Thursday, May 1, 2014

Update on Rockport's Millbrook Meadow and Pond

Happy May Day!

Millbrook Meadow and Mill Pond—an Update

           Welcome to the First of May, and spring really is coming to Rockport!

            Some Rockport native ladies may remember when your Mother starched and ironed your best dress, and then took you down to Millbrook Meadow to join in the festivities.  There was the Maypole, festooned with long ribbons, and there was music and lots of flowers.  You put a wreath of flowers in your hair, and round about the Maypole you danced.  There were punch and cookies.

            That was mostly for mothers and daughters, but there were a few males thrown into the mix. 

            It was a beautiful springtime ritual.

            We haven’t had a Maypole dance in the Meadow for a long time, but we still have the annual blessing of the animals in the fall….  Lew Norwood used to bring his stuffed unicorn to be blessed.   Hundreds of kids come from all over the North Shore by train for a story hour in the Meadow.  Our local kids and their teachers study eels and other animals and plants there. Then there are small fairs and concerts and shows in the Meadow all summer.  The 35th annual Acoustic Festival will be held in the Meadow in August.  And there are the artists, famous and just beginning, alone or in groups. 

        Millbrook Meadow Committee is involved in a big project, and we’d like to give you an update, because it is happening to your Meadow and Pond.

            A year ago, we were just getting started gathering funds for restoring the Meadow and Pond.  The recently completed dam had revealed the poor condition of our Pond and Meadow.  After all these years, we are engaged in a project to dredge and perhaps reshape the Pond, rebuild the channel for the Mill Brook, improve the drainage of the Meadow, and replace trees that have reached the end of their lives.

            Since then, thanks to the generosity of Lura Hall Phillips, who died 20 years ago, and thanks to the generosity of Rockport taxpayers, we’ve gathered $320,000 and our Department of Public Works has contracted with a very reputable company to study our situation and prepare the plans for bringing it all back to life. 

            Right now they are taking core samples of the bottom of the Pond and throughout the Meadow, and they are measuring and testing and sampling, to put together a picture for us of what should be done, and what can be done.  There’ll be choices, and at every stage we will be briefing the public, so Rockporters can track what is being done, and have a chance to give us their ideas and suggestions.

            On Wednesday, May 21, three weeks from now, we will have the first such session, in the Rockport Public Library Brenner Friends’ Room at 7 p.m. Milone & MacBroom, the design contractor, will update us on their work on the restoration of the Meadow and Pond to date, and there will be an opportunity to hear the visions and ideas about the Meadow and Pond from Rockporters. We did this last year and it was wonderful to see the response from Rockporters!  You really want this Meadow and Pond to be there for yourselves, your kids, and their kids!

            The Pond.  When the new dam was being built in 2012 the Pond was drained and so we had a good chance to look at the bottom of the Pond.  It’s pretty shallow.  Tests will reveal what’s down there, and how many pollutants are there.  That will tell us what we can and cannot do about dredging, and if we are going to have to haul many thousands of tons of contaminated sediment away, or if we can just reshape it, and perhaps relocate it locally. 

            Whatever we do will have to go through a complex permitting process, but our contractors know how to do this, and all that is built into our timelines.

            Just a few weeks ago Sayles Kasten, a high school senior who is working on his Eagle Scout badge carried out a project to cut a path around part of the Pond.  He and about 15 other Scouts and parents made a path through dense undergrowth, so that now you can walk from near the dam over to Union Cemetery.  We hope we will find a way to create a path that goes all or most of the way around the Pond.

            The Brook.  Just the other day the Brook flooded, as it often does, mostly in springtime. We want the contractor to show us how we can improve the path of the Brook and the drainage of the ground around it.  Parts of the bank are badly damaged and the channel may need to be rerouted a little bit, to improve the flow, and to help with the migration of marine life.   Some of the ideas that have floated about involve making the Brook meander away from the steep embankment so we can manage the plant growth on both sides, and so that people can walk on the opposite side of the Brook.       

The Meadow.  If you walked in the Meadow last week you may have felt a sinking feeling--- the ground was like a big, wet sponge, soaked from rain and flooding from the Mill Brook.  It’s good that we didn’t have the Easter egg hunt there, because we might have had to hunt for some of the little kids in the mud, rather than eggs!  We are expecting the contractor to give us some ideas about how to improve the drainage in the Meadow.  Some of those beautiful old willow trees are now at the end of their life span and may need to be replaced.

            Infrastructure.  Whenever we needed to water gardens in the Meadow, we and the Rockport Garden Club have had to borrow water from neighbors.  If we needed electricity for an event in the Meadow, our neighbors – Peg Leg Inn or Nate’s --- let us hook up.  One improvement we are counting on is to have our own water piping and electrical outlets.  We also plan to have low intensity lighting along paths and the darkest areas of the Meadow.

            The Rockport Millbrook Meadow Conservancy.  When we got into all this massive restoration project, the members of the Millbrook Meadow Committee looked around at each other and we asked:  “How are we going to do all this?”  We have a lot of local leaders who love this Meadow and Pond.  Some grew up here, and fondly remember their childhood skating on the Pond or playing in the Meadow.  We’ve formed the executive Board for The Rockport Millbrook Meadow Conservancy, which will look after the Meadow and the Pond and provide us with advice and counsel, very much like the Conservancy that looks after Central Park in New York City.  We’re hoping the Conservancy will continue to look after the Meadow and Pond long into the future.

There will be an opportunity for you all to join our Conservancy, and help us preserve this bright green jewel.

What will the Meadow and Pond look like when all this restoration is done?  We hope that when you visit you will see the old, beautiful Meadow you remember.  A larger Pond, with fewer cattails and more room to skate… A Meadow that is green and beautiful, and a Mill Brook that looks like it has for centuries.  We hope you won’t see it cluttered with manmade structures or paraphernalia--- just natural green.  And sustainable.
Please stay connected with your Meadow and Pond.  We ask for your votes when warrant articles come up at Town Meeting to help finish this restoration… and please, come visit.  Bring your kids, your grandkids, and your dogs.

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