Blackstone River Watershed Association
Blackstone River Watershed Association
In This Issue

Winter Hike

On Board with the BRWA



Annual Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Summit

National Historic Park Status!

Wildlands Map Viewer

Switch to Green Electricity


Tracking Big Foot....or little feet


A New Years Diet for your Computer


BRWA Online
About the BRWA


Issue 51 January 2015


Winter Hike
Entrance to Hassanamesit Woods, a 200-acre
historic and natural conservation gem in Grafton.
Photo: Susan Thomas
Entrance to Hassanamesit Woods

It's almost time for you to join us for our annual winter hike on Sunday, January 25th from 1:00 - 3:00 pm at the Grafton Land Trust's Hassanamesit Woods. You'll be amazed at the fascinating history and science that you'll learn along the way!
  • Have you heard that UMass has been conducting detailed archeological surveys here since 2003?
  • Did you know that over 60 species of birds have been documented on the property?
  • Do you want to hear about a local stone quarry site used long ago to produce lithic tools?
  • Did you realize a power line corridor could actually insulate natural communities from invasive plants?
  • Would you like to view wells, cisterns, and boundary walls dating from the Nipmuc residents of the1700s?
Remains of old “dry bridge” at
Ellis-Salisbury Farmstead in Hassanamesit Woods.
Photo: Susan Thomas
Remains of old “dry bridge” at Ellis-Salisbury Farmstead in Hassanamesit Woods

This is just a sample of the intriguing conversations we'll have during the hike! Wear appropriate footwear for the uneven ground, which may be snow covered or muddy depending on the weather. Following the hike, we will enjoy warm drinks and refreshments.

Participants should meet at the gated end of Salisbury Street, which is located off of Keith Hill Rd. in Grafton near Rt. 122. Directions are available at:

For more information, or to RSVP, please e-mail See you there!


On Board with the BRWA

The BRWA is thrilled to have several talented, passionate people join our board! Please consider coming to one of our monthly meetings (see Calendar) to meet these wonderful stewards of the Blackstone!
  • Pieter de Jong has worked for 35 years as an environmental planner for local, state and federal agencies and consulting firms. He currently provides consultant services in disaster management, sustainability and climate change adaptation. He holds degrees in biology, environmental studies and regional planning from U. Penn. Since moving here from MD, he has been exploring the beauty and historic landscape of Blackstone River watershed by trail and kayak. Those experiences lead to his desire to volunteer for the BRWA, BRC and NPS BRVNHC.

  • Tara Neal worked for over 10 years as an application developer and project manager. She holds degrees in Information Technology and Physics from Capella University and Wheaton College. She loves the beauty of the waterways in the Blackstone River Watershed and actively contributes to their protection and improvement. She is a BRC water quality monitor and helps with BRWA river clean-ups. She shares her love of the outdoors with her children on nature hikes when not exploring backyard wonders.

  • Michelle Walsh has been affiliated with the BRWA since 2006 as a volunteer water quality monitor, a Board member, and as an Outreach Coordinator, where she oversaw media relations, served as a liason for municipalities, facilitated shoreline surveys in partnership with Mass Riverways and Save the Bay, and coordinated other BRWA outreach programs. She has been involved with invasive species removal and watershed models within the classroom. Michelle has a degree in Business Administration.


According to sources, January is a smorgasbord of culinary celebrations including National Cream Puff Day, National Fig Newton Day, National Croissant Day, and my personal favorite, National Pie Day. All this celebrating will certainly require some calorie-burning exercise. The solution? Join us for our annual winter hike on Sunday the 25th!

1/21 Cost Effective Green Infrastructure in the Blackstone River Watershed. 8:00 -9:00 a.m. Union Station, Worcester. Mass Audubon, the Central Mass Regional Planning Commission, Horsley Witten Group, Inc., and the BRC. This project will assist municipalities, businesses, and residents with practical methods to minimize costs of development and local infrastructure maintenance, reduce flooding, improve water quality, and protect and restore natural features critical to quality of life and property values. RSVP: or 781-259-2146.  
1/21 Blackstone River Watershed Council Monthly Meeting. 6:30pm - 8:30pm. Lincoln RI.   info
1/22 BRWA Board Meeting. 6:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. 271 Oak St., Uxbridge.   info
1/25 BRWA Annual Winter Hike. 1 - 3p.m. Hassanamesit Woods, Grafton. Park at end of Salisbury Street by gated entrance to trails. Directions   See above for more information.
1/27, 29 Basic Freshwater Fly Tying Course. 7:00 – 9:00 P.M. Fisheries and Wildlife Field Headquarters, Westborough. Charlton Conservation Dept. & Mass Wildlife. Two free courses for beginners. Pre-registration is mandatory. For info, contact Jim Lagacy 508-389-6309 or email
2/4 Wetland Shrubs in Winter. 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. New England Wild Flower Society. Garden in the Woods, Framingham.   info
2/18 Blackstone River Watershed Council Monthly Meeting. 6:30pm - 8:30pm. Lincoln RI.   info
2/26 BRWA Board Meeting. 6:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. 271 Oak St., Uxbridge.   info
3/21 Blackstone River Coalition's Annual Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Summit. 9:15 a.m. - noon. Hopedale Community House, Hopedale. RSVP: Susan Thomas, or 508-839-9488.   See below for details.



