower in future comparisons, due to work that was done this year around the lower pond's dam, which included the construction of a new herring run

Assistant Director of Natural Resources for the Town of Sandwich David J. DeConto anticipates seeing the numbers climb in future years. "This new run makes it so much easier for [the herring] to get up into the pond," he said.

Creating accessible pathways to freshwater for the local herring population is important not only for ecological preservation but also for the economic benefit of the town, Mr. DeConto said. Although the counter and the marine life it faithfully oversees remain hidden from the town's gaze, their impact reaches local fishing industries and those who partake in it.

"Herring are food for many different sources of animals further up on [the] food chain, specifically striped bass," he said. "The more herring, the more striped bass."

This donation also relieves a small burden on the town's Natural Resource Department, which had to routinely change the electronic counter's batteries for the past nine years.

"This isn't a situation where we're offsetting an electric bill or anything like that," said Mr. Holmgren. "It's really just helping the natural resources department just have some more time to do other stuff and not have to come up here and swap batteries."

For Mr. Holmgren and his team, this herring season has been a small victory in a continuous effort to promote local conservation efforts and alternative energy uses.

"Every small step makes a bigger difference," said Solar Rising spokesman Steve V. Saia, echoing the town's hope that isolated efforts will slowly chisel away at years of environmental neglect.

The results of this progress remain submerged in the unkempt charm of upper Shawme Pond that provides a glimpse into Sandwich before the days of development.

As Mr. Holmgren retraced his steps, maneuvering carefully through the knee-high grass, the sounds of this small upper pond sanctuary were once more enveloped in a canopy of overgrowth. The small wooden bridge and the wildlife encompassing it disappeared from sight, leaving the glistening, new panels to assume the weathered appearance of their surroundings.

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