Update: A lot has changed since this page was written--for up-to-date information, see the blog postings Bolton Town Meeting: YES to Fyfeshire article #14 and New alternative would keep the Fyfeshire ponds intact
Take a look at the two photos at the top of the page (photos have since been removed). One shows the pond at Fyfeshire Conservation area as it is now, the other shows what it would be like after the dam removal recommended by the Bolton Conservation Commission. (The photos are taken from the study for dam removal commissioned by the Town of Bolton.)
The Massachusetts Office of Dam Safety has declared the dam in the Fyfeshire conservation area on Wattaquadock Hill Road unsafe and has required the Town of Bolton to repair or remove it. (View dam safety order-pdf format)
Photo of dam taken during repairs in 1995. Note crack in the wall on right side.
In November 2010, the Bolton Conservation Commission voted to remove the dam. According to a town-commissioned study of the feasibility of dam removal, this will turn a large pond into swampy forest and a small vernal pool that provides "excellent habitat for amphibians and reptile species." We—a group of residents of Bolton and surrounding towns—think this is a bad idea for a number of reasons:
Loss of a beautiful recreational area
Hikers from Bolton and surrounding towns come to Fyfeshire to enjoy the open-water views, skip rocks across the ponds, bird watch and look for signs of wildlife. People enjoy the views—beautiful in each season—as they drive by the big pond on Wattaquadock Hill Rd. Removing the dam would drain much of the beauty of this setting. The smaller pond would not be untouched—a study exploring the impact of dam removal talks of engineering a channel around the small pond, resulting in “portions of the year in which water depths in the small pond …are very low.”
View of small pond from far side looking toward the bridge:
Loss of historical context
It is not certain when the dam was built, but according to a study commissioned by the town, "the similarity of the fill and the underlying material to a depth of 19 feet is consistent with the method of dam construction 100 years ago, where fill material was generally excavated from the surrounding area." In the 1800s, the ponds provided waterpower to a button and comb-making business. Listen to the water and look at the foundation to the right of the bridge over the small pond, and it is easy to imagine what such an enterprise might have looked like. Helen Plummer, a descendent of the Fyfe family who owned the land, donated thirty acres to the town of Bolton in 1969 and asked that it be kept in conservation. By draining the ponds, are we breaking that trust? (See our history page for more on Fyfeshire's history.)
Loss of wildlife habitat
One stated reason for dam removal is to restore habitat for fish species by creating cooler water flows and fewer barriers. This is a laudable goal, one supported by the fishing industry. In this case, however, low flows and a number of remaining barriers both upstream and downstream make it unlikely that fish will return in large numbers. And what of the unexpected consequences when we destroy a well-established ecosystem? Fyfeshire is home to Blandings turtles, a threatened species, and an immature bald eagle was recently sighted in the area. Many types of birds use the larger pond for food and respite. Removing the dam and draining the ponds will seriously impact the wildlife who call Fyfeshire home, with only questionable gains in terms of fish populations. (See our wildlife page for more on Fyfeshire's wildlife.)
The bottom line
Repair or remove, either way the costs are significant. Estimates for repair taken from a town-commissioned study (big pdf file--be patient) have ranged from $479,000 to $495,000 (including 50 years of dam maintenance costs), while removal ranges from $324,00 to $443,000. Using these estimates, the difference ranges from $36,000 to $171,000. Private fund-raising efforts can lessen this burden. We believe together we can find a solution to address this difference in cost and preserve a beautiful town asset for future generations.
For more discussion of the issues, see our Nov. 28 blog entry.
Take another look at the two photos: which do you prefer? If you think the ponds should be saved, join us. Send an email request to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll add your email to our list to receive updates, or add your name to our list of supporters. Learn what the media has reported at our In the News page.
What to do about the dam will most likely come up again at the next Bolton Town Meeting in May 2012. Help us save the Fyfeshire Ponds in their current state, as Helen Plummer most likely intended when she donated them to the town in 1969.