Home News and Features Saving Maple Corner’s Curtis Pond for Generations to Come: Vermont’s ‘Most Endangered’...

Saving Maple Corner’s Curtis Pond for Generations to Come: Vermont’s ‘Most Endangered’ Dam to be Rebuilt 

Members of the Curtis Pond Association and neighbors celebrate the ribbon cutting commemorating construction of a new dam. From left: Jamie Moorby, vice president of the association; Colleen Bloom, president; Monty Dean, cutting the ribbon; neighbors Bev and Don Heise; and Marge Sweeney, treasurer. Photo by Mason Singer.
A three-decade long community effort to replace an endangered dam and preserve Maple Corner’s Curtis Pond moved closer to reality on July 2 with a ribbon cutting ceremony marking the start of construction of a new dam. 

The Calais village has been at risk of losing its popular pond for many years. The dam that creates the pond has long been deteriorating and was recently classified by one state agency as Vermont’s “most endangered.”

Last year’s heavy rains seriously threatened the dam and fear of its failure mobilized volunteers to take emergency measures, temporarily fortifying the structure with sandbags and stone rubble. The dam’s failure would be calamitous for the surrounding area. Flooding would likely sweep away homes, possibly destroying the community center, general store, and post office. 

The weakened dam, along with tightening state standards, forced a reckoning: The dam had to be replaced or the state would dismantle it and drain the pond for good. Now, because of the dedicated work of dozens of town residents, elected officials, and pond lovers, the water should soon be safely contained behind a new dam and open for all to enjoy for generations to come.

The July 2 celebration attracted a large appreciative crowd, which was joined by local officials, community organizers, and many neighbors. Maple Corner’s unofficial poet laureate Geof Hewitt entertained the group with one of his poems fit for the occasion, and also moderated the event. State Representative Marc Mihaly, Select Board vice chair Jamie Moorby, and Colleen Bloom, president of the Curtis Pond Association (CPA) all spoke about the complicated effort to navigate changing state-mandated regulations and the difficult work to secure $1.2 million in funding for the new dam. 

Other guest speakers included contractors Charles Johnston of Dubois & King and Larry Hebert of Hebert Excavation. Also speaking was Beth Stern, representing the office of Senator Bernie Sanders. 

A moment of silence was called to remember pond advocate Jason Neimark, who passed away the previous week. 

Two of the dam’s closest neighbors, Don Heise and Lewis Franco, performed an original song titled “Hell or High Water,” with a special appearance by hand puppet Bucky the Beaver, courtesy of Mr. Heise. 

The scenic 76-acre pond is located in the heart of the village and has been a beloved year-round recreation spot for Calais residents and visitors from across the area. 

A dam has existed at the site since around 1813, when it was built on a tributary of Pekin Brook to help power a grain mill in the village. The current dam, built in 1900, merged two smaller ponds and, despite its simple structure, proved remarkably resilient. 

For years, town folk worked diligently to maintain the slowly crumbling dam and preserve Curtis Pond. In 2017, local residents formed the Curtis Pond Association to help steward the pond and save it as a lasting natural resource. 

However, they found no simple path forward. The first obstacle was determining who actually owned the dam. There was no clear ownership trail and, for state support, the town needed to be sole owner. When this matter was settled, the next obstacle was the cost, which increased from around $400,000 to a daunting $1.2 million dollars. Funding for the dam was eventually secured by a town bond, federal American Rescue Pln Act (ARPA) funds, generous donations, and a special private loan to the CPA. 

The new dam, designed by Debois & King and to be built by Hebert Excavation, will be fabricated of cement secured into bedrock and then fronted by local stone. Its finished appearance will be very similar to the existing and much-admired historic dam. 

The immediate area around the dam site will be temporarily closed to public use, but according to the CPA, no “… significant impact on [the] collective enjoyment of the pond this summer” is anticipated. During construction, Hebert Excavation plans to maintain the “average seasonal low-water level of the pond,” though they acknowledged that the need to “move equipment around” might result in slight delays on Camp Road. 

Construction is slated to begin shortly and be completed by the end of October.

On the beautiful sunny day overlooking tranquil water, no flooding was feared to dampen the celebration, which concluded with the official ribbon cutting. Jamie Moorby — otherwise known to many as the “Mayor of Maple Corner” — officiated and called on Monty Dean to represent future generations of pond users and snip the ribbon.