The Natchaug River valley is worth a visit soon
For 30 years I lived in Woodstock Valley on Route 198, the state highway that stretches between Chaplin to the south and Southbridge to the north. For me, the defining feature of Route 198 is the beautiful stretch between the towns of Eastford and Chaplin that runs parallel to the Natchaug River — one of the most scenic and healthy rivers in The Last Green Valley. Route 198 is also a perfect access point for venturing into Natchaug State Forest and the Natchaug Trail.
Natchaug is a Native American word meaning “land between the rivers” and refers to the land that lies between Bigelow Brook and the Still River, which join in Eastford to form the Natchaug River.
Natchaug State Forest was established in 1917 and today encompasses over 13,000 acres. It is popular for picturesque hiking, excellent fishing in the Natchaug River, horse trails, and riverfront picnic sites. Of historical interest is the birthplace of Gen. Nathaniel Lyon of Eastford, the first Union general killed in the Civil War. A large stone fireplace and chimney are all that remain of his boyhood home, and there is a nