The water supply region of Massachusetts is home to a beautiful array of public lands, including the Quabbin Reservoir and the Ware River Watershed. The Ware River Watershed (one of the few unfiltered and open-to-the-public water supplies in the country), where we served on our first 10-day hitch, feeds into the Quabbin, which in turn supplies water to Boston. We worked along the Massachusetts Central Rail Trail, a wide gravel trail used often by walkers, joggers, bikers, and on occasion, horses. Unfortunately, a number of unauthorized trails have sprouted up over the years. Our task was to close them to prevent erosion from mountain bikes, as well as to protect critical habitats that the trails occasionally passed through.
There is a sort of art to closing trails, as it is more or less making something that people know disappear. First, we would turn over the ground a little bit so that grass seed would take. After seeding, we would gather leaves or pine needles and cover the trail to disguise it. Next, we covered the trails in large, dead objects, like fallen logs, that are difficult to move and obscure line of sight to the trail. The last step is to fell a tree on top of the trail. This sometimes did not happen because of watershed restrictions, but a tree’s crown really improves a trail’s disguise and often shuts down a trail for good.
The project allowed our crew a lot of creative license. We were able to prioritize which trails we wanted to close, and how. One task we were able to perform was exploring the unauthorized trails with GPS units to find out where they went, as well as get in a little wildlife viewing. This was easily one of our favorite days. In addition, we were lucky enough to attend the Envirothon event at Quabbin to spend time with many environmentally conscious and forward thinking high school students. It was an incredible experience to meet fellow conservation enthusiast (and perhaps the next generation of SCA Massachusetts AmeriCorps members).
Our crew was not only at Ware to close trails, but to be the eyes and ears for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. We talked to the public throughout the day to inform them of what was happening, as well as receive their input on how to improve public access to the watershed in the future. At the end of the project, the crew put together a small report on what we had found based on interactions with the public and exploring the trails. Within this report we suggested future actions toward watershed access, such as improved signage. To have the project culminate in DCR asking for our opinion on what to do moving forward was empowering, and we hope to have had a lasting positive impact on future access to the Ware River Watershed.