Blackstone River Watershed Association
Blackstone River Watershed Association
In This Issue

Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park Hike

Earthday Cleanup & Clean and Green Fair

Got Website?



Worcester Rain Gardens Workshops

Invasive Plant Removal

Water Contamination from Pet Feces

Prescription Drug Take-Back Day


Hydric Soils





BRWA Online
About the BRWA


Issue 39 April 2013


Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park Hike

Ranger Chuck Arning of the National Park Service led twenty bundled hikers on a fascinating hike back through time and across cultures on Saturday March 23 to learn about the changes that humans and nature have produced on the Blackstone Valley landscape.

Over the course of two hours, the group traveled from the Visitor Center at River Bend Farm in Uxbridge north along the Blackstone Canal towpath and through the surrounding woodlands to the Goat Hill lock. We learned how the Nipmuc, Narragansett and Wampanoag peoples used controlled burns to clear out the understory of the forest, creating what early European visitors saw as a park-like setting. We learned that the rocky hillsides were no good for growing crops but provided adequate grazing land for goats, hence the name Goat Hill. We heard how the success of regional textile mills released women from their all-consuming work of spinning and the introduction of efficient iron cook-stoves reduced the domestic need for trees already in demand by shipbuilders.
A view of Goat Hill Lock looking downstream. This is the only intact lock remaining from the 1828 Blackstone Canal.
Goat Hill Lock

We heard the story of how lessons learned from building the Erie Canal were applied within a few years, along with the building skills of Irish immigrants, to develop the Blackstone Canal, which was completed in 1828. Ranger Arning showed us examples alongside the hiking trail of granite blocks cut for the canal locks by experienced stoneworkers and those cut by in-experienced workers. He explained that the working towpath, unlike today’s remnants, had to be maintained free of rocks, roots and vegetation that could impair passage of horses towing the barges. We observed how side channels were cut from the river to supply water to the canal. And we observed how the Goat Hill lock has survived intact with little deterioration until relatively recently, when an increased frequency and intensity of storms, indicative of climate change, has caused a measurable shift in the granite blocks.
Ranger Chuck Arning talks about the ways people have changed the Blackstone River.
Ranger Chuck Arning with hikers at Blackstone River

Retracing our steps back to the visitor center, we enjoyed hot cider and cookies and agreed that Ranger Arning had indeed taken us all on a marvelous journey. The next time you find yourself in Uxbridge, come visit River Bend Farm and embark on your own journey back in time!


earth day-person sweeping off earth Earthday Cleanup & Clean and Green Fair
In celebration of Earth Day, the BRWA is sponsoring its annual river cleanup on Sunday, April 21, from 1:00 – 3:00p.m. in conjunction with the Mass Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Park Serve Day being held throughout the state.

Massachusetts DCR Park Serve Day logo Team Leaders will work with volunteers at sites in Grafton, Millbury, Northbridge, Uxbridge, and Blackstone. Please let us know if you are aware of a site that needs cleaning in these or other towns. This project meets community service requirements for many organizations. Every year we have over 100 volunteers including students, scouts, church groups, business leaders, sport clubs and more. At 3:00p.m, free pizza and drinks will be provided to cleanup volunteers at the River Bend Farm Visitor Center, Oak Street, Uxbridge.

In addition, the BRWA and Alternatives Unlimited, Inc. will be sponsoring a Clean and Green Fair from 2:30-4:00p.m. at the Visitor Center. You can plant and take home a seedling, watch demonstrations on terracycling and on stormwater-recycling with downspouts and rain gardens, participate in an interactive watershed model, and enjoy children’s activities!

Events will be held rain or shine. For more information, to suggest a cleanup site, or to volunteer for the cleanup, contact: Susan Thomas, BRWA Project Coordinator at 508-278-5200 or at


Got Website?
Have you visited the BRWA’s new and improved website? We went “live” with it just a few months ago and are excited about sharing it with everyone living or working within the Blackstone River watershed. It has something for everyone!

