GRAND LAKE STREAM — Officials with Downeast Lakes Land Trust said earlier this week that a new project it completed with several partners and support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has the potential to be a model for cost-effective restoration of aquatic habitats.

The project is focused on correcting poorly designed culverts that are blocking the natural movement of brook trout and other aquatic wildlife on thousands of streams across Maine.

Mark Berry, executive director of Downeast Lakes Land Trust in Grand Lake Stream, said that restoring free access to habitats is essential to protecting populations of wild brook trout. Maine has more than 80 percent of the remaining U.S. native stocks of brook trout.

Berry said that a concrete arch structure was built by Dirigo Timberlands in North Anson and then installed on Billy Brown Brook, a small tributary to Grand Lake Stream with a history of providing a cold-water summer habitat for brook trout. The road crossing is on property owned by the Lyme Timber Co., and was at risk for washing out when the water level rose. The road provides the only vehicle access between the village of Grand Lake Stream and the trust’s Farm Cove Community Forest, along with state conservation lands along the Machias River extending down to Route 9.

“This concrete arch structure is a new product, and it’s a lot less expensive for a stream of this size,” Berry said. “It opens up the door that we can use this product on more streams in Maine for similar costs.”

The project’s $10,000 price tag was financed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and approximately five workers spent less than a day and a half on the installation.

“This new concrete arch structure holds great promise to provide economic savings and long-term benefits over traditional corrugated metal crossing structures,” said Scott Craig, project leader at the Maine Fishery Resource Office for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The open arch design has proven to be the best choice to restore ecological stream processes that will greatly benefit our headwater brook trout populations.”

Blaine Miller, co-owner of Dirigo Timberlands, said that he was excited about the potential to grow the business through manufacturing arch culvert and bridge products in Maine.

Steven Koening is the executive director of Project SHARE, a cooperative salmon habitat restoration group and partner on the project. He also was excited about the potential of the new arches.

“These concrete arches could be a game-changer for private commercial forest owners that want to do the right thing for trout habitat on brook trout headwater streams,” he said. “I was happy to help Downeast Lakes Land Trust to test this new approach.”

Downeast Lakes Land Trust manages nearly 34,000 acres as a Community Forest, with priorities of wildlife habitat, public recreation, and a sustainable timber economy. The Community Forest includes a network of private roads maintained by the trust to provide access for public recreation and forest management. These roads cross a number of brooks and streams that provide habitat for native brook trout along with other species of fish and wildlife. In many cases, the culverts installed when the roads were built decades ago were not designed to allow the natural movement of fish and other wildlife. Most culverts were too small or not properly placed to provide fish passage and risked failure during high stream flow. As a result, they have contributed to fragmentation of trout habitat.

Downeast Lakes Land Trust is working to replace these older culverts with bridges or bottomless arches that provide a natural stream channel. Over the last six years, the trust has completed restoration projects at 20 road stream crossings with a variety of partners, including local contractors, neighboring landowners, the Passamaquoddy Tribe, state and federal agencies, and Project SHARE.