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.