Are you a paddler? You can find out how we’ve improved access for boaters. Are you curious about some plants you’ve seen choking out a local waterway? You can identify the invasive aquatic plants in our watershed and participate in our efforts to remove these invasives. Are you a teacher with students learning about the environment? You can read about our interactive watershed model program that we bring into the classroom. Are you a homeowner, small-farm operator, or developer? You can learn about Best Management Practices that benefit both you and the environment. Do you need to complete community service hours? You can find out when and where our next river cleanup event is being held. Are you concerned with water quality issues? You can learn about the BRWA’s role in the Blackstone Water Coalition’s ongoing, watershed-wide, volunteer water quality monitoring program that runs April through November each year. Are you an engaged citizen wanting to know what the BRWA has accomplished through all these initiatives over the years? You can read our 2012 Report that summarizes our achievements. Are you ready to volunteer to support the BRWA’s mission to engage, educate, and advocate to improve water quality in the Blackstone River watershed? Well you’ve come to the right place. Our new and improved website will give you both the background and guidance to find the right fit for you. Thank you for taking a look and help pass the word!


April 22 is Earth Day!
But is there any reason why we can’t make everyday Earth Day with a small thought or act? We all make choices each day that can either help or hurt the environment. Make an effort this month to be mindful of these opportunities for good choices.

Pledge To The Planet
I pledge allegiance
to the web of life
of which we’re each a strand
and to our planet earth
on which we stand
one ecosystem
under the sun
with diversity
and respect
for all.

Reprinted with permission from Jackson Gillman

Planet Earth
4/20 Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone Open House. Friends of the Blackstone Environmental Center at Sycamore Landing 100 New River Road Manville, RI.   For more information, contact Keith Hainly at 401-996-1542 or
4/21 Annual Earth Day Cleanup and Clean and Green Fair. 1:00p.m-4:00p.m. River Bend Farm, 271 Oak Street, Uxbridge and sites throughout the Blackstone River Watershed. See above for details.   Contact Susan Thomas at
4/22 Earth Day! Celebrate Mother Earth!  
4/23 Worcester Rain Gardens to the Rescue Workshop. 7:00 p.m. Knights of Columbus, Worcester, MA. See below for details.   Contact Donna Williams at
4/25 Saving Land and Money through Open Space Design workshop. 4:00PM – 6:00 PM. Harvard Forest, 324 North Main Street (Route 32), Petersham. Mass Audubon’s Shaping the Future of Your Community Program. Pre-registration is requested but not required:   info.
4/27 Annual Statewide Volunteer Day. 9:00a.m. – 12:00p.m. Mass Audubon. Contact: 781-259-2185 or
4/27 Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. 10:00a.m. - 2:00p.m. See below for details.   info
5/2 Worcester Rain Gardens to the Rescue Workshop. 7:00 p.m. Unitarian Universalist Church , Worcester, MA. See below for details.   Contact Donna Williams at
5/4 Annual Massachusetts Trails Conference. 8:00a.m. – 4:00p.m. Devens Common Center, 31 Andrews Parkway, Devens. The Massachusetts Recreational Trails Advisory Board (MARTAB).    info
5/11 BCC Workday. 9 a.m. at Plummer’s Landing, Church St. Northbridge, MA.   Info from Dave Barber 508-478-4918
5/11 Southern New England Discovery Tours. Blackstone Valley Tourism Council.   info



Worcester Rain Gardens Workshops
The Worcester Stormwater Coalition is sponsoring five, hands-on workshops for homeowners and business owners to learn how to protect and restore Worcester’s waterways by reducing polluted runoff from yards, rooftops, driveways, roads and other impervious surfaces. The Rain Gardens to the Rescue! workshops will take place at different locations throughout the City in the Spring. They are co-sponsored by local environmental groups. Dates and locations for the workshops are as follows: Tuesday, April 23, at the Knights of Columbus Hall; and Thursday, May 2, at the Unitarian Universalist Church. All workshops begin at 7:00p.m.

Homeowners and business owners are invited to attend any of the workshops to learn what they can do on their own property to enhance their landscaping, reduce polluted runoff, and protect the City’s water resources no matter where they are located.

At the workshop, participants will learn how to harvest rainfall, reduce runoff, and save money on water and sewer bills by redirecting roof runoff, installing rain barrels, and creating rain gardens. Rain gardens are designed to accept runoff from rooftops, roads and parking lots. They infiltrate stormwater into the ground and filter out pollution, reducing the volume of water and pollutants hitting our waterways.

Polluted runoff from stormwater is the leading remaining cause of water quality problems, because it flows, untreated, directly through storm drains into the waterbodies we use for swimming, fishing, and drinking water. Participants can learn about the many practices that reduce these negative impacts.

