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See you next year….

Click on the image for a cuter view.  This is Slydel by the way.  He lives at the Ecotarium in Worcester, MA.  If you’d like to know more about Slydel and his buddies, you can find out here.  Thanks for stopping by and Happy New Year.

The Case of Gate 41 at the Quabbin Reservoir

Gate 41 takes you down the old Dana Barre Road to the Quabbin Reservoir from which most of metropolitan Boston receives its drinking water.  You can access Gate 41 from Route 32A in Petersham.  It’s a nice, relatively short walk to the water, offering that amazing combination of history, science and natural beauty to which we’ve become accustomed.  (Click on the images for a better view.  If you look carefully to the left of the old character tree you’ll see what we believe once was a sawmill in the distance.  Once again, we’re aided in identifying various locations here by J.R. Greene’s Historic Quabbin Hikes.)

However, we nearly didn’t make it.  We started down Gate 41 the previous week, only to find that traffic on the rather narrow road from the Gate toward the Reservoir was at that time heavily trafficked by large Department of Public Works (DPW) dump trucks from several area towns. The drivers couldn’t have been more friendly and were obviously on a routine assignment.  It was pretty clear what they were doing.  It’s December in Massachusetts.  Bad times are coming.  We’re huge fans of sanded roadways after the snow, huge fans, so all seemed OK to us. However, it didn’t seem safe to be in such a confined space with such large vehicles, so we thought we’d come back another day.

Later that day we were at the Quabbin Administration building in Belchertown.  We asked about the work at Gate 41, hoping to find a time when it would be OK for us to hike in.  That turned out to be something of a challenge.  We were told that some local DPWs have a key to the Gate (Gates at the Quabbin are really only barriers to vehicles, not to hikers) and could go in on their own.  Further, that “Gate 41 is going to be a big disappointment for you.  No point in going in there.”

That was a surprising response on several counts.  We’ve found all the staff at the Quabbin to be friendly, helpful, professional and quite candid about the challenges they and the Reservoir face.  This was a bit different somehow.  You almost never see heavy equipment inside the Quabbin Reservoir.  You occasionally do come across a logging operation, though that’s pretty rare these days as there is a moratorium on new logging contracts inside the Quabbin Reservation itself.  The point is that heavy equipment use is usually closely monitored around drinking water, for obvious reasons.   Logging operations are accompanied by a posted license which directs the hiker to sources of further information about the particular cut underway.  It’s a challenging system, but if you work hard at it, you can find out what’s happening.  And finally, we’ve never found a hike in the Quabbin to be disappointing and don’t know anyone else who has either. Some are clearly more spectacular than others, but “disappointing,” that would be a real mystery.

So, a few days later we decided to try our luck and back in we go.  Glad we did.  (Just after a rain, which gives the landscape a deeply saturated look which we enjoy.)  Just inside the Gate you’re on land once owned by the Marvel family.  They were among the last to leave the Quabbin, in the 1940’s.   Their territory is marked by the usual cellar holes, but some newer construction is also visible.

The Dana Barre Road actually takes you through what once was the village of Storrsville.  Storrsville had largely been abandoned before the taking of land for the Reservoir, an example of the declining population in the area that fed into the political vulnerability of the people there.

Moving west along Dana Barre Road on the left you come quickly to what I believe is an entrance to what was once Pottapaug Pond, now actually part of the Reservoir.  The Pond was fed by Rand Brook, where Mr. Marvel had a fish hatchery until the mid-1930’s.  Now there is some slightly different activity underway.

Quickly then, if you take a right turn off the main road, you come to the source of our mystery.

This is not historic.  It is a sand pit.  Actually, it is kind of historic. In reality, there are old sand pits all over the Quabbin area.  The soil itself in places is quit sandy.  But those sand pits are largely inactive.  Is this an issue?  I wish I could say with certainty and I wish that such information was more readily available.  My issue is not the use of the sand.  As mentioned above, I’m a big fan of sanded roads in the winter.  Once again, it’s the need for public education that concerns me.  The Quabbin Reservation is one of the most valuable natural resources on the globe.  That is not an over-statement. This particular spot is important to three groups that come immediately to mind:  beavers, turtles (this is great turtle country) and, of course people.

We should all be concerned about its well being.  End of rant, but not really the end of the mystery.  I’m still not disappointed by this particular walk. Back on the road we ultimately come to the end of the Dana Barre Road, at the Reservoir.

It is a lovely spot, with a beautiful shoreline all around.  Fishing here, for those so inclined, has got to be a dream.

No disappointment here so we decided to head back.   Along the way the powerful sound of rushing water drew us off the Road as we approached Route 32A. First we came to what we believe was an old cheese factory dating back to the 1800’s.

Which was powered by Rand Brook.  It always comes back to the water…..

