The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has so many rivers that the state’s Wikipedia page is still putting together the list. For visitors, these waterways are nice to look at — but for the people who live in the towns in which these rivers flow, they can be most important bodies of water in their world.
Connecting Point‘s Brian Sullivan traveled to the Franklin County towns of Ashfield and Conway to explore the South River and find out where it’s been, and where it’s going.
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Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has so many rivers that the state’s Wikipedia page is still putting together the list. For visitors, these waterways are nice to look at, but for the people who live in the towns in which these rivers flow, they can be the most important bodies of water in their world.
Connecting Point‘s Brian Sullivan traveled to the Franklin County towns of Ashfield and Conway to take a look at the South River to find out where it’s been, and where it’s going.
Brian Sullivan, Connecting Point: The roadside river is one of the more common sites here in Massachusetts. And while the Charles and Connecticut may carry that name recognition, there are so many others scattered throughout the state that the list is still being compiled.
When mills were at their height of prominence, many waterways were simply referred to as the Mill River. Those mills then changed the natural flow of those rivers to better suit their industrial needs. After the mills closed, those changes then opened the door to potential havoc, if the rivers took on an inordinate amount of water as the result of a heavy storm.
For instance, in 2011, the South River flooded out the downtown area of Conway when Hurricane Irene touched down. Since then, this riprap retaining wall has been installed. But watershed organizations and environmental groups would like to see more projects that restore the river’s natural meandering pattern and wide berth in order to avoid future catastrophes.
Kimberly Noake MacPhee, Franklin Regional Council of Governments: When you see these changes in the landscape over time, you see the changes in the river system, and the river system becomes more unstable. So, if you get a heavy rain event like Tropical Storm Irene, the river doesn’t have the room that it needs to accommodate that rainfall.
And so, what you end up with is erosion.You end up with flooding, you end up with, again, roads and businesses and infrastructure that are threatened by this. So, what we’re trying to do with this work, is recreate the natural system that, over hundreds of years, has been really disrupted.
Brian Sullivan: In a major step to mitigate that disruption, only a stone’s throw from Conway center, where so much damage had been done in 2011, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments partnered with the Friends of the South River and others to do a river restoration project at the South River Meadow. It’s an 11-acre plot of land where people can come to walk, do some birdwatching, or even just have a seat to watch and listen as the river curves around the property and continues along the roadway. The South River Meadow in Conway is a prime example of a river restoration project gone right.
Now, this area in particular, where the grade drops down a couple of feet from the rest of the field and continues to slope toward the water, comes in pretty handy in the springtime when all this snow and ice melts off.
Janet Chayes, Friends of the South River: We are very proud of it. It has been restored all along the edges. The invasive plants have been removed, which is huge. It’s a demonstration project-in-process for what people can do with their own land. And in particular, because this was the townland, this was where we were able to do the first major project.
Brian Sullivan: That point of pride carried a price tag in the $300,000 dollar range. And as was mentioned, they would like this project to demonstrate to private landowners along Route 116 from Ashfield to Conway, something they themselves may consider doing to protect their property.
It’s a piecemeal process that might not always involve a full restoration. Here at Bullit Road in Ashfield is this lengthy concrete retainer wall. This deconstructed dam on Eldridge Road off of 116 and Conway, could prove beneficial in the long run as the river spreads out and gains more curves to slow down.
The Oseco Mill building on Delbar Ave in Conway and the stretch of 116 directly across of it, sit high atop steep banks over the river. The 116 sign has taken the loose stone embankment approach, while the Delbar Ave side is spotty, at best. But as with everything, getting this work done comes down to dollars and cents.
Janet Chayes: They’re too expensive to do all at once in one big chunk. And so that’s why, you know, and there are difficult problems and that’s why they don’t get done and they don’t get done and we’re all still in danger.
Brian Sullivan, Connecting Point: But all of that piecemeal work, if done, could still be undone in the event of a breach of the dam at the Ashfield Lake.
And, no, this porous spillway is not the last line of defense. It’s this earthen dam, which went originally constructed, was ahead of its time. But now to keep up with the times, it will need an additional foot in height, a project that will cost over a million dollars.
And that price tag is likely too steep for the local river groups to raise themselves. But if they really want to protect the 17-mile stretch of river that connects the two towns, it all starts here.
Ron Coler, Former Ashfield Selectboard Member: In a perfect scenario, the state would come in, like they did in 1990, and do all the restoration themselves.
But, in today’s climate of sharing costs, I imagine that will be responsible for 10 to 25 percent of the cost of the rehab.