Native Brook Trout Near Boston Protected With Business Support
Corporate commitment to conserving, protecting, and replenishing water in business operations and in the environment is growing. The challenge to investing in water outside the four walls of those businesses? Connecting to meaningful activities and projects in watersheds, at the local level.
It is projects like the environmental flow and restoration of Pine Tree Brook in Milton, Massachusetts, that are eligible for support through an innovative new platform designed to help bridge the gap between corporate funders and NGO projects. Since 2017, River Network and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) have partnered on the Business for Water Stewardship Project Bank.
Pine Tree Brook flows from the Blue Hills Reservation to the edge of Boston. “To my knowledge, it’s the only natural trout stream that borders a major metropolitan city in the Eastern United States,” says Chris Hirsch, an environmental scientist with the Neponset River Watershed Association, the group leading the project. “This makes it a very special and unique brook, and a priority of ours for restoration.” They first learned about the Project Bank through email outreach from River Network.
The Pine Tree Brook project aims to protect a rare population of native brook trout. The brook’s headwaters are mostly intact, but three dams in the headwaters “make life harder for the brook trout that call Pine Tree Brook home,” says Hirsch. Located just two and a half miles from Boston, the trout population is one of only two self-sustained populations in the entire Neponset River Watershed. Hirsch’s description of Pine Tree Brook underscores scenic value as well as the brook’s importance as trout habitat:
Blue Hills Reservation is an extremely popular park for Bostonians who want a quick get a way to nature. Its popularity is clear to anyone who has circled around the winding roads looking for parking near a trailhead. The word Massachusetts means “at the great hill” in Algonquin; a reference to the Great Blue Hill in the park. It was one of the first places I visited when I first moved to Massachusetts; long before I was aware of Pine Tree Brook or its trout, and it’s a place I still frequent when I want a quick hike. On the edge of the Blue Hills Reservation is Pine Tree Brook.
Upper Pine Tree Brook is a beautiful net of streams that wind their way through wooded swamps full of pepper bush, red maple, and ash. Early in the year it can be deafening as the spring peepers sing their song around the vernal pools and springs. The brook starts as a network of brooks bubbling up from springs in the hills. At this point, it’s impossible to say which one is Pine Tree Brook in any objective sense. The brook winds its way down through an alder swamp filled tussock sedge hummocks and root knots before it reaches the Unquity Road flood control dam.
Immediately downstream of the flood control dam is the Harling’s Mill pond and the Harling’s Mill Dam. In the summer the pond is full of lily pads and ducks, and its banks are lined with bulrushes and cattails. The dam itself is an earthen berm that has been reclaimed by the forest. The remains of an old fitted-stone raceway works its way between the old barrow pit where they excavated the soil for the berm, and an enormous 20 foot tall glacial erratic. The dam breached some time ago, likely during the floods of hurricane Diane, forming the main flow path for the brook today. Large fragments of mill stones can still be found scattered around the dam site.
The solution to protect native trout and preserve Pine Tree Brook’s beauty? Remove or alter the dams to allow for fish passage. By removing dams, the project improves habitat and bolsters previous green-infrastructure upgrades to clean up storm-water pollution, alleviate impacts of urbanization, and restore water quality.
“The biggest hurdles, and quite frankly the hurdles that we are still jumping over, are permitting and working with large government agencies,” says Hirsch. With several funding sources to support planning, Neponset River Water Association needed additional funds for implementation. “The Business for Water Stewardship Grant filled that critical funding gap and will allow us to complete the project.”