The workshops are free and open to the public. They are funded in part by the Massachusetts Environmental Trust. There will be door prizes and free homeowner’s guides. For questions and to register, contact Donna Williams at 508-335-8393 or Information can also be found at


Invasive Plant Removal
The town of Mendon recently approved the use of Community Preservation Funds to remove Asian water chestnut from Inman Pond. Asian water chestnut is an invasive aquatic plant that can quickly cover and choke out a small waterbody. The plant’s unchecked spread reduces habitat for native plants and animals, and restricts access for recreational boaters. This aquatic invasive is particularly challenging to tackle because its seed balls can lay dormant in a pond’s sediment for 12 years before germinating.


Water Contamination from Pet Feces
Health officials in Hopedale have implemented a public education campaign to put an end to disposal of bagged dog feces in residential storm drains. Some people may still assume that water carried into storm drains from roads and parking lots is processed in the same manner as water entering sewer drains from homes and businesses. In fact, storm runoff is discharged—untreated, into wetlands and waterways. This means that any contaminants in the runoff including oils, fertilizers, household and industrial toxins and chemicals, manure and pet feces also enter our wetlands and waterways. Dog feces contain bacteria that impair water quality and can harm plants and wildlife. It also contributes to fish consumption advisories and beach closings. Dog walkers should dispose of bagged feces with their other household trash. This simple act will help clean up the environment that we all share.


Prescription Drug Take-Back Day
The President’s Cancer Panel’s 2008-2009 Annual Report focused on reducing environmental risks for cancer. In the report, the Panel states that "…pharmaceuticals have become a considerable source of environmental contamination. Drugs of all types enter the water supply when they are excreted or improperly disposed of; the health impact of long-term exposure to varying mixtures of these compounds is unknown.” In an effort to reduce this contamination, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has scheduled a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day that will take place on Saturday, April 27, 2013, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. This is a great opportunity for those who missed previous events, or who have subsequently accumulated unwanted, unused prescription drugs, to safely dispose of those medications. Local drop off places are listed on the DEA’s website



Hydric Soils
Soils are the basis of all terrestrial life. As the interface between living plants above the surface and bedrock below the surface, soil is where the essential cycling of organic and mineral nutrients occurs. It also provides habitat for animals and substrate for plants. Understanding the hierarchy of different soil types helps to put the ecological foundation of soils into perspective.

Soils can be either hydric or non-hydric. A hydric soil is defined by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) as “a soil that formed under conditions of saturation, flooding or ponding long enough during the growing season to develop anaerobic conditions in the upper part.” Anaerobic means that there is no oxygen present because the air spaces have been filled with water. Anaerobic conditions preclude any of the standard, oxygen-supported bacteria that break down organic materials like dead plants and animals into the essential basic nutrients that are then recycled back into the system. This also holds true for other soil-decomposers, like worms, beetles, and non-bacterial microorganisms that require oxygen.

The lack of oxygen produces what is referred to as a reducing environment, in which redox chemical reactions are limited. Redox reactions involve the transfer of electrons between atoms and are how elements change form. Examples include hydrogen changing into methane, and carbon transforming into carbon dioxide. The production of these green-house gases is currently the subject of considerable research and discussion in light of climate change.

Understanding hydric soils is integral to understanding how any waterway and its surrounding floodplain functions. Water moves over and through soil to reach waterways, and the specific characteristics of each soil type dictates how that movement occurs. It also affects the animal and plant life supported by those soils. The presence of hydric soils is one of three factors used in identifying jurisdictional wetlands.

Hydric soils can be categorized as either mineral or organic. Mineral soils contain very little or no organic material and are comprised of sand, silt, and clay particles in varying proportions. Texture is one way to identify the primary component. Clay soils leave an oily smear when you rub them between your fingers. Sandy soils have a gritty texture and silty soils have a slippery texture like baby powder. Mineral soils also vary in their color, ranging from grey, called gleyed, to red. Soil and wetland scientists use the Munsell Color Guide to identify soil types by their color. Gleyed soils have been saturated for long periods of time and the color results from the chemical reduction of iron, manganese, and other elements. Other soil types show red mottling because they have not been inundated long enough to producing gleying. Brighter mottling can indicate that the water table has fluctuated.
Munsell Color Guide
munsell color guide

In contrast to mineral hydric soils, organic hydric soils, called histosols, form under conditions of almost continuous saturation. They contain significant amounts of organic plant material and are typically referred to as peats and mucks.

