Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Drinking Water’

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.

The War in the Woods?

So, let’s talk about water.  (Excuse me, but didn’t you title this the War in the Woods????)  I’m glad you asked.  This is really about water though.

We decided to try a new gate, Gate 37 at the Quabbin Reservation. The old guidebook said that if we followed the abandoned road for maybe less than a mile, we’d cross the West Branch of the Fever Brook, on it’s way to the Reservoir.  So down the road we went, through the autumn forest. (Click on the images for a better view.)

Finally, we saw what looked like a bridge.  We got to the bridge, turned right, and saw once again that the water was low.  The Brook looked pretty anemic.

But then we turned to our left, and this particular view struck us, almost literally.

After working at this location for a bit, we decided to head back along the Fever Brook, to see what we could find.  We had already bumped into the Fever Brook on a previous photo shoot in the Federated Women’s Club State Forest, just north of the Quabbin Reservation itself.  It’s not a large river, but it’s nevertheless important.  Boston, in two years, this will be your drinking water.

So we walked further to the northwest, and came upon a remarkable feat of engineering.

Note the two foot drop in the water level.  The beavers had done their thing, to good effect.  The Brook will be fine, and there are many ecological benefits to beaver ponds (at this end of the Reservoir, away from the tunnels that take water to the public where beaver engineering is not considered desirable).  Turning to head back, however, we came upon another feat of engineering.

This was a logging site and exit road. I’m guessing the site is several years old, though it’s hard to tell.  Let me stress going forward that I’m not anti-logging.  As a business school professor I’m very concerned about the health of business opportunities.  But the Quabbin is a complex ecosystem and what we as a society have to find is a way to balance a variety of competing interests, for the long-term.  This particular logging activity appears to have been actually closer to the Reservoir than I had ever seen, and certainly closer to the Brook than the 400 feet which I believe is the customary protective zone in which all logging activities are prohibited. But here’s where we pick up the talk of war.

We can thank Channel 5, WCVB for doing, what is the word I’m searching for here…oh yeah, actual journalism, in a series of pieces that they developed for Chronicle.  At this point, you’ll be tested as to your level of interest.  If you’d like to know about the challenges of managing those competing interests in the Quabbin, have a look here, for starters, at segment one of The War in the Woods (about five minutes long).

If you made it through segment one, you’ll immediately note that we’ve got lots of tough issues here, many of them having to do with important scientific questions.  What do we do with this incredible resource, our forests?  If you want to dig a bit deeper, I’d strongly suggest that you have a look at an important document developed at the Harvard Forest, just north of the Quabbin Reservation, Wildlands and Woodlands, A Vision for the Forests of Massachusetts .  I’ll give you a very brief overview of some of their recommendations (from page 5 of the report).

1.  We should hold approximately 250,000 acres, largely state-owned, as wildland reserves, with minimal human intervention, only passive recreation (no ATVs) and no commercial logging.  These acres would be approximately contiguous so as to create opportunities for wildlife habitat.

2.  We then would be left with 2.25 million acres, public and private, on which active recreation and sustainable forestry could take place.

So the bulk of our forests would actually be available for sustainable commercial purposes, while a smaller portion would be set aside for almost total protection.  They suggest that the Quabbin be a part of the wildlands for a variety of reasons that you can read if you’re so inclined.  I find their notions interesting in that, if implemented, the needs of most stakeholders would get some attention.  But I said this was about water didn’t I. Have a look at segment two of the War in the Woods .

I had actually seen this piece several days prior and I knew where Mr. Wacaluc (I hope I’m spelling his name right, apologies if I’m not) was standing in the report.  It’s a very well known location, inside Quabbin Park on the south side of the Reservoir.  It’s marked by an old foundation and cellar hole maybe 100 feet from the road.

It wasn’t hard to find the Japanese Barberry to which he was referring. Here’s a shot of the so and so..

Can you believe that this stuff is still available for purchase?  (Please don’t.) If you’re not sure whether or not it represents a threat, here’s a report from the University of Maine.

So here’s the punch line.  By the side of the logging activity we found at Gate 37, nearly twenty miles to the north of Quabbin Park, we found, you guessed it…

Japanese Barberry.  (If you’d like the coordinates for this find, send me an e-mail.  This image was geotagged.)

Those of us who live in an around Worcester are pretty sensitive to the problem of invasive species.  The Asian Longhorn Beetle has decimated thousands of fine old trees throughout entire neighborhoods of the City. Being concerned about invasives doesn’t represent political extremism in my view, but the shameful state of political and policy discourse in this country makes it hard to explore such critically important issues scientifically.  Is logging related to the growth of an invasive species at the Quabbin?  Clearly this particular invasive is there.  I’m not a biologist but if logging, or certain types of logging practices, are effectively an “accelerant,” that should give us all pause.

This is about our water, as well as our forests.  The Quabbin watershed extends far beyond the borders of the Reservation.  Forests throughout the state help to purify our water supply, while also providing us opportunities for recreation, learning, reflection and economic activities such as tourism and forestry.  An ecosystem cannot be parsed into water and forest.  It’s a system. No forests. No water. Efforts to sustain the system overtime require that we keep an eye on the system, and perhaps even intervene through appropriate forest management practices.  (Indeed, there are likely situations in which timber harvests are necessary to stop a disease or invasive species. Logging per se isn’t the villain here.)

