At Cocheco Falls

Cocheco Falls sits at the center of my small city. The tide rises and falls eight to ten feet at its base twice a day, connecting the downtown to the Atlantic Ocean 15 or so miles downstream. The river once provided the power to run textile mills that turned out world-famous calico in the 19th century. Dramatically, the river itself runs through an arch in the long building before turning sharply into an extended oxbow on its way to the sea.

Recently, the retaining wall on one side of the falls and a dam on top began to sag. The wall had once been overshadowed by another large mill that fell to fire years ago and is now a bank parking lot. Something had to be done before a cavein.

What’s going in is a whole new design, one that apparently will give people closer views of the cascading waters and the fish ladder beside it.

It’s a dramatic touch, one that reflects the magical attraction of waters in motion through the shifting seasons. Sometimes merely a trickle comes over the flashboards on the dam. Other times it’s so gushing so forcefully the entire mill building shakes.

In winter, deer have even had to be rescued from the rocks, or we’ve watched otters swimming in openings above the dam.

Who wouldn’t want to stop here for a moment?

What helps is having a vision of what a downtown can be. What’s unique to each place?

Dover’s been fortunate to have an economic development director and a city planner who find ways to get things done – often small things – as well Kiwanis and Rotary clubs and a Main Street organization that keep stepping up with improvements.

Crucially, the planning has the concept of pedestrian friendly. Or, as my wife likes to say, “civilized.” We can walk to downtown for a drink or a snack.

Not every town has a waterfall, after all. Let’s make the best of it, then.

Gone is the retaining wall that gave passersby a view of the falls from above. I’m hoping the new walkway will follow the fish ladder to the tide below.
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