CHESHIRE -- If one goal of a recent, successful dam removal project at Thunder Brook was to encourage local and tourist traffic to the site, then Friday saw its first crowd.
State and federal ecological and wildlife officials joined the town's leadership, local elected representatives, conservationists and other project partners to officially recognize a three-year, $245,000 effort that returned the brook to its natural state.
Tim Purinton, director of the state Department of Fish and Game's (DFG) Division of Ecological Restoration, reserved special praise for local collaborators while speaking at Town Hall, before the group packed into the town's Council on Aging van to ascend West Mountain Road for a site visit.
"These projects are really citizen-based," Purinton said. "We're with the state and we want to help, but it only works if the local effort is there."
An effort well worth the while, according to Hoosic River Watershed Association Executive Director Steve McMahon, as it helped preserve "one of the best cold water fisheries in Massachusetts."
McMahon recounted stories he was told by friends who'd fished the brook with their children for rainbow and brown trout. "These are memories people hold on to for a lifetime," he said.
These and other native fish were under threat before the removal of a dilapidated 80-year-old dam.
A coldwater stream, Thunder Brook flows down Mount Greylock and into the Hoosic River's southern branch. Formerly the town's primary drinking source, the dam had become increasingly sediment-blocked and would only worsen, DFG officials said.
The project also replaced a failing downstream culvert with a larger, open-bottom span. Peter Lefebvre, superintendent of the Town Highway Department, performed the removal, and Sumco Eco Contracting did the culvert work.
"This was an important project for the town of Cheshire," Cheshire Selectwoman Carol Francesconi said. "I want to thank the partners -- you were the best of the best."
Restoration biologist Martha Niley, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said residents can now enjoy a better local environment, hunting and fishing -- perhaps enhancing tourism.
"It's very hard to beat the bang for your buck that you get in these stream restoration projects," Niley said.
In addition to creating jobs, state sources report average returns of 75 percent on similar investments.
On site, Nick Wildman, also of DFG, who was among project's foremost advocates, explained the work's various benefits to those walking Thunder Brook's banks.
"It's not only great for the ecology of the stream, but we've taken on a great infrastructure project that would have needed to be done anyway," Wildman said.
It's been a busy year for the state in terms of dam removals, said Purinton. Thunder Brook marks the ninth project this year, and another 30 are in the works. An additional 3,000 dams can be found within the state, less than 10 percent of these useful and most ecologically harmful. According to Purinton, Massachusetts ranks third nationally in how quickly these dams are being removed.
Project partners included the town of Cheshire, Trout Unlimited, the Hoosic River Watershed Association, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, DFG's Division of Ecological Restoration, DFG's Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Massachusetts Environmental Trust and the Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership -- enabled by a donation from Covanta Energy.
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