In addition to texture and color, hydric soils types can be differentiated based on their soil profile —layers that are observed from the ground’s surface down. These layers are called horizons and have unique color, texture, and structure. Hydric soils typically have A, B, and C horizons. The A horizon is the surface soil, also called topsoil. It has organic matter being added to it on a regular basis, and its organic and mineral material is always traveling downward into lower horizons. The B horizon is what we call the subsoil. It shows a build up of material from the A horizon, and contains more clay and less organic material. The C horizon is unconsolidated material that has not been weathered enough to look like the B horizon; it contains less clay and mixed soil. The O horizon, present in organic hydric soils, lays above horizon A and is comprised of visible plant material. The R horizon is the bedrock that is often too deep to affect the structure of the upper layers.

The NRCS produces soil maps for the entire country. These maps are used for planning and conservation purposes. Check out the soil maps for Massachusetts at: General information can be found at the Massachusetts Hydric Soil list at:


Keeping Turtles Safe
Turtle Crossing sign
Spring has come! And all sorts of critters are on the move to find food, establish safe shelters and suitable territories, and to find places to have their young. This is true for the 10 species of terrestrial and freshwater aquatic turtles occurring in Massachusetts. Sadly, many individuals are harmed or killed every year while crossing roads in search of feeding or nesting areas.

The Turtle Rescue League is a non-profit organization with a mission to protect New England’s turtles through “education, conservation, rehabilitation, and incubation programs”. The group’s website ( will help you identify the turtle species in your area. It will also tell you the best action to take if you find a turtle in your yard or in the road, or if you find an injured turtle.

If your family wants to get more involved with turtle conservation, the Turtle Rescue League’s website includes instructions on how you can construct, or donate materials for, turtle-crossing signs. The sign program aims to prevent the death of endangered turtles from car accidents as well as prevent injury to drivers of cars and motorcycles who might otherwise hit a turtle in the road.
Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina). Photo by Liz Willey.
Eastern Box turtle


boy pondering question
Tell us about an exciting or unexpected wildlife sighting you’ve had somewhere within the Blackstone River watershed. 

We want to hear from you! Email us at with “Question of the Month” in the subject header. Check back next month to see readers’ responses.

Readers’ response to last month’s question:

What is your favorite place to go fishing within the Blackstone River watershed?
  • “…any of the cold water streams that hold wild brook trout. If you can find a stream that isn't stocked with hatchery trout, you're apt to have some good fishing.”

  • “Ponds and lakes with public access for fishing include Hopedale Pond, Wallum Pond (Douglas), Manchaug Pond (Sutton), Pratt Pond (Upton) and Lake Singletary (Millbury).”

  • “The Mill River, Mumford River, and West River are stocked with trout so they are basically “put and take.”



recycle symbol enveloping planet Earth If you have pets, this is the time of year when you need to start the battle against ticks and fleas. Many products on the market contain toxic ingredients. Consider supplementing your pet’s food with brewer’s yeast or garlic to leave a bad taste in the pest’s mouth. Pyrethrin from chrysanthemums is a natural alternative to synthetic pesticides. More ideas can be found at EarthShare’s website



Sculptures, like other forms of art, can be experienced differently by each person. This is especially true of the 50-foot River Sculpture (1999) created by Alison Sky for the town of Boise City, Idaho. Installed on the side of a hotel, it is lit up in neon color at night and can also interact with water vapor that is released from underground canals.

Used with permission by the artist. Accessed from
child with dad child with dad
closeup vertical detail night vertical detail


Views & opinions expressed in linked websites do not necessarily state or reflect those of the BRWA.

Your input is crucial to this eNewsletter. If you have a local watershed-related story, information of interest to our subscribers, or comments about this publication, drop an email to the editor.

The Blackstone River Watershed Association (BRWA) has a mission to engage, educate and advocate for improved water quality in the Blackstone River Watershed; its objectives are to:
  • Engage the public in watershed stewardship activities,
  • Educate members, supporters and watershed residents on watershed protection strategies, and
  • Improve the water quality and esthetics of the Blackstone River Watershed’s water bodies.
The BRWA eNewsletter is published monthly by the Blackstone River Watershed Association. BRWA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

Editor: Susan Thomas
Mailing address: BRWA, 271 Oak Street Uxbridge, MA 01569
Phone: 508-278-5200  Web:

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