Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Easton's Queset Brook
This is a video me and my brother Tim made of us tracing the Queset Brook in Easton to one of its sources, Lincoln Spring next to the Easton Lutheran Church on Lincoln Street. The spring and the seeps nearby all flow into the little pond behind the Town Pool and then into Mr. Parker's little pond on Main Street. The back part of the video is at the wet meadow that used to be Flyaway Pond until the dam broke in 1968. Flyaway has now reverted to its natural state: a wild cranberry meadow.
We did this at Thanksgiving 2003 and as you can tell I was fascinated at the clarity and purity of the water in these little rills and brooklets that all come together a quarter mile downstream and go into the Queset Brook. Timmy's discovery of a big giant hellgrammite in one little rill helped to confirm my suspicion that this set of brooklets do not dry up in the summer. Hellgrammites are the larval phase of dobson flies and live in the water for years before emerging into flying insects. We also found some big crane fly larvae too, another sign of stream permanence. [Clue: because hellgrammites and large crane fly larvae tend to need to grow for 2 or more years underwater, we could tell these rills did not dry up every summer.]
This little network of spring and seep-fed rills are what supported the native brook trout of Queset Brook and what led 1700s settlers in Easton to name Queset Brook, "Trout Hole Brook."
Native brook trout could be restored to this part of Queset Brook tomorrow if the several intervening dams below were breached. These dams were first built for the Ames Shovel Works in the early 1800s and now have taken on 'ornamental' status. But in reality these tiny dams and the tiny ponds they have made serve only today to prevent native fish, particularly native brook trout, from living in Queset Brook as they did for millennia.
We made this video to illustrate a point. Just because a native species, like brook trout, was extirpated from its home 200 years ago does not mean we cannot today bring them back. At Queset Brook in North Easton, all of the fundamental elements are now present to bring the species back. The one missing element is restoring the connectivity of the brook by breaching the tiny 'ornamental' and/or forgotten dams that still lie in its headwaters. Restoring connectivity is critical to brook trout because during the summer they need to be able to get to where the water is coolest and they are incredibly well adapted to doing this provided there is not a 5 foot stone and concrete dam getting in their way; or by corollary a tiny pond behind the dam which artificially raises the water temperature of the brook to a point that the trout cannot tolerate.
Back in 1975 Easton had a 'dual bicentennial' which meant that Easton's 250th birthday since its incorporation in 1725 coincided by one year with the nation's bicentennial. Easton had much fanfare and parades and observances at this time. My dad was on the organizing committee. It just so happened that a few years prior, William and Elise Ames Parker and the Ames' family had donated to the town as conservation land all of the area seen in this video and the town built a set of stone-dust walking and bike paths through it, which are still there.
So in 1975 David Ames and the town somehow convinced the State of Mass. to do a one-time stocking of brook trout into Queset Brook and Picker Pond as part of the bicentennial celebration. My brother Tim and his friend John Brown caught lots of these brook trout and also noticed that many of them held over for several years in Queset Brook if you were hardcore enough to find them.
What the Town of Easton didn't do in 1975 was to ask how a native, self-sustaining population of brook trout could be restored to Queset Brook and what this would require. Instead, the Town and the State of Mass. elected the much easier route of dumping a 100 or so hatchery brookies into Queset for 'the kids to catch' and assuming they would disappear within a year by being caught or dying from lack of access to necessary habitat, which is basically what happened.
From the comfortable perspective of sitting here 40 years since, the error made by the Town Fathers of Easton in 1975, including my own Dad, seems head smackingly obvious. But at that time it wasn't obvious due to lots of cultural, psychological and sociological factors.
Or to put it another way. In 1978 when I was 13, I got up one Saturday morning on a lark and rode my 3-speed Schwinn bike all the way down Route 138 for 30 miles from Easton to the Segregansett River near Dighton to just try and see and catch a native brook trout and then turned around and biked home (which is uphill all the way) in time for supper, knowing I would get in trouble for doing it without telling my mother (she thought I was just riding down the street).
Of course, I pedalled past the Frates Dairy Milk Bottle in Raynham.
But why did I do this? Because at age 13 I was obsessed with seeing an actual native brook trout in its native habitat. Not a trout in a hatchery where you put a nickel into a machine and get a handful of pellets to feed them.. Not a stocked, finless rainbow trout dumped into a Cape Cod pond or Lake Massapoag in Sharon. But the real thing: a real, wild, native Massachusetts brook trout living in its native, aboriginal environment. And from buying Francis Smith's guide to the remnant trout of southeastern Massachusetts at Tight Lines in West Bridgewater, I knew the closest place to see a native Massachusetts trout was either in the Segregansett or the Palmer Rivers in Rehoboth and Dighton. So off I went on my bicycle with a little spinning rod tied to my back.
The experience was worth it, since it encouraged me to drag my Dad down to the Palmer River for a number of fishing trips in the swampy, mosquito infested jungle that the Palmer is. And I think he liked it. We even dragged my stepmother, Maureen, down to the Palmer one day when the mosquitos were incredibly thick. Then we stopped at the A&W root beer stand in Taunton afterwards and I got so sick from covering myself with Old Woodsmans bug dope that I puked all over the parking lot.
So I guess the moral of the story is that if we restored a native, functioning population of brook trout back to Queset Brook in North Easton in 1975 I would not have blown chunks all over the A&W root beer stand on Route 138 in Taunton where the car hop girls had to walk around.
But on the other hand, because I went to the Palmer River alot in high school, I did get to meet a box turtle who was slowly and methodically tromping along the brook bank and sniffing the air now and then. He (or she) was probably the coolest box turtle I ever saw because the woods were completely still and quiet and then there's this box turtle just box turtling around the moss next to the Palmer River and I was lying down on the ground a few inches from the box turtle making goofy faces at him. That was when all worlds coalesced and collided. It was just me, the Palmer River, the mosquitos, the moss, native brook trout and a very old box turtle ambling about in the woods wondering who the hell I was.