st croix

St. Croix River Data:
Length: 62 miles
Drainage area:
1,500 square miles
St. Croix River Basin Cooperative Hydrologic Network

Rivers, Lakes, and Streams in the St. Croix Watershed:
Anderson Brook
Big Lake
Brown Brook
Clifford Lake
Clifford Stream
E Musquash Lake
Flipper Creek
Grand Falls Flowage
Grand Lake
Greenleaf Brook
Hound Brook
Huntley Brook
Junior Lake
Lambert Lake
Lindsey Brook
Little Musquash Stream
Little Tomah Stream
Millberry Brook
Monument Brook
Musquash Stream
Nashs Lake
Oxbrook Lake
Pleasant Lake
Pocumus Lake
Scott Brook
Spednick Lake
St Croix River
Stony Brook
Sysladobsis Lake
Tomah Stream
W. Musquash Lake
Wabassus Lake

Maine Water Profiles


St. Croix Watershed
The St. Croix forms the eastern boundary between Maine and Canada. It has been heavily developed for electric power, reducing once prolific runs of anadromous fish. However, the river still claims the second largest Atlantic salmon run in the state.

The St. Croix
, by Lee Sochasky
When is a river more than a river? When it’s also an international boundary.

From source to sea, Maine and New Brunswick share the St. Croix, the longest stretch of freshwater US/Canada boundary east of the Great Lakes. It is a waterway full of the unexpected and the unspoiled, maintained by the good will of those on both shores. Here’s a small part of its story…
Autumn paddling on the St. Croix (photo: Lee Sochasky)

Physically, the St. Croix is the largest watershed between the Penobscot and Saint John systems. Covering some 1630 square miles, the system is Y-shaped. On one side lies the West Branch-- which includes well-known waters like West Grand Lake and Grand Lake Stream--and beside it lies the East, or international branch, which includes East Grand, Spednic and other lakes, and the 30 mile section of backcountry river prized by canoeists. The two branches join at Grand Falls Flowage, descending another 18 miles to head-of-tide at Calais and then down an 16-mile estuary to Passamaquoddy Bay and the Gulf of Maine.

Within the watershed, glacial and volcanic features run at right angles to each other to create a highly diverse landscape that is a cross-section of Maine’s natural history. The estuary is split by a major undersea fault which creating upwellings reminiscent of a giant alka seltzer at some sites. Here also, tides rise and fall 25 feet twice each day to expose extensive clam flats and to surprise unsuspecting boaters. Upstream on the river, large marshlands feed tannin-colored waters into a boulder-ridden channel that challenges canoeists while supporting smallmouth bass, Atlantic salmon, a large breeding population of bald eagles and a variety of uncommon plants.

The boundary lakes offer unique signatures: near-wilderness Spednic, togue- and landlock-famous East Grand, with Mud Lake and its transit streams connecting the two. Further above is North Lake and then Monument Brook, winding in a deep, slow channel until it disappears into the ground at US/Canada international boundary marker #1. It’s here that the Maine border takes a straight line, across dry land and any map.

From the retreat of the last glaciers, the St. Croix was a highway and home for native peoples. Archeological remains record some aspects of early St. Croix life dating back over 6000 years. The upper St. Croix lakes carried early travelers between the Saint John and Penobscot River systems, with relatively short portages in between. While many native peoples used the area, the Passamaquoddy Tribe called it home and continue to do so today.

Plaque at St. Croix Island, placed in 1904 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the island's settlement by the French

Nearly 400 years ago the Europeans came to stay, intermittently at first and then in numbers that once doubled the watershed’s current population of 32,000. In 1604, the first governor of Acadia built his capital on St. Croix Island, ahead of the more famous Jamestown and Plymouth Rock colonies, in an step that would later mark this river as a boundary between colonies and, ultimately, nations.

Like most of Maine, the St. Croix valley was settled and used largely for lumbering, shipbuilding, milling and water power, but here with notable diversions into quarrying, railroading and tanning. Many of these industries still drive the local economy today.

Enough History--Let’s Get On To The Water!
The St. Croix system is famous for both its fishing and canoeing, with an endless list of lake and river trips for the taking. For the boundary waters there’s a useful waterproof map to the system that identifies accesses, campsites, etc. but the USGS topo maps and even road maps serve many.

Some canoe trips that many like:
Chiputneticook Lakes – North Lake to Spednic Lake (3 days)
Spednic Lake –transit or circle route (one day or many)

Upper River
Vanceboro to Little Falls (1/2 day), Vanceboro to Loon Bay (1-3 days)
Vanceboro to Kellyland/Grand Falls (3-5 days)

Lower River:
Woodland to Baring or Calais (1/2 day)

Entire River:

North Lake to Calais, 90 miles (7-10 days)

West Branch
circle routes on Junior/Scraggly Lakes, Grand Lake Stream to Kellyland

Day excursions around St. Croix Island, Navy Island or Oak Bay

The only serious water on the St. Croix boundary is the Class 4 Milltown rapids, in Calais. If you do the entire system, you’ll have to portage dams at the bottom of East Grand Lake, Grand Falls Flowage, Woodland Flowage and Milltown, plus Mud Lake Falls. Otherwise the system offers a variety of experiences on lakes which have striking geography and a river run that intersperses easy rips with slow waters along a winding course. Don’t take my word for it--try it yourself.

