Let the River Run: background
The Mattapoisett River Valley, MA
The Mattapoisett River Valley contains 300 acres of wetlands and is a sanctuary for a wide variety of fish, amphibians, and birds. Some of these animals are endangered and rely on this wildlife corridor for their survival. The herring that once were so abundant, returning to this river each year to spawn, have been on a steady decline due to manmade obstacles. The principal northern source of the river at Snipatuit Pond is a crucial habitat for the juvenile herring, specifically the Alewives and Blue Back. Without the Mattapoisett River and its tributaries, the herring could not migrate each season to reproduce, jeopardizing the continued survival of the population. These fish are a crucial link in maintaining the overall health of the ecosystem. They serve as a primary food source for many predators, helping to promote and create biodiversity throughout the region.
The growing human population of the surrounding towns is exerting increasing pressure on the watershed. The river is a vital source of fresh water for several public water stations and many private homes. In the recent past, sections of the river have experienced severe drought. In October of 2007 and September of 1999, more than 1,000 feet of the river dried up completely.
Monitoring and examining the quality of the water and the human pressures put on the river valley is crucial for sustaining this vital source of water. Nearly 1,500 acres of retired cranberry bogs have been intentionally abandoned in a restoration effort to let nature revert the land back to its natural state.
The Bogs is now a public area that encompasses over 50 acres of wetlands. Located at the northern tip of the watershed, it is an expanse of land where the Decas Cranberry Company once operated. During agricultural operations, much needed water was diverted to the bogs from Tripps Mill Brook, a tributary of the Mattapoisett River that flows along the property’s northern edge.
The abandoning of the cranberry industry has begun to improve the natural flow of water, creating an ideal habitat for fish and wildlife, including species of box turtles, American eels, insects and migrating birds. Reclaiming these spaces also helps to reduce runoff and sedimentation, which can harm aquatic life. Abandoned agricultural fields provide valuable food sources for wildlife in the form of seeds, nuts, and fruit. To restore these areas to a natural state is to provide important nesting and breeding areas for birds and other wildlife that depend on these habitats.
There are many obstacles in the river’s path, however with time, the river will gradual erode all these impediments to find a swifter route from the bogs to the bay.
As a kid, the woods were my playground.
Summer days were spent exploring the forested trails behind our house, in woods that seemed to stretch to the horizon. Not expected home until dinner, I spent endless hours looking for an oasis of life in some swampy spot. Turning over rocks and exploring the ancient stone remains of pioneer homes was my entertainment. Experiencing the natural places where box turtles fed on wild grapes, white-tailed deer ran and spotted salamanders buried themselves under the rotting leaves.
Cranberry bogs surrounded us and provided an abundant area for aquatic wildlife. In the small ponds and streams, I’d hope to find bullfrog eggs encased in their protective gel. In the following weeks, observing tadpoles burst forth, growing legs and transforming into fully formed frogs, filling the night time with their songs of lust.
Forty years later, I paddle a kayak across the reflective black surface of the river, imagining anything could be living beneath its surface. With the changing of the seasons, the leaves and temperature have dropped, creating a stillness throughout the landscape.
The autumn and winter months are especially tranquil, ideal for the observation of wildlife.
Navigating around the narrow channels, passing acres of swampy areas where all types of critters live. Traveling around a large bend, two small otters’ heads are spotted before quietly submerging. They leave a path of air bubbles rising to the surface revealing their underwater path as they pass. Turtles sunbathe before their long winter naps. The great heron is a silent and welcome surprise as its wings spread out in front of me. My journey upriver disrupting their stealthy hunt of a meal.
The quiet of the river landscape is disturbed by the passing of an automobile, a reminder of the growing numbers moving to the Buzzards Bay area. The distance between where wild animals live and the construction of buildings is decreasing. The recent population boom is creating a renewed concern about the health and well-being of this fragile ecosystem
- February, 2023