Water Closet for May 26, 2017
[pullquote]”Shouldn’t this peaceful place with abundant wildlife and paths for humans remain a greenbelt, a retreat, for the many residents in the surrounding developments and beyond?”[/pullquote]An unnamed stream in east Middleton flows between a drumlin called Bare Hill and an ancient river terrace of porous deposits. Webber’s Pond on East Street, much enlarged by beavers in the last two decades, is its main source. The water from the pond flows easterly and joins the runoff and seepage from “wet” Bare Hill. At Locust Street it enters a large dark culvert that carries it under the street and Ferncroft Golf Course. It enters the light again at one of the course’s ponds on Nichols Brook, the Topsfield line, which takes it north for a mile through a broad scrub-shrub swamp to the Ipswich River.

Beaver sculpture Stream Teamers have dubbed “The Auger” on the edge of lively, enlarging Webber’s Pond. – Susan Hathaway photo

This valley between East Street and Locust Street is now town owned land of 35 acres purchased from antique dealer Alan Webber in 2002. The 35, called by some “Locust-East”, were then divided into two 17 acre parcels, one for conservation-open space land to the south and the other for general municipal use north of the brook. At a May 9, 2017 Town Meeting folks voted to allow the Selectmen to sell or do what they will with the general use land where a school was planned in the first years of the millennium. Town Meeting wisely built the grade school in the center of town leaving the general use land at Locust-East to the future. For Stream Teamers and others all 35 acres have been thought of as conservation open space land over the last 15 years. Hiking trails go from one side of the valley to the other with no signs that their statuses are legally different. This May’s Town Meeting voted 65 to 53 to allow the selectmen to sell if they deemed in the “best interests of the town.” The area is surrounded on three sides by residential development. Relatively new houses are to the west, north and south. The County Jail and MIT facility abut to the southeast and Ferncroft condo towers loom nearby to the east. The Stream Teamers and others argue that there has been enough development in the east part of town and that the fine hillside woods and red maple swamp valley with ponds should remain a place for exercise and peaceful reflection on the soft paths under mature trees. A century ago the valley’s flanking high lands were pasture with a few spreading “pasture oaks” for cattle shade. The pastures are gone; a few impressive old pasture oaks remain surrounded by mature but younger trees .

Webber’s Pond is twice the size of a decade ago. A large beaver dam, 200-ft. long, 3ft. high, has made it so. – Judy Schneider photo

Since we have no mountains the “valley” doesn’t impress passers by on East and Locust as such; however, if you follow Webbers Pond and its outlet stream you’ll get the valley feeling. Southerners might call it a “draw” or “run.” Mature oaks grace the slopes of both ridges descending to the little brook’s wetland and channel. A place where spunky Jonathan Webber, while still in high school during the ‘70s, cut a hundred cords of red maples for firewood he sold. The shoots from his stumps have grown a new maple crop that could be cut again if allowed under the Wetland Protection Act. Successful businessman Jonathan no longer cuts wood; the beavers have taken control. They don’t cut; they drown the wet soil loving red maples that can’t take standing water year-round.

These seven goslings were raised on Webber’s Pond this spring. – Susan Hathaway photo

Travelers on East Street have seen Webber’s Pond, once popular for skating, growing wider and expanding in length eastward. The busy beavers in the past decade have built five dams down stream, the first is now 200 feet long and 3 high. A new dam built on a crossing stonewall in the past half year has now added another watery acre to the beaver impoundment. Two very recent small dams below are flooding the nearby wetland as beaver activity moves easterly downstream. The floor of the valley is opening to the light as the maples die. New rich habitats called beaver meadows are forming.
Change again and again, is an ongoing theme of the Water Closet for twelve years.   Let us summarize the last four centuries, the first three from reading history and the last from observations and signs. Pre-colonization by the English: The valley in Naumkeag-Agawan times was probably something like now with the Indians’ savannah-like woodland of big trees flanking beaver controlled lowlands.   After the Indians died from imported diseases the English famers cleared land not already open for pasture. The beavers were trapped out. In the latter half of the 19th century industry surrounded our towns, agriculture moved west. The pastures gave way to scrub brush land and then trees. The Webber family used the land as a playground and cleared the understory, the land become somewhat savannah like again. They made many paths to which the children gave whimsical names. In the ‘70s Jonathan cut the maples. In 1996 the state passed a law against steel leg hold traps, the beavers soon returned after an absence of three centuries; very early in the new millennium some found Locust-East valley. At about the same time the town bought the land from Webber. Oriental bittersweet vines invaded the uplands from the east and the beavers with their dams from the west along the brook.

Webber’s Pond, Middleton: Standing dead trunks and bent and fallen trees sometimes strike somber moods on beaver impoundments, some of the richest and liveliest of habitats. – Susan Hathaway photo

Indians and beavers, colonial and American farmers and their hoofed animals, a lively family and woodcutter in the draw, wildlife and beavers again, and now the town’s selectmen hold the fate of Locust-East in their hands. We’ll end with a question. Shouldn’t this peaceful place with abundant wildlife and paths for humans remain a greenbelt, a retreat, for the many residents in the surrounding developments and beyond?


Precipitation Data* for Month of: Feb Mar April May
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.25 6.65 4.53 4.06
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 3.46 2.86 6.53 2.2**as of May 19

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For May 19, 2017  Normal . . . 62 CFS     Current Rate . . . 94 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru April.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for May.
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