Westport River Watershed Alliance
River News - February, 2014
Watershed Issues
Matthew Patrick, Executive Director 


Snowy owl on Gooseberry.

Hope you have found a way to enjoy the extreme winter we have been experiencing this year.  I know it's hard but it is possible to enjoy it especially if you take part in outdoor activities like winter sports or birding.  How about those snowy owls?  Sunny days in the winter with snow on the ground and on the trees set off by clear blue skies are eye-popping treats for me.  They usually provide even more light than a bright sunny day in the summer.


The super cold reminds me of a story told by an old friend of mine who passed away some time ago.  He was a chief of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe named Vernon Pocknett.  Vernon told me how his father would take him and his brother out to catch eels and quohaugs in the winter months.  They would stay overnight in a wetu (a skin and bark covered hut supported by saplings) right on the beach of Washburn Island in Waquoit Bay. 


The story makes me cold just thinking about it.  He and his brother complained about how cold they were one morning.  Their father told them to take off all of their clothing and he sent them out of the wetu and made them roll in the snow for a brief time.  Vernon said he was never colder in his life but when they came back in the wetu, he felt very warm.  Their father dried them off and then he served them a hardy breakfast of fish and eel stew right off the fire.  They never complained about the cold again and grew to love their winter fishing trips with their father.  Their father taught them a good lesson. Your perspective determines how you experience things. 


Lot's going on as usual.  Betsy showed me her extensive list of projects recently and it made me think that we really do have an aggressive agenda.  It didn't even include larger projects like removing the rubble from under Hix Bridge, the Mass. Estuaries Project (MEP) and Roberta's project testing the water in the West Branch to pinpoint the sources of coliform bacteria.


Betsy's list includes nine projects:  Drift Road stormwater remediation grant project; Sam Tripp Brook rain garden on Drift Road; Bower Avenue wetland restoration; Cockeast Pond herring run rain garden; MEP agricultural nitrogen load data refinement; Beach Avenue beach management plan in cooperation Con Com Agent Tara Martin;  Cecil Smith Landfill in Dartmouth; Noquochoke Village project monitoring; and the Ponds 2013 project.  All of these projects have an ebb and flow but they are all important to the health of the Westport River Watershed.


Don't forget our Annual Meeting March 30th.  We will give you a presentation of the Head Garage project.  We have signed a purchase and sale agreement.  We want to turn the building into our offices and a community education center with displays about the history of treating human waste from cess pits to sewers to title 5 septic systems, to modern day urine diverting and composting toilets. My new motto is "There are no wastes, only wasted resources."  Join us!


Buoy the Winter Blues

We invite you to come out of winter hibernation and "Buoy the Winter Blues". On Saturday March 1st WRWA's winter fundraiser is taking place at The Dedee Shattuck Gallery, 1 Partner's Lane in Westport. Over 40 area artists have decorated wooden lobster buoys that are spectacular.  Each buoy is unique and expresses each artist's individual style and creativity. The buoys will be on display at the gallery from 1pm - 7pm with a reception from 5-7 pm.  Bids can be made during this time. This show is not to be missed.


You can see some of the buoys in advance by clicking here: BUOY PREVIEW. If you are unable to attend the show and would like to place a bid, please contact Gay Gillespie at g.gillespie@wrwa.com or 508 636 3016.


WRWA is grateful to all of the artists for their participation and the design talents by members of Jan Fairbairn's Graphic Design 5 class, at the College of Visual + Performing Arts, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth who designed the poster for the event. 

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Westport Cultural Council, a local agency that is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.


The Bioreserve, Westport River and Rattlesnake Brook

Everett Castro, Green Futures



Not all those that wander are lost ...so bear with me.

I often meander about, like our coastal rivers do, when I'm asked to write "a few words" about the remarkable Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve. Be warned, I might meander even further afield since I'm going to write a few words not only about our Bioreserve but also about the far reaches of the Westport River watershed, an impaired Rattlesnake Brook and the support and advocacy from your Westport River Watershed Alliance. Ready? Have your trusty compass or GPS with you? Okay, let's go.