Annual Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Summit
On Saturday, March 21st in Hopedale, Mass, the Blackstone River Coalition (BRC) will sponsor its annual Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast and Summit for its watershed-wide water quality monitoring program. The summit will include a presentation of the annual Report Card, which highlights physical, chemical and aesthetic parameters throughout the watershed. The Keynote address will be given by a fisheries biologist from the Mass Division of Fisheries and Wildlife who will discuss the status of fish in the watershed - a timely topic as the BRC kicks off the next phase of its campaign for a Fishable/Swimmable Blackstone!

The Appreciation Breakfast and Summit will be held this year at the Hopedale Community House on Hope Street, from 9:15 a.m. to noon. This event is an opportunity to thank the volunteers for their invaluable contribution to the BRC's efforts to restore the Blackstone River and improve the health of the Blackstone River Watershed.
A volunteer monitor checks the water temperature
on the Millers River in Cumberland, RI.
Photo: Susan Thomas
A volunteer monitor checks the water temperature on the Millers River in Cumberland, RI

2014 was the 11th season for the program, which encompasses 75 sites from Worcester to Pawtucket. A fabulous crew of over 75 dedicated volunteers monitor these sites along the Blackstone River and its tributaries on the second Saturday of the month from April through November. This long-term monitoring program provides critical data on the status and trends of the quality of the Blackstone River watershed.

Anyone interested in the quality of the Blackstone River and its watershed should plan to attend. If you've ever thought of becoming a volunteer monitor, the Annual Summit is the place to begin! Please R.S.V.P. to Susan Thomas, or 508-839-9488.


National Historic Park Status! National Park Service logo
Supporters of the Blackstone River celebrated December 19, 2014 when the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park was officially designated. Simultaneously, the J.H.C. Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, designated in 1986 to connect 24 communities from Worcester to Providence, received an additional six years of authorization along with the inclusion of Auburn and parts of Providence to encompass the entire watershed!

This long-awaited legislation will help to support the preservation, restoration, and protection of the industrial, cultural, and natural heritage of the Blackstone River, canal, and associated communities. The Park will include, among other sites, historic sites in Northbridge and Hopedale as well as the Blackstone River, its tributaries, and the canal.


Wildlands Map Viewer Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game Wildlands Viewer logo
The MA Department of Fish and Game recently announced its online map system for state wildlife lands, which include Wildlife Managment Areas (WMA) that are open to the public for multiple sporting and recreation uses. Go to the main site at and either type in a town or property name to pull up a map and fact sheet. For example, you can access information on Lakey Pond WMA in Northbridge, Quisset WMA in Blackstone, or Merrill Pond WMA in Sutton. This is a great tool for exploring more of the Blackstone River watershed!


Switch to Green Electricity Make the Switch logo
Mass Audubon and Mass Energy have teamed up to help the public switch to a more affordable, more sustainable form of energy. Mass Energy "greens" the power grid that you already purchase from with local wind, solar, and low-impact hydro electricity. You can even deduct the money you spend through this program on your federal tax return. Learn more and sign up at



Tracking Big Foot....or little feet
Animal tracks in snow - © Seppo Leinonen,
cartoon - kids following tracks

One of the great joys of winter is how a thick blanket of fresh snow can reveal the otherwise-secret goings on of critters in the wild. One day you look out on a bare field or an empty stream and you wonder if anything stuck around for the cold season. Overnight, a snow falls and you wake up to the sight of animal tracks crisscrossing all over the place like Times Square on New Years Eve! Time to grab a track guide and head out to be a nature detective!

Sometimes you'll find a solitary print, but other times you'll discover a series of prints called a track. The first thing to do is to identify which of four basic track patterns you have. What follows is a simplified description to start you off.
  • Perfect Walker: If you see a single line of prints with left and right feet alternating, it was left by a canid (domestic dog, coyote, fox), felid (domestic cat, bobcat), or deer. These animals place their hind foot in the track of their front foot, so you'll only see the hind prints. Once you think you have a perfect walker, you can sort out deer, which have two toes, from cats and dogs, which have four toes. Cats and dogs can be further separated by the presence of claw marks: cats can retract their claws; dogs can't. Domestic dogs, which can count on a home-cooked meal, track all around the place in their playful exuberance. Wild canids, like fox and coyotes, leave straight paths as they search intently for their next meal.