Alas, we never did figure out just what was supposed to be disappointing.

A Cold Day at Harvard Pond

Sometimes you have to be flexible.  We wanted to hike into the Quabbin Reservoir at Gate 41, but the situation was not hospitable.  More about that in a future post.  So, back into the car on a very cold day.  We passed by a favorite spot on Route 122 in Petersham, MA, Harvard Pond.  The light was special.  But did I say it was cold? Only black and white would do.  (Click on the images for a better view.)

The sun was hiding behind the trees to our south, creating some wonderful shadows and beams.

This is an interesting forest.  It was largely decimated by the Great Hurricane of 1938.  Since then though, it has been untouched for the most part, except for some scientific forest management studies conducted by the University. Remnants of character trees are everywhere, making for some good spots for wildlife.

We’ve stood on these shores and seen otters in the past, alas though, only when the camera was firmly affixed with a wide angle lens.

Those are beaver deceivers, designed to frustrate the little engineers.  I guess the folks at Harvard Forest are happy with the current water level. It’s always about the water in these parts.

Time Travel – Dana Common

Historical sites and artifacts are spread throughout the Quabbin Reservoir. Few locations, however, provide a more powerful reminder of what happened here than Dana Common.  (Click on the images for a better view.  You can see a full size version of the first panorama here.)

Dana Common is just under a two mile walk from the entrance to Gate 40, on Route 32A in Petersham.  I doubt that images can effectively convey what it is like to reach the Common for the first time.  New Englanders will know that feeling well.  You ARE in an old New England center of town. The layout of the roads and sidewalks make that crystal clear.  But, there are no buildings and there are no people.  It’s very peaceful there, too peaceful.  A cold December day seems fitting for a visit there. If you’d like to know more detail about the Common and the walk along the Petersham Greenwich Road from Gate 40 to the Common, I’d strongly recommend you consult J.R. Greene’s Historic Quabbin Hikes, which is available from most bookstores in the area.  (Unfortunately I don’t have a good web link for the purchase of the book.  If any reader can suggest one, please do so.)

There’s plenty of parking available at Gate 40, and the experience begins immediately.  Though it is now difficult to see, and nearly impossible to photograph effectively, there’s an old cellar hole from the residence of one Asa “Popcorn” Snow who led a colorful life, and death.  He was very concerned about premature burial it seems.  So prior to his death, he had a coffin, with a window, prepared, so that the undertaker could double check his work.  Mr. Snow, as is the case with many of the residents of Dana who passed prior to the building of the Reservoir, is now interned in the Quabbin Cemetery just off Route 9 in Belchertown.  To the left, however, is a beautiful brook, which I believe is known as Moose Brook.  Water is always key here and like history, you can find it everywhere.  This was something like the view Popcorn might have had from his back window.

The walk along Petersham Greenwich Road is classic New England in and of itself.  The old shade trees, now character trees though, share the landscape with the millions of pines that were planted when the Reservoir was built.

They also share the landscape with artifacts of the people who once lived here.  Little details tell the story.

Along the Road are numerous cellar holes and foundations.  This one from the Carter home, which had been the Dana Poor Farm up until the 1920’s. Yes, such institutions once did indeed exist.

There had been a garage here once.

The road itself was straightened in the eaerly 1900’s.  It is actually still paved, though the pavement is crumbling. The old road that is visible as you approach the Common runs parallel.

Arriving at the common, one of the first sites you come to is the old Town Hall.

Not far to the right, is the old School.

The town Cemetery also bordered the Common, the only reminder now being the old stone fence.

Houses, or rather cellar holes, ring the Common.  This was the Dunn homestead.

Evidently the Dunn’s didn’t feel it was worth the effort to remove the safe you see.  Hopefully they did remove the contents.  A different kind of cellar hole is just down the street.

This was the Cooley Langley home where smaller stones and cement were used.  The stories are too numerous for this blog, but I could go on.  Perhaps as a lap stop, we can revisit the Common itself.  Again as every New Englander knows, the town common is where you’ll find memorials to those who fought in the Civil War.  Those monuments are gone from Dana Common. We can only see where they were…  (They can be seen at the Quabbin Cemetery in Ware.)

The Memorial you will find here, placed in 1996, reminds us of the enormity of the sacrifice that the families of Dana endured.

The Town of Dana ceased to exist on April 28, 1938.  It was one of four towns (including Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott) taken to make way for the Quabbin Reservoir, the main source of drinking water for the people of Metropolitan Boston.  By that time, the residents had all been moved off the land. There was compensation involved, but it was generally considered to be inadequate.  Besides, can you compensate for the loss of a “way of life?”  When I look at that Memorial, I’m struck by just how many times people from eastern Massachusetts have said to me “people in Boston have no clue” as to the origins of their water.