The State is I think actually trying to do a better job of dealing with this terribly important but complex situation (though you might not know it from these two video clips). Again, the questions don’t succumb to easy answers.  Should the Quabbin be a wildland or reserve?  That would seem to be one simple solution, but a counter argument can be made on ecological grounds as well.  The forest at the Quabbin is to a significant degree a human creation. Thousands upon thousands of pines were planted there for instance during the late 30’s and 40’s.  These trees are all similar in age, and in many places, as one can easily see, they are quite close together.  Are they more vulnerable as a result?  Do they need to be thinned to maintain their health? If you’d like to know more about State efforts, I’d suggest you check out  the current administrations Vision document for moving ahead with parsing out the use of public forest lands. But their work is not without its critics, including Massachusetts Forest Watch .

Importantly, there will be a series of public forums sponsored by the Division of Conservation and Recreation in the coming weeks on State Forest and Landscape designations.  The first meeting will take place on Monday evening, November 15 at Union Station in Worcester, beginning at 6:30.  If you care about the forest, and the water, I hope I’ll see you there.

The Water is Low – Gate 35

One of the most interesting pieces of media created about the Quabbin Reservoir was the video Under the Quabbin producted at WBGY in Springfield.  It tells the story of an dive team lead by U. Mass Biologist Ed Klekowski that explored the biology and human artifacts clearly visible under the Quabbin, even today. As everyone in New England knows, it’s been a dry summer.  We’ve been going to the Reservoir for three years now and we’ve never seen the water level quite so low.  If this keeps up, you may not need to be part of a dive team to see what’s “under the Quabbin.”  Here at Gate 35 is what remains of the old New Salem depot on the Rabbit Railroad.  (Click on each picture for a better view.)

The Quabbin shore typically ends at the rock line, but now we’ve got sandy and, in places, marsh like beaches.

Not so obvious is the fact that the newly revealed shoreline has it’s own ecosystem properties.  In amongst that grass and mud, we found one of the richest varieties of tracks to date.  Otters:

Grouse and Deer:

And we have no clue as to what kind of critter made this track.  We have put some effort into researching this apparent three toed animal.  We don’t think this is a new kind of human sneaker, but we could be wrong.  If you have any ideas, please let us know.  (It’s not a heron or a turkey, which would be good guesses, but leave tracks that look more like the grouse track.)

Alas, we did not see any of these animals.  We did see and hear loon in the distance, but not close enough for decent photography.  And I did continue my unbroken record of face to face confrontations with a bald eagle when my camera was equipped with a wide angle lens and locked down securely on a tripod. I’m sure the eagle was interested in this renovated ecosystem as well.  However, the driftwood along the shoreline is always of interest, now clearly more visible.

I don’t think that we’ll be seeing the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority hit the panic button quite yet, especially since there’s rain on the way.  But the declining water levels are certainly impressive.  Sadly, another hiker passing by told us that he had seen three dead beavers at Gate 43, obviously unable to survive because the water in their habitat area was so low.  Here are two panoramas from the shoreline.  The first, looking north.

This panorama was taken from near the train station foundation ruins, looking southwest.

You can get a better look at the second panorama on gigapan.  Here’s the link.  Let’s have some rain!

Bad Weather at Hanks’ Meadow

Bad weather actually offers some of the best photographic opportunities. Several weeks ago we were at Hanks’ Meadow in the Quabbin Reservoir Park.  It’s a very accessible place, lovely for a picnic.  It’s clearly marked if you ride through the park road off Route 9 (Belchertown, Massachusetts, USA) in either direction.  Deer and turkeys frequent the place, along with who knows what else.  It’s an easy walk down to the Quabbin waters from the Meadow.  On this particular day, however, the temperature dropped a good ten degrees in that 100 meter walk.  The Quabbin Reservoir has its own weather.  Down at the shoreline it was cold and windy, felt like a good old New England nor’easter.   (Click the images below for larger views.)

The sky was nice, but it’s interesting to play with the water as you might if photographing ocean waves or rapids in a river.  Well these aren’t ocean waves but they are waves nevertheless, so a slow shutter speed made for some interesting results.

Zooming in for a bit of detail:

Detail shots are everywhere of course.  In this case, rocks and water were no problem.  Other details presented a more difficult challenge.  We always like to take note of the small signs of life one encounters everywhere. Along the beach we noted these interesting little yellow wildflowers in great abundance, in spite of the rather rough terrain.

Repeated efforts resulted in one semi-decent close up.  Strong wind creates beautiful effects in the water, but really undermines you’re ability to shoot a decent close up of living flowers.

So when all else fails, there are those scenes that reflect the end of life. Every natural site is also an eco-archeological site as well.  The history of nature is there if you take notice.

Gate 16 at the Quabbin Reservoir – New Panorama

Gate 16 is off Route 202 in Shutesbury, MA.  The gate itself is pretty nondescript and it’s easy to miss.  There is parking in front of the gate though.  Then a short half mile walk through the forest takes you to a wonderful surprise.  Standing on the shore of the right Reservoir, you’ll have a stunning view in one of the most expansive and yet peaceful settings you’ll ever find.  I feel blessed by the opportunity to experience such grandure, just an hour’s ride west of Worcester.  Have a look….