  • Waddler: If you come across two lines of prints, one left and one right, set fairly wide apart, it was left by a heavy-set, low-to-the ground animal such as a bear, beaver, porcupine, raccoon, opossum, muskrat, skunk, or woodchuck. You'll notice that the larger hind foot slightly overlaps the smaller front foot. There are several unique species differences that will help you pinpoint a waddler's identity: porcupines are pigeon-toed; the hind feet of raccoons have long toes that resemble human hands; opossums have an opposable digit that sticks out to the side; and beavers have webbed feet.

  • Bounder: If your mystery track pattern consists of single sets of side-by-side left and right paw prints (each with five toes), you are tracking a member of the mustelid family such as a mink, fisher, weasel, or otter (the last of which has webbed feet). These animals move in an elongated, spring-like manner with front feet landing first and then lifting up as their hind feet bound into the print left by their front feet. Track size can be used to distinguish the different species.

  • Galloper: If you spot sets of four prints with the larger two positioned slightly in front of the smaller set, you are on the trail of a rodent such as a squirrel, mouse, vole, or shrew. Rabbits, which are lagomorphs and not rodents, leave this pattern as well, but often put one front foot in front of the other so as to leave a Y-shaped mark.
Many animals can be identified by the various dimensions of their tracks, so you'll need a ruler if your track guide doesn't include one. You'll want to measure the length and width of a single footprint, the distance between the right and left side prints (called the straddle), and the distance between the front and hind feet (called the stride). Math in action!

Keep in mind that as the sun warms and melts the snow, the prints will spread out, leaving a misleading size. What you think was left by a bear may, in fact, be an old, melted print left by an opossum! And don't be fooled by chunks of snow that drop from tree branches and power lines, leaving behind false imprints. Mother Nature can trick even expert trackers!

Regardless of the track size and pattern, habitat clues will go a long way to helping you solve the mystery of "who done it". If you don't know which bounder you have, remember that otter and mink are both found near water like streams and wetlands. Another species that crosses streams back and forth is a raccoon as it searches for crayfish and other food. Squirrels tend to move on the ground from tree to tree for protection, with grey squirrels preferring deciduous woodland and red squirrels preferring stands of conifers. Mice and voles may alternate between being above ground looking for grass seeds and below ground where it's easier to avoid predators like hawks and owls. That's what happened if you are following a set of tiny prints in a field and they vanish next to a small hole, only to reappear next to another hole ten feet away.

As a nature detective, your job is to gather all the clues left behind and come up with your best guess! Good luck!

Suggested References:
  • Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign by Paul Rezendez
  • Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species by Mark Elbroch
  • A Field Guide to Animal Tracks (Peterson Field Guides) by Olaus J. Maurie and Roger Tory Peterson
  • Mammal Tracks and Scat by Lynn Levine and Martha Mitchell (life size and waterproof)
  • Mass Wildlife Pocket Guide to MA Animal Tracks
Mass Wildlife Pocket Guide to MA Animal Tracks


recycle symbol enveloping planet Earth A New Years Diet for your Computer
Whether you work in an office or telecommute from home, chances are you use a variety of electronic devices and systems to manage your information/data.

recycle symbol enveloping planet Earth Did you know that storing your data in a cloud service uses less renewable resources than using a local-based storage system? Did you know you can shop for laptops and other devices based on ENERGY STAR ratings, just like you do for your household appliances? Do you already know to reduce your energy usage by powering down computers and associated devices when they are not in use? Do you know how to get more life out of your electronics by passing them on when you are looking to upgrade, rather than throwing them away? Public schools are one of many institutions that can find a home for your old phone or printer. If you are unsure where to donate an electronic, contact your town recycling office.

For more ideas on how to slim down your energy usage in 2015, go to



“It is not half so important to know as to feel.” Rachel Carson
The Frozen River by Alexis de Leeuw.
The Frozen River - Oil Painting by artist Alexis de Leeuw

The Blackstone River is famous for its "hardest working river in America" label dating from the American Industrial Revolution; we all know how the river was used and abused for profit. As environmental stewards, we strive to restore and protect the ecological integrity of the watershed for the sake of flora and fauna. This painting by Alexis de Leeuw reminds us that not all historic use of rivers negatively impacted them. In this case, once frozen solid, a river could enable transportation of goods and people.


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 residents on watershed protection strategies, and
  • Advocate to local residents, community leaders, non-profit partners, and state regulators to take actions that will help to ensure our waterways continue to provide healthy habitat and enjoyable recreational opportunities.
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:

Click here for back issues.