Maintaining A Treasure: Group Rallies To Preserve Stockbridge Bowl

May 5, 2016

A treasured pond in Stockbridge, Massachusetts is facing a number of environmental issues and a committed group of area residents want to make sure its picturesque existence remains.

Stockbridge Bowl looks like someone took a postcard and turned it into real life. It’s fitting because this is the community Norman Rockwell used as a model for small town America.

Richard Seltzer is president of the Stockbridge Bowl Association, but more importantly he lives right on the roughly 370-acre body of water.

“Stockbridge Bowl is about one mile wide at its widest and two miles long,” explained Seltzer.

He takes his 27-foot rowing shell out on the pond at sunrise most mornings. On this day, we opted for the two-person kayak complete with a sendoff from his wife Carol.

Our kayak breaks the glass-like surface while the sound of our paddles disrupts nature’s calm. Motorized boats are limited in their speed on the bowl until 10 o’clock to preserve the early morning stillness for the hundreds of homes that ring the water’s edge.

“One of my good friends and a member of our Stockbridge Bowl Association board Michael Nathan probably put it best,” Seltzer recalled. “He said that ‘he’s afraid that if he dies and has led a good enough life to go to heaven, he might wake up there and it’s not going to be any better than living on Stockbridge Bowl was.”

But underneath the water’s surface lies issues some fear could turn the revered pond into a bog.

“Where we’re sitting we’re on top of eight to 10 feet of accumulated sediment that has been building up over the last 60, 70 years in Stockbridge Bowl,” Seltzer explained. “We know it’s 60 or 70 years because that’s when the town put a storm drain pipe across the outlet of Stockbridge Bowl just beneath the water’s surface. That pipe began to dam the flow out of the lake. Tenneco gas pipelines then followed in the 1950s, 60s and 70s installing three natural gas pipelines in parallel with the town sewer line. The four pipes together blockaded the natural flow out of Stockbridge Bowl.”

Seltzer says the sediment buildup is preventing the pond from cleaning itself naturally. That challenge is compounded by the encroachment of Eurasian watermilfoil on the water’s edges. Seltzer says the non-native plant was likely introduced to Stockbridge Bowl by boats and people dumping fish tanks into the water.

“If this were two months later you’d see a fringe of Eurasian milfoil all around our lake,” he said.

So the Stockbridge Bowl Association, which formed in 1946 with the intention of preserving the state-owned pond, has a plan. In 2013, the group spent more than $1 million to install a 250-foot long, 4-foot wide drainage pipe under the town sewer line that allows the pond’s level to be drawn down.

“Our plan is to draw the lake down 5.5 feet at the start of the winter before there is snowfall,” Seltzer explained. “Then when the temperature drops below 32 degrees and there is no protective blanket of snow, the roots of the Eurasian watermilfoil freeze and die.”

To complete the drawdown, the built-up sediment first needs to be dredged. Two warrants at Stockbridge’s May 16th town meeting would bring the SBA’s program funding to about $2.5 million. The $2.8 million goal has largely been met by previous town and state grants along with individual donations. Organizations that use Stockbridge Bowl or whose patrons do, such as Canyon Ranch spa, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health and Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood, also support the SBA both financially and by serving on its board.

Along with hikers, cross-country skiers and beachgoers on the Bowl’s shores, Seltzer says some 6,000 boats use the public launch each year and participants of the annual Josh Billings triathlon row 500 kayaks or canoes around the pond.

“It’s a calling card for people coming to this area,” Seltzer said. “We enjoy being an important asset and we know it’s our responsibility to maintain it.”

Click here for more information on the Stockbridge Bowl Association and the efforts to preserve the pond.