NOTES: If you go to the banner page of this website and scroll down through a few photos you will come to one of a smiling young guy named Charlie Read. It was taken a decade back on one of his many Memorial Day bicycle rides around the Quabbin Reservoir. Charlie had become a remarkable young man, beloved by his parents Clif and Arleen and sister Susan, when he unexpectedly passed away from a relatively unknown complication from epilepsy just over a year ago.

Charlie will remain in the hearts of all who knew him as a smart, caring, playful, tenacious, friend, son, brother, athlete, student and teammate by the many people whose lives he touched. Clif and Arleen Read, and friends, undertook a cross country cycling trip this summer in honor of their son, raising money along the way for the Epilepsy Foundation. You can follow their journey, completed earlier this month–and still donate, by going to c2c4charlie.org. A fitting tribute to a fine young man, missed by all.

The following piece appeared this month in the Daily Hampshire Gazette (gazettenet.com), and in slightly edited version of The Greenfield Recorder (recorder.com). (Note that the Connecticut River Watershed Council has changed its name to the Connecticut River Conservancy).

Copyright © 2017 by Karl Meyer

PROTECTING AN EMBATTLED HERITAGE

A fragile legacy clings to life in the Connecticut River at Turners Falls just downstream of where the Great Falls Discovery Center perches above an ancient cataract once known as Peskeomscut. It includes a dozen state-endangered and threatened plants and insects, a rare freshwater clam, plus several culturally and archeologically sensitive islands and the only known natural spawning site for the federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon. Currently no part of that legacy is safeguarded in any meaningful way by the handful of responsible government agencies.

The view downstream from the Turners Falls Bridge consists largely of a dewatered riverbed, parching stream banks, and islands bereft of anything that might offer life-giving nourishment. It’s a reach depauperized by seesawing flows diverted at the adjacent dam and greatly influenced by the huge suck-and-surge water appetite of the PSP Investments’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, five miles upstream.

All rarities here have been documented within the past quarter century. The beleaguered islands speak for themselves. All remain subject to industrial abuse and human encroachment. Two federal, and a handful state agencies are responsible for safeguarding that legacy. Sadly even the US Geological Survey’s Conte Anadromous Fish Research Lab abandoned monitoring the few dozen spawning-ready shortnose sturgeon attempting reproduction in an ancient pool there a decade ago. That “Rock Dam pool,” below a tiny waterfall, sits just beyond the Lab’s west windows.

If the National Marine Fisheries Service, MA Fish & Wildlife’s Natural Heritage Program, the MA Historical Commission, the USGS and the US Fish & Wildlife Service are serious about protecting a river’s legacy, it’s time to act. In 2007 the Connecticut River Watershed Council produced its 3rd edition of the Connecticut River Boating Guide. On March 13, 2017, the Council convened a meeting of its recreational constituents in Brattleboro VT. There it was clear commercial and recreational whitewater interests are keen to begin rides in that fragile Turners Falls reach. They want new put-ins and spring flows to accommodate bulky, seven-person rafts and personal watercraft. They’d already showed up in force there in May 2016 to joyride atop the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s mandated test flows, flows meant to enhance the survival of sturgeon and other migrants.

If new flows are mandated by FERC’s 2018 new hydro licenses there, American Whitewater, the Appalachian Mountain Club and New England Flow will again be looking to make two-second passes over those tiny Rock Dam falls. A little watery pool there is where spring sturgeon gather and spawn, and where embryos and young develop through June. But American Whitewater’s representative that day contended there would be no ill impacts from rides over that low escarpment into the sturgeon’s spawning pool. One commercial interest even suggested a path should be cut across the adjoining island, so rafts could be carried back upstream for repeat runs.

But that tiny drop and pool is adjacent to an island of historic importance owned by Western Massachusetts Electric. It’s a place of cultural and archeological significance to Native Americans whose ancestors were attacked in the Turners Falls Massacre. The site is geographically and physically the likely fishing refuge occupied by Native groups who counter attacked and routed Turner’s army on May 19, 1676. Current archeological investigations are in progress relating to that attack and the area’s ancient battle paths. Historian Sylvester Judd’s 1863 posthumous History of Hadley notes a scouting expedition undertaken by colonial troops in 1676, six weeks after that bloodbath: “On the 28th of June, about 30 men went up towards the falls, and espied no Indians. They burnt a hundred wigwams upon an island, ruined an Indian fort, spoiled an abundance of fish which they found in Indian barns underground, and destroyed 30 canoes.”

Considering fragile wetland banks, safety concerns, and its cultural and historic importance, that island should remain off limits. It should not suffer the indignity of becoming a landing pad for river joyriders. Endangered shortnose sturgeon need shielding from slamming, overtopping and landing watercraft when they begin gathering there in early April. From that time on, throughout June, spawning sturgeon and developing embryos and young need protection from paddles, rafts, beaching crowds–and their attendant turbidity. Other fragile species would benefit. Those spring weeks would be a great time for a Turners Falls Sturgeon Revival Festival.

Just over a quarter century ago two state- and federally-endangered bald eagles began nesting on an unnamed Connecticut River island just upstream at Barton Cove. A host of boaters, birders and photographers were soon vying for close-ups of the birds in 1991. To safeguard that biological heritage the island was made off-limits to ensure the eagles’ life cycle–courtship, nest-building, hatching, brooding and rearing, could proceed unimpeded. A perimeter barred approach by water and signs warned trespassers of fines and jail time under federal and state law. Environmental policed patrolled the area. Until that nest tree toppled in 2008, nearly three dozen bald eagles fledged from the site. That’s how it’s done.

# # #

Karl Meyer of Greenfield serves on the Fish and Aquatics Study Team in the current FERC relicensing process for Connecticut River generating sites in Massachusetts. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.