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Watercourse In Peril-Deep Brook Conservation Reaches Dickinson Park



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Watercourse In Peril—

Deep Brook Conservation Reaches Dickinson Park

By Kendra Bobowick

Dickinson Park has been a troubled spot since its former pool closed with finality last spring when a backhoe poured yards of dirt and fill into the town’s favorite swimming hole. Although recreation officials were concerned at the drop in the park’s summer camp enrollment, environmentalists have drawn their attention to yet another complication: Dickinson’s segment of the gently burbling section of Deep Brook is suffering.

The softly crumbling grass riverbanks that border the shallow, roughly six-foot-wide waterway reveal a habitat of bittersweet, multiflora roses, and a streambed of silt that easily slips through fingers reaching in for a tadpole.  Resident James Belden, president of both the Candlewood Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Pootatuck Watershed Association, takes in these details but does not see a scenic summer attraction. Rather, he notes the signs of environmental plight facing the brook.

Existing at Dickinson is a situation that is “deadly to our water quality” and “impacts our stream life,” he said. This leg of Deep Brook that adds its whisper of trickling water to the open fields, pavilion and tennis courts will soon receive environmental aid from residents including Mr Belden, Roots For Newtown coalition representative Patricia Barkman, and the Parks and Recreation Department, among others.

On October 24 the Parks and Recreation Commission members moved to accept a proposal from Mr Belden who discussed how best to preserve Deep Brook at Dickinson, including reclaiming (returning to its original, above ground location) a stream now piped below ground beneath where the pool had been.

“Some problems can be fixed; there is a process to fix where we’ve gone wrong and grow wisely and keep the water clean,” he said. After detailing the elements contributing to both drinking water quality issues and the stream’s deterioration, he suggested conservation plans to restore the stream and banks. His proposal also included means of funding to supplement the conservation project.

Representing both Trout Unlimited and the watershed association, Mr Belden proposed that as a partner (with the recreation department), “We help get grant money,” and utilizing town machinery and labor, accompanied by possible volunteer help, they all complete the stream conservation project early next summer. He anticipates that work will span several days.

Recreation board members had only a few concerns last week.

Parks and Recreation Director Barbara Kasbarian said, “So you’re not asking for money, you’re looking for work in kind…”

Mr Belden said, “I don’t think you will have to spend money on this.” He later stated that he is confident in securing one of the two grant opportunities he discussed. He detailed the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) grant and the Embrace-A-Stream grant possibilities. He is currently pursuing both.

Federal funding supports the WHIP grant, which focuses on areas including streams and rivers and riparian buffers, which are a river’s best hedge against erosion and pollution, according to the Connecticut River Joint Commission, www.crjc.org/riparianbuffers.htm.

He also discussed the Embrace-a-Stream (EAS) grant, which is a matching grant program administered by the National Office of Trout Unlimited (TU) that awards funds to TU chapters and councils for coldwater fisheries conservation, according to www.nmfs.noaa.gov.

Additional contributions will come from Roots for Newtown, which has received a grant from Newtown Tree Project, a Roots coalition member. Ms Barkman explained that Roots has roughly $7,500 for trees to plant along the stream banks, and seeks matching funding through her proposed Adopt-A-Tree concept. Both she and Mr Belden are seeking residents’ support to sponsor additional trees, she said.

Volunteers are also welcome to participate in planting. A number of high school students from the Ecology Club and those who organized a recent Eco-Festival have already volunteered their time. Residents wishing to adopt a tree or volunteer with the project should contact Ms Barkman at lakesidegallery@charter.net, or Mr Belden at jbeldenpootatuck@yahoo.com.

Residents’ donations toward the tree project include: $250, birch; $500, willow; $1,000, oak; $5,000 sycamore.

Contributors will receive his or her name on a list that organizers plan to display at the park.  Those who donate $5,000 or more will receive a plaque placed near the tree that identifies the tree and its donor. Donors may select the tree species as long as it is native, Ms Barkman explained.

“It’s a great project for clubs, graduating classes, churches, or for commemorating an event,” she said.

Mr Belden estimates that the planting will involve several hundred trees, all more than two inches in diameter and approximately 10 to 13 feet tall. The trees are a variety of native species, which will be planted in areas along the entire stretch of Deep Brook at Dickinson in areas most closely matching their ideal soil condition.

Erosion At A Glance

Mr Belden illuminates the problems along Deep Brook’s banks.

“Deep Brook at Dickinson is in an area of town that was cleared and invasive species are a huge problem,” he said. Last week he walked along the riverside near where a footbridge helps residents over the water and into the Funspace playground. He reached toward what appeared to be small, shrub rose foliage and noted the variety was multiflora rose. He also pointed to the bittersweet, another invasive plant easily distinguished in the fall by the yellow-red berries along the vine. Essentially, when an area is cleared the plants growing back the most quickly — invasives — choke out the trees and shrubs that would hold a riverbank together and prevent erosion.

He said, “There are areas without streamside vegetation and nothing to hold the soil in place. The stream banks are collapsing, the stream is filling and becoming shallow and in some spots you have people treading up and down the banks.”

The invasives and grass growing along Deep Brook have roots too shallow to retain soil along the banks, which have receded several feet in the last two years, Mr Belden said.

As he stepped closer to the water, he noted the rocky bottom toward the stream’s center, which turned to soft beds of settled silt nearest the edges. Reaching into the water he scooped a palmful of river bottom and let it sift through his grasp. The silt settles between rocks and prevents spawning, for example, and increases the water’s temperature by creating a shallower riverbed, Mr Belden explained.

Also compounding the problems and contributing to erosion and poor water quality are heavy rains falling onto paved streets or parking lots, creating flash floods, he said.

“With street runoff you need vegetation to slow it down and filter it so [the water] does not go directly into the stream,” he said.

To the Parks and Recreation commissioners last week he had explained the water cycle in nonurban areas, presenting them with a more natural scenario.

“Rainfall soaks into the soil, reaches ground water and the water table…most of the water in rivers is from the ground water,” he said. Most importantly, he explained, “[Vegetation] cleanses the water on the way.”

Urban scenes do not favor the water, however.

“Flash flooding from roads rushes straight into rivers — it’s dirty,” he said.

The dirty water is adding to the aquifer, Mr Belden explained. The Pootatuck Aquifer stretches from Castle Hill, runs down through Dickinson into Deep Brook, and contributes to Newtown’s drinking water.

His overall preservation plans will begin with bank restoration and buffer improvement that will occur beginning in June. The improvement will require materials to bolster the banks and prevent further erosion. Sturdy materials such as logs will be piled along the riverside and secured into place. He also plans for trees to go in after the bank restoration. Deep Brook, including the stream that will be brought back to the surface, stretches nearly 2,000 feet.

“A stream only works when the system around it is working,” Mr Belden said. “Recreating this wetlands system, which had included an above-ground stream, will help it all work better.”

Earlier this year Mr Belden and Trout Unlimited were participants along with the Natural Resource Conservation Service in bank restoration along other portions of Deep Brook.

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