Water Closet for November 27, 2015
[pullquote]”Some say it is the largest freshwater cattail swamp in New England.”[/pullquote]Last week several old Middleton Stream Teamers of the Ipswich River Watershed finally visited a marsh in the headwaters of the Saugus River just down the road in Lynnfield. They’d passed it just out of sight behind houses hundreds of times. Car folks who move quickly must keep their eyes on the road. Drivers don’t see much beyond the front yards of residents they are passing; the backlands are largely unknown. The backyards behind those living on the east side of Main Street, and the west side of Summer Street, Lynnfield, blend into a dense cattail marsh accessible to birds, muskrats, and beavers. Some say it is the largest freshwater cattail swamp in New England. Auduboners and certain water fowl, some endangered, like it. On the latest 1980 USGS map, it is called Reedy Meadow, indicating that like most such places near the coast it was once farmed. Its flat-wet 1000 or so acres are now circumscribed by houses, a shopping center, and a golf course off Summer and Main streets and by Route 95 to the south. Millions of people pass near it weekly yet know it not.
Rachel an artist, also a baker at Whole Foods in Lynnfield near the cattail marsh, suggested that the COA/CC walkers of Middleton stop by for coffee and donuts after a Friday hike. Recently a customer enthusiastically told Rachel, loudly and twice for emphasis, that her cider donuts were the very best. He used another adjective besides “very” which can’t be repeated here in the Water Closet.
After Rachel’s invite we looked at the map for a place nearby to hike. Lynnfield’s Reedy Meadow stood out and peaked our curiosity. An abandoned Boston and Maine railroad bed was found crossing it from Summer Street near center Lynnfield to northern Wakefield. A high and dry rail trail was anticipated. On a trial run last week we found instead rusty rails and rotting ties among weeds and bushes and periodic puddles with pure stands of cattails in shallow water stretching out like fields of corn on each side. Over the years the water in the swamp has risen, and the gravel bed on deep muck has subsided. So instead of an easy path, we had something interesting and uncertain to explore in the midst of civilization.
On the trial run mentioned the five Stream Teamers from our abutting watershed drove from Middleton over the Ipswich River-Saugus River watersheds divide and descended to Lynnfield center. There they turned southeast on Summer Street and proceeded to a small church on its south side. From the church parking lot they followed the rails south and were soon among the cattails and water. They could hear the drone of heavy afternoon traffic on Route 128 (I-95) a mile to the south. As with most such background noises it was soon tuned out.
They were on a sinking railroad bed in a vast swamp inaccessible even in boots. At no time on the mile in and mile out did they detect any flow. Three large stone culverts built through the RR bed to allow the broad, shallow Saugus River to flow eastward, eventually to tidal marsh in Lynn, are clogged by debris, the works of beavers. Shedding cattails dominate the scene. Wind blown seeds filling the air had stuck to all the rain-wet plant parts along the bushy railroad bed. It reminded one hiker of a person stepping wet from a shower into a pillow fight of pillows stuffed with tiny brown feathers. Reedy Meadow is truly a square mile or more of thick stands of cattails. We saw no area of open water over room size. No invasive Phragmites was seen, to our surprise. On the next visit one hiker plans to vertically poke the bottom with a long probe to see how much rich-organic mud has accumulated over thousands of years. The railroad bed of gravel seems to have sunk a couple feet since constructed by the Boston & Maine RR just before the civil war.
We plan to enlighten ourselves more on this neighboring watershed draining 30 square miles in ten towns south of our Ipswich watershed of about ten times that area. Both rivers flow slowly, the Saugus River, spread out across Reedy Meadow, the slowest. Leaks from circling septic systems add nutrients. Eutrophication at times has been a problem. On our trial run many duckweeds were floating on the water around cattail stems. There was no odor.
We’ve learned watersheds here along the coast have rich histories. The Saugus River’s has included fairly dense populations, past industries, and great public works such as I-95 built in the late forties and widened several times. Down river high rocky Break Heart Reservation sends lots of water at times down to the restored but not functioning Saugus Iron Works.
One old Stream Teamer, so recently caught up in Saugus River-Reedy Meadow’s history, plans to visit the Lynnfield library soon. Even if he were young the project might take a lifetime of research and then not scratch the surface of the swamp’s changing roles among people, especially farmers. Indians for 10,000 years before the English farmers just enjoyed it for its bountiful wildlife, especially during spring and fall waterfowl migrations. Alas, they left no records, and the hard working farmers damn few. Why is it so important to know about its past? Maybe such knowledge will help us protect and manage this rich ever-changing wildlife habitat now that we have taken control. Tomorrow the old Stream Teamer plans a trip with camera. He will park, if not stopped by state police, on the north shoulder of I-95 to photograph the marsh from above. We may be back with more on the Saugus River Watershed as our explorers learn more.
Someone just remembered that Stream Teamer Francis Masse had trapped muskrats as a young boy in feeder streams on the edge of Reedy Meadow when he lived for a time in Lynnfield. That was 70 plus years ago when steam engines were crossing where we hiked.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches
|2015 Central Watershed Actual
|2.7 as of 11/23**
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Nov 23, 2015 Normal . . . 57CFS Current Rate . . . 157 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Oct..
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for Nov.
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584