Just A Thought Or Two
By Tom Reilly
On Golden Pond – It is not rare for the author of this space to feel unwelcome at an event. More than once he has felt much like the proverbial ant at everyone’s picnic. That might be why my recent boat trip with Sutton Town Administrator Jim Smith and four-fifths of the Sutton Board of Selectmen (chairman Ken Stuart had another commitment that day) and members of the Manchaug Pond Association (MPA) was such a pleasant experience. Selectman Dave Hall manned the cooler of cold drinks and there was a Scandinavian cake (without the almonds) in case anyone got hungry.
It was a hot day but it was cool out on the water even in direct sunlight as MPA President Dave Schmidt took us through well-charted waters while MPA Secretary Phyllis Charpentier provide the narration. It was easy to forget on this easygoing day just how long the odds were when the MPA routed the efforts of educational giant Holy Cross to build a retreat center on the Beaton Farm, next door to Waters Farm and thus akin to sacred ground in Sammie and Suzie town.
I remember thinking at the time the Holy Cross proposal was as benign and as sensitive as such a project could be—albeit one that would feature a 30,000 squarefoot building and give Holy Cross control of 875 feet of the waterfront. But when Charpentier pointed out Waters Farm and the Beaton Farm on the horizon—giving us a reverse view of the famous Waters Farm overlook—and showed where the tree line would have been clear cut for the retreat building, it made one think perhaps the good guys won this one. Today, the Beaton Farm remains home to international show and rescued miniature horses.
At the time the town assigned its rights of first refusal to the MPA—an organization that lacked the money at the time of the assignment and would need the 90-day window to see if it could come up with the necessary $1.325 million for the two parcels of 70 acres.
A long shot at best, its efforts went right down to the wire when a still unidentified guardian angel came up with the necessary financing, enough to buy up the entire 100 acres, not just the parcels coming out of Chapter 61A.
I am not immune to the irony that a Hail Mary pass scuttled the efforts of Holy Cross.
But that was then and this is now and one of the things Chapentier stressed in both her notes and in her narration during our turn around the pond was the degree to which the town’s residents had access to Manchaug Pond. There is a state public access boat ramp. There are four campgrounds (three on the pond itself and another at the Aldrich Mill Pond), a combined 490 campsites as well as day swimming and boat docking marinas.
YMCA’s Camp Blanchard brings 180 local and inner city children for day camp during the summer, with Charpentier noting it was also available for private weekend rental.
One of the main themes of the trip was the importance of these forested hillsides in handling the runoff and streams that feed the lake, part of a watershed with 4,000 acres. She also stressed the importance of what the town did to protect the lake:
Managing the state boat ramp since 1991
Installing roadside structures under tow EPA/DEP storm water grants secured by the Manchaug Pond Foundation in 2009 and 2012 and bringing in $431,000 in funds and match for water quality restoration
Taking ownership of the dam in 2012 and subsequently restoring the water level and flow
Appropriating boat excise taxes to address invasive aquatic weeds
Patrolling the lake by the police to ensure safe boating.
As we made our way around the pond, we saw a blue heron and mallard ducks. Charpentier said three bald eagles were spotted there recently.
While not quite wildlife, a black Labrador wearing a lifejacket leaped from the boat to retrieve a ball and then clambered up the boat’s ladder to do it over and over again, a canine version of rinse and repeat.
Charpentier stressed the importance of the pond to herself and her neighbors, saying “when something impacts the lake, you’re talking about my yard.”
Selectman John Hebert talked about the importance of the town securing the dam from Interface, the company that controlled the water level on the pond for years. He recalled the corporation talked of “blowing up Torrey Road” and the “water level would have gone down to nothing.”
The town ultimately bought the dam for $1, with Interface throwing in $350,000 to fund the ongoing maintenance of the dam. Back at the time the deal was done, Selectman Mike Chizy said it had been a “tough seven years…because we were threatened by the people who owned the dam, they’re going to break up the dam, Torrey Road is gone, and it’s going to be a brook.” He said the town was threatened multiple times and “it was scary for a while because when somebody threatens to breach a dam and destroy a pond like Manchaug… and they would have done it.” He said Town Administrator Jim Smith “stood up to these people and he called their bluff.” Chizy added that people in Sutton and Douglas “couldn’t believe” the town came out of the negotiations with
When the boat came in, Selectman Paul Maynard nimbly secured the boat and we disembarked, a little sunburned but ultimately nourished by a sense that a town and a pond association were working in tandem to keep a gem of a pond as pristine as possible.