If you're not familiar with the Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve ...you should be! Our Bioreserve consists of a large, contiguous forest with diverse habitats and natural communities with the largest portion, owned by all of us, managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and Massachusetts Department of Fish and Wildlife. Also included are the Watuppa Watershed lands of the Fall River Water Department as well as land owned and managed by The Trustees of Reservations.


The purpose of our Bioreserve is to protect, restore and enhance the biological diversity and ecological integrity of a large scale ecosystem representative of southeastern Massachusetts. Neat, that's right where we live!

The Bioreserve also permanently protects water supplies, such as North Watuppa Pond, Copicut Reservoir and wetlands that drain to coastal rivers. In addition, the Bioreserve protects early cultural resources and allows for interpretive educational programs on natural and human history. In this densely populated southeastern corner of the state, the Bioreserve also provides opportunities for passive outdoor recreation and enjoyment of our natural environment.


Within the Bioreserve is the second highest natural hill in Bristol County. Let's meander over there.  Copicut Hill is 354 feet high with a DCR forest fire lookout tower at its summit. For those who may now be wondering about the highest hill in Bristol County, it is Sunrise Hill, 389 feet, in North Attleborough ...but we won't acknowledge that slight height advantage over Copicut since Sunrise Hill is about as far away as a hill can get and still be in Bristol County.


Copicut Hill's topography and the descending height and subtle shape of its ridges creates a dividing line between what flows west and north to the Taunton River and south and east to the Westport River via the Copicut and Shingle Island Rivers and Bread and Cheese Brook. The East Branch is born in sphagnum bogs, cedar swamps and hillside springs deep in the woods.


Wandering back 22 years there wasn't a Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve ...just some city watershed land, some state land, and a large block of privately owned wooded property. Back then rapacious developers and scurrilous schemers coveted those open space parcels for dubious development projects large and small. Some of the proposed projects were truly scary, others laughable. Here's a partial list of some of the more memorable: giant coal gasification refinery with 24/7 coal deliveries via a new rail line across public land into the forest; industrial warehouse park; race horse breeding farm, low-level nuclear waste repository; "Chinese" theme park; mega landfill; adult entertainment zone.

Egregious erosion and brook filled with rocks and gravel

In desperation at the frequency of these proposals and the folly of destroying water supplies, wetlands and forest a few concerned folks from Fall River and Freetown joined together and formed Green Futures, www.greenfutures.org. One of our members dubbed the area the Copicut Greenbelt and we set forth searching for allies. Aware of an early WRWA poster that showed the Westport River watershed extending all the way to the "Copicut Greenbelt" we sought our first ally and immediately found one in WRWA's young and energetic executive director, Gay Gillespie.


Since the beginning of the struggle to drive away those temple destroyers and devotees of ravaging commercialism...notice that nod to John Muir? ...WRWA was there at the start. Over time other environmental groups, individuals, state environmental agencies and local legislators came on board and ...with many starts and stops ...helped turn the Copicut Greenbelt into the Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve. Okay, are you still wandering with me... or have you been distracted by something vastly less important? If still with me, it is now 2014 and we have a problem that diminishes, hampers, the full potential of the Bioreserve.


We have wandered north, over the Bioreserve watershed divide to Rattlesnake Brook. Rattlesnake Brook begins at swamps, bogs and springs on the northwest side of Copicut Hill and flows north dumping into the Assonet River at Payne's Cove, just west of Route 24 in Freetown. Two miles downstream, from the confluence of the now tidal Rattlesnake Brook and Assonet River, the Assonet meets the federally designated Wild and Scenic Taunton River.

