Photo: Andy Bakinowski

A Long & Winding Boardwalk

If you’ve ever been to Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary and the Bristol Blake State Reservation in Norfolk, you’ve most likely walked the 525-foot-long boardwalk. When this iconic feature, which takes you to Beech Island, was first installed more than 40 years ago it immediately captured the devotion and enthusiasm of people fascinated by the beauty of the wetlands and the diversity of life that could observe from it.

Over the years the boardwalk has been improved in many ways. Railings on both sides were installed, rotten planks were replaced, and pilings were stabilized. In 2010, Mass Audubon partnered with the Department of Conservation (DCR) and the Student Conservation Association (SCA) to do a major overhaul on the boardwalk with improvements being made along its entire length.

Even with all this attention, winter weather ultimately took its toll and an engineering inspection in March 2016 determined that the boardwalk was too dangerous to remain open. DCR closed the boardwalk.

But it wouldn’t be for long. DCR knew the benefits outweighed the cost of replacement and immediately set out to replace the boardwalk. Their strategy was to not only make it safer for people, but also for the wetlands it traverses. By raising it higher off the water and replacing all of the pilings with smaller helical anchors that provide a stronger support, the impact of the boardwalk will be reduced dramatically. An added benefit: visitors get a higher vantage point to view the wetlands.

Aerial view of the boardwalk renovation. Photo: Andy Bakinowski

For months, we anxiously watched and waited. Fast forward to August 7, 2017. After a final visit, State Inspectors gave their thumbs and tore the caution tape down. The boardwalk is now officially open and we are planning a brief ceremony on Saturday, August 26, at 11 am.

Thanks to everyone for your support, patience, and encouragement. Bristol Blake State Reservation and Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary are open daily from sunrise to sunset. We look forward to seeing you out on the boardwalk soon!

Stony Brook’s campers celebrate the opening of the boardwalk.

— Guest post by Doug Williams, Stony Brook’s Sanctuary Director

6 thoughts on “A Long & Winding Boardwalk

  1. Doug

    I took a walk through Stony Brook yesterday – a lovely landscape that I have traversed since childhood. It was wonderful to get out on the new boardwalk. It certainly provides a solid, safe platform from which to observe the diversity of flora and fauna at this sanctuary; however, aesthetically it is at best a compromise. This is what happens when the state govt – here the DCR – gets involved. I know the intertwined history of the Bristol Blake Reservation and Stony Brook, and no doubt this played a role in the prolonged planning and execution of the project. My first impression – the steel truss and concrete pylon construction portion of the boardwalk is cold and unnatural. In addition, the horizon planking below the wooden railing, while no doubt a safety measure to keep kids from falling into the water, is obtrusive. I found myself longing for the more natural and unobstructed views afforded by the signature bridge at Broadmoor Sanctuary in South Natick – there you feel part of the natural landscape. In contrast, the new boardwalk at Stony Brook makes one feel a bit walled off from the grandeur of Teal Marsh and Kingfisher Pond. However, despite these misgivings, the sanctuary is still a natural jewel (my personal Walden Pond), and from the boardwalk I savored the sight of fish, turtles, and blue heron on an idyllic summer’s morning.

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  2. Linda

    Fantastic! Can’t wait to see it. Congrats on this milestone. Stony Brook is our favorite Audubon Sanctuary, hands down!

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  3. Steve Flint

    The boardwalk at Stony Brook has been sorely missed by many. Very happy it’s back in business and for the opportunity to observe the natural world!

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  4. John

    It’s a shame that the beautiful boardwalk at Wachusett Meadows is under water now. It once offered a great educational opportunity to view an ecosystem many don’t have a chance to observe.

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    1. Hillary

      Wachusett Meadow’s boardwalk was indeed a wonderful way to engage visitors and provided educational opportunities to view a variety of habitats along the way. What once was a red maple swamp where the former boardwalk passed through is now a large and spectacular 85-acre wetland area thanks to beavers who dam streams to raise water levels thus covering over the boardwalk. Although beavers did move on for a brief period, and the water level subsided exposing the boardwalk, this lasted for only a very brief period as the beavers returned and the water level rose again, providing habitat for many other animals, plants, and fungi. Beaver wetlands in any stage of development are highly advantageous to wildlife, providing wetlands in various stages from open water to moist grassland providing habitat for moose, great blue heron, wood duck, dragonflies, amphibians, and aquatic plants. Although we miss the boardwalk, visitors may now enjoy the benefits of ecological diversity and increased wetland habitat along the re-routed trail network. That said, we have not ruled out someday installing additional boardwalks but the habitat has changed quite dramatically where the previous one was located. We are currently working on putting in a new accessible trail that will bring visitors alongside our wildlife pond so please come visit. If you have any comments, suggestions, or questions, please email Deb Cary, Director of Central Sanctuaries at dcary at massaudubon dot org.

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