But the St. Croix is more than a river–it’s a water boundary between two nations. This creates special challenges to its management as a natural system and a working waterway.
Here are some of them:

Land and Water Conservation

In spite of major differences in land and water management laws, Maine and New Brunswick are making a concerted effort to achieve comparable standards on the St. Croix, often by creative means.

While shoreland zoning is uncommon in Canada, New Brunswick has made innovative use of existing legislation to establish zoning for the St. Croix only, in parallel to Maine’s current protection of the boundary corridor. Over the last ten years, these governments have also cooperated in protecting a 45 mile section of the system known widely for its backcountry recreation and resource values: the Spednic Lake and upper St. Croix River segment. Through a combination of purchases, easements and zoning, New Brunswick has acquired more than 95% of its side of this area and is expanding its protection. Maine has protected sections of this segment through zoning and LMFB easement and fee-simple acquisitions. A proposal currently before the Land of Maine’s Future Board could expand this coverage to nearly 95% of the segment, all but completing the shared concept of an international conservation area.

While New Brunswick currently lacks standards for surface water quality, it is on the verge of adopting a classification program almost identical to Maine’s. When enacted, this will enable the two governments to set common standards for their shared St. Croix waters–a high priority, locally.

In 2004, the St. Croix Valley–and the world–will celebrate the beginning of French heritage in North America, at St. Croix Island. A local committee of Maine and New Brunswick residents is working hard to engage communities and governments in this once-in-a-lifetime event, with both the National Park Service and Parks Canada playing important roles.

Concurrently planning
is well underway to build a Downeast Heritage Center on the Calais waterfront, also for 2004. This center will interpret many aspects of the region’s natural and cultural heritage and will direct visitors to local sites and businesses to experience these firsthand.

Natural Resources

Recreational fishing is a cornerstone of the lifestyle and economy of many St. Croix lake communities. In the 1980s, the re-introduction and rapid expansion of sea-run alewives into the St. Croix system, in the wake of fishway improvements, coincided with a sharp decline in smallmouth bass stocks in one of the largest lakes, Spednic, severely impacting local fishing lodges. While alewives were subsequently blocked from Spednic Lake and later, for research purposes, at the Grand Falls dam 18 miles above tidewater, concern that alewives might impact bass populations elsewhere in the watershed led the Maine Legislature in 1995 to close all stateside fishways to that species. The action, and the subsequent crash in the St. Croix alewife population, created controversy at local and international levels. This year, fisheries agencies on both sides of the St. Croix, cooperating through an ongoing fisheries steering committee, developed a plan to re-establish alewife numbers at a sustainable level and monitor and protect bass stocks. This plan will be presented to the Legislature in the coming session.

While the St. Croix is one of Maine’s major Atlantic salmon rivers, it is excluded from federal endangered species programs because of its international status. It does, however, offer exceptional opportunities for salmon research and these are being advanced by various state, federal and Canadian agencies and local partners. Since 1993, this has included breeding and stocking activities to re-develop the St. Croix’s native salmon strain and to monitor fish returns to the river. In October 2000, over 800 adult Atlantic salmon of St. Croix and other Downeast river origin were released in the river to spawn naturally, to explore the potential for this stocking method, versus juvenile fish releases, to help restore Maine’s Atlantic salmon runs. This research will continue for the next 5-7 years.

Transboundary Planning

Under matching legislation, Maine and New Brunswick established the St. Croix International Waterway Commission in the 1980s to create and help to implement a cooperative state-provincial management plan for the international St. Croix corridor. This plan outlines a range of environmental, cultural, recreational and development goals for this area and is being implemented on a voluntary basis by local interests and governments, over the long term. The Waterway Commission serves as a catalyst, information source, planning entity and cross-border delivery vehicle for this cooperative effort. Many of the initiatives described earlier are part of the Maine-New Brunswick management plan for the St. Croix.

Also, under the US/Canada Boundary Waters Treaty of 1908, certain aspects of St. Croix water resource management fall under international purview -- notably for levels and flows and, to a lesser extent, quality -- through an International Joint Commission established by the federal governments. The IJC has a St. Croix Board that advises it on local issues and hosts an annual meeting in the St. Croix Valley to receive public input. Twice in the last thirty years, the IJC has studied international water level management on the St. Croix in response to concerns by lake residents. Most recently (1995-1997) federal agencies carried out computer modelling for the IJC to examine the interactions of the St. Croix’s seven controlled basins. The study showed residents how the various demands on the system are balanced and increased local appreciation of the diverse uses made of the St. Croix water resources.

The St. Croix: a river, a waterway connecting some of the state’s largest lakes, and an international boundary. It is definitely one of the state’s outstanding treasures and an integral part of our region’s identity. Come see and explore the St. Croix’s many aspects it for yourself.

St. Croix River Watershed
St. Croix International Waterway Commission
PO Box 610
Calais, ME 04619


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