Person standing where bluff has been worn away from illegal OHV activity


Rattlesnake Brook is a lovely brook, similar to West Branch, Westport River's Angeline Brook both in size and character. Historically Rattlesnake Brook hosted anadromous alewife, blueback herring, rainbow smelt and salter brook trout. Unlike Angeline Brook, Rattlesnake Brook has an old, remnant dam at tidewater that prevented fish, except for American eels, from freely moving up and down and in and out the brook. The dam is slated to be removed in the near future and this will hopefully help restore extirpated anadromous species and add to the biodiversity of the Bioreserve.


Unfortunately, the Rattlesnake Brook valley, just upstream of the old dam, has been the site of illegal off-highway vehicle (OHV) activity. This section of the Bioreserve is managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). They have failed to monitor OHV activity and there has been scant enforcement of OHV rules, regulations and laws. The damage is egregious.

Not a high profile DCR managed property ...think Horseneck Beach State Reservation, with thousands of patrons and the political interest that brings ...DCR is loath to secure that area of the Bioreserve and restore the brook and land. They need a little nudge.

 Big erosion rut and trees that have fallen


Looking for support from those that early on understood the importance of the Bioreserve and its mission we brought this issue to WRWA. Just as in the beginning, support was received. We are also reaching out for support to other regional and statewide groups and organizations. We appreciate the continued support WRWA has provided the Bioreserve. After all, only a slight geological adjustment, back 10,000 or more years ago, might have put the Rattlesnake Brook watershed on the Westport River side of the watershed divide. Yes, we are all in this together.


Hopefully, someday, a protected greenway that we can wander through or meander about on will extend down from the Bioreserve following the Westport River from source to sea. Wouldn't that be wonderful!


Want to wander the Bioreserve?

There's a very comprehensive map of the Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve that is available and best of all, free! If you don't have one you can get one at:

  • The Town Farm, 830 Drift Road, Westport
  • Watuppa Reservation Headquarters, 2929 Blossom Road, Fall River
  • Fall River Water Department, 3rd Floor, Government Center, Fall River
  • Freetown State Forest Headquarters, Slab Bridge Road, Freetown
Upcoming Events
Bill Harley Concert


Saturday March 22 well-known story teller and songwriter Bill Harley will entertain friends of all ages on-stage in the Westport High School auditorium at 3pm.


A two-time Grammy award-winning artist and recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the RI Council for the Humanities, Bill uses song and story to paint a vibrant and hilarious picture of growing up, schooling and family life. His work spans the generation gap, reminds us of our common humanity and challenges us to be our very best selves. A prolific author and recording artist, Bill tours nationwide as an author, performing artist and keynote speaker.

Reservations in advance are $12 for adults, $5 for children after March 21 and at the door they are $15 for adults and $5 children just click here to reserve your ticket. 
WRWA Annual Meeting

Sunday March 30 is WRWA's Annual Meeting. Join us at The Back Eddy at 11:30 am for brunch; followed by the meeting, new nominees to the Board of Directors and annual environmental award and volunteer award presentations at 12:45. Reservations for Brunch are $20/person and should be made in advance by calling the office at 508 636 3016 or by clicking HERE to get your reservation on our secure website.


Unique Opportunity for WRWA
Greater Tiverton Community Chorus Supports the community


The Greater Tiverton Community Chorus is supporting WRWA and The Nature Conservancy with donations from ticket sales for their Spring concerts titled WATER MUSIC. Chorale director Beth Armstrong has chosen an assortment of music that celebrates and recognizes the importance of water, and most importantly pays tribute to the late Pete Seeger's commitment to rivers, particularly hie beloved Hudson.


The concerts are Friday April 25th, 7:30 pm at St. John the Baptist Church in Westport; Saturday April 26th, 7:30 at The Penfield School in Middletown; and Sunday April 28th 4:00pm at St. Therese Catholic Church in Tiverton. Be sure to purchase tickets and support WRWA and TNC. Tickets are $15 ($8 for students) and will be available at the WRWA office beginning in April.


WRWA Summer Programs for KIDS
What are you up to this summer? Join WRWA for our fun filled summer science programs. Registrations are coming in already so sign up early.



Many Thanks to Our Corporate Supporters
Lees Martket
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