After months of preparation—and a nail-biting pause during the government shutdown—Mass Audubon and its partners have removed a deteriorating bridge and dam at Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Pittsfield. Now Sackett Brook flows wild and free, alongside a newly planted forest. The project is good news for wildlife, and it’s also fun to watch:
About the Dam
The dam at Sackett Brook was built in the 1930s to make a private reservoir for swimming and fishing. The altered streamflow eroded riverbanks in places, and caused sediment to build up in others, impairing the quality of the brook for plants and animals.
Fast-forward to recent years; the dam was now obsolete and the bridge was in poor condition, and, said Berkshire Wildlife Sanctuaries director René Laubach, these structures had “disrupted habitats for 80 years”. It was time to set Sackett Brook free.
Restoring the Stream
Removing a dam—even a little one—is no small task. To complete the Sackett Brook Restoration Project, Mass Audubon worked with state and local partners, and funding was provided by the City of Pittsfield. Timing was important: the structure had to be removed before wood turtles, a state-listed rare species, settled into the brook to overwinter.
The project was planned for October 2013. In late September, the final federal permit was on the way. But then came the government shutdown. Mass Audubon and its partners waited nervously; the window of opportunity was rapidly closing. Fortunately, the Army Corps of Engineers came through in time to begin the project in earnest. Heavy construction was done by October 29, and a new streamside forest was planted in early November.
Benefits for Wildlife—and Beyond
The restored brook and forest will provide habitat for birds and other wildlife. It’s hoped that the free-flowing water, shaded by new trees, will support a healthy population of wood turtles, and enable the brook to stay cooler even as the climate changes.
The project helps fisheries, too. Sackett Brook has several trout species, including native brook trout. With the dam gone, these species can now travel freely throughout the watershed. White sucker, slimy sculpin, and small fish like dace will also benefit from this new freedom.
It’s a big win for students, too. Mass Audubon also worked with nearby schools to use the project as a teaching tool. Elementary students explored the stream’s ecology, and high school students recorded before-and-after footage. Armed with newfound knowledge, they will help encourage a healthy future for all our waterways.