Slipping over a stone riverbed for the first time in decades is a tributary flowing through Dickinson Park. The stream now runs from a bog across Point O’ Rocks Road to Deep Brook, which winds through the park. Resurfaced in the fall of 2012, the stream had previously been piped underground.
Thanks to past human handiwork, water that once traveled aboveground had disappeared.
“If you look at historic aerial photos, there was a stream,” said Todd Bobowick, with the Natural Resource Conservation Service. The man-made Dickinson Pond, backfilled in 2006, appeared in later photos, but the stream was gone. The pond area became a field. Since then, “the wetlands were draining through 600-plus feet of pipe underground,” he said.
Looking back more than 50 years, Deputy Director of Land Use Rob Sibley said, “Most town parks started as good intentions … 50 years ago it was seen as an area to be utilized.” The installation of a swimming area had left the environment to suffer, he said.
Bringing the stream up from the ground, “Seeks to restore,” some of the damage done to the wetlands and ecosystem, he said.
But the project “can’t possibly restore it to what it was,” Mr Bobowick said. Why? Both the watershed and climate have changed in passing years. The new stream “does not look like the old aerial stream,” he said. He is responsible for designing its new shape, and flow.
“It’s meant to be somewhat mobile so it can adjust itself as climate and watershed continue to change,” he said. Mr Bobowick had both appearance and function in mind. “Aesthetically, a naturally designed stream is pleasing. The culvert under the Point O’ Rocks Road leading to a bog across from the park “is large for ecological reasons.” Unlike the smaller culvert previously in place that served as a barrier in the water system, the new structure allows for the movement of fish, turtles, otters, muskrats, and more. Aquatic organisms now have free passage, he said. Prior to the daylighting project and culvert improvements, Mr Bobowick said, “What you had was a wetlands and watershed that was disconnected from the Deep Brook main stem.”
The stream and its banks, once they are planted and established, will offer a place for recreation, and will serve as a “critical wildlife corridor,” Mr Bobowick said. “It will look great when it’s done.”
The field — devoid of ecological life — now has a “completely new stream and flood plain. It’s dynamic and will take time to set and adjust,” he said. Give the stream and its banks “a couple of years [to establish] as far as life and shape and stability.” Although he anticipates the stream’s “wiggle” and contours “will still move a little bit, it looks like we have hit it on the head.”
At the outset, the baseline for stream life was zero, “No stream, no stream life,” Mr Bobowick said. “We will let it come, and see what develops over time.” The water feeds into Deep Brook, currently a Wild Trout Management Area where the water quality is currently good.
The flow is coming from an open space area, and not washing off the roads or a parking lot, but filtering through the ground — nature’s washing machine — into other water bodies” Mr Sibley said. He wants to see a degree of sediment settle in the riverbed, and provide spaces for plant life to grow in the man-made structure. “We need soil to be naturally deposited.” Jagged rocks are “bereft of the ability,” to hold plant life, Mr Sibley said.
Freeing The Stream
Thanks again to the work of human hands, the water is back in the sunlight: “What a difference to have a functioning stream,” said Mr Sibley. “What a delight to [park] guests,” to have the natural resource “that can interact” with the habitat again.
“To see this stream back on top of the soil where it should be is just awesome; it’s beautiful,” said Parks and Recreation Director Amy Mangold. “It’s flowing!” Her department took part in the project.
Water now trickles across smooth stones, bringing its splashing sounds back to the park where Mr Sibley anticipates native planting along the water’s banks in coming months.
Through a culmination of hard work and years of planning with town departments, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and the local Candlewood Valley Trout Unlimited (TU) chapter, several stream bank restoration projects have taken place in past years — most recently the daylighting project.
Crews freed the underground water in October/November after creating stone banks and a riverbed in the field, then unearthing and removing the corrugated pipe. Water now runs from an existing wetland area and connects with Deep Brook.
Through approximately $252,000 in NRCS grant funds with the town contributing an estimated $84,000 in services, the daylighting has brought a natural resource back to the park. “We’ve done a great job,” Mr Sibley said. Trout Unlimited initially received the grant, and partnered with the town.
Remembering earlier collaborative stream restoration projects, TU chapter President James Belden considered this phase of restoring the park’s watercourses: “The important thing here is understanding that this is a working ecosystem and this will help get it back in shape after being altered so drastically.” The daylighting is a means of “replacing what existed there, and up until now it was in a pipe.”
The project “adds a more natural hydrological system and working watershed,” he said. Mr Belden also welcomes the idea of bringing residents and natural resources closer together. “Part of the whole idea is to bring people to nature rather than separate them from it,” he said.
He also sees benefits of a restoration project centered in a public location.
“We can find ways to integrate nature and the ecosystem with our recreational opportunities, and this can even add to the recreation,” he said.
As plans progress with the Parks and Recreation Department to make improvements to Dickinson Park, replace the playground, and more, Mr Belden said the stream restoration “fits a long-term plan of making the park better for the whole town.”
The NRCS, TU, and the town have been doing Deep Brook restoration projects for several years. The purpose of daylighting was to rehabilitate the stream and flood plain. If it was not for the town TU and NRCS coming together “this may never have happened,” said Mr Bobowick. Naming land use public works, recreation department and all town staff involved, he said, “They have all been great.”
This project “has been a long time coming,” Mr Bobowick said.