(Muddy) Boots-on-the-ground Monomonac Partnership Update
On Earth Day, Mount Grace staff and volunteers met up with North County Land Trust and the Winchendon Springs Lakes Association for a clean-up day with neighbors around our Monomonac Hills Partnership Project. We’ve been working together to protect over 200 acres of forested land at the south end of Lake Monomonac, an area that will connect to the Winchendon Springs Wildlife Management Area and hundreds of acres of forest conserved by the Town of Winchendon. Working together and exploring the shores of the Whites Mill Pond restoration project, it was abundantly clear why the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program considers this landscape to be crucial habitat.
In the midst of this crucial habitat lies an interesting and unfolding story of a dynamic natural landscape. Whites Mill Pond existed thanks to a dam that was built as a part of the historic Whites Mill complex. The dam was reported as in poor condition in 2015 primarily due to concerns about seepage and stability. The new owners of the site proposed to breach the dam to eliminate the risk and restore the upstream river channel to its natural condition, creating more than 25 acres of wet meadow and other wetlands out of the former pond basin. Returning the river to more natural conditions that existed before the dam was built will help to improve public safety and the ecology of the North Branch of the Millers River.
Since the dam’s removal in 2022, open water has drained from the pond, exposing over a century of detritus and the long-preserved stumps of trees cut before the area was initially flooded. Clean-up volunteers found glass bottles with dates from the late 1800s and puzzling metal remnants, with the most curious in the group getting their boots stuck in a foot of still-moist silt.
Even on the gray and misty morning that we gathered to pick up truckloads of trash from the roadside, a few steps off the well beaten path revealed a diversity of wildlife humming with spring energy. Woodpeckers swooped, a couple deer made a quick getaway, a hawk maintained close surveillance, and the beavers in their newly constructed dam must have felt satisfied with the unexpected change they’ve engineered in the landscape.
These beavers were apparently not entirely happy with the result of the 2022 dam removal’s draining of the entire pond basin, so they did a bit of redecorating. At a narrow point about halfway across Whites Mill Pond, their new dam now holds back an impressive amount of water, letting only the primary deep channel of water continue to flow across the bare silty lake bottom. If you’re in the area, a short hike out to a blueberry-covered point offers a great vantage to see the dramatic difference on both sides of the beaver dam.
Project fundraising is ongoing to complete the protection of this dynamic landscape, rich with history and ecological value. Stay tuned for more details on the project’s development and future events with the partnership. Please support our work to protect this special place for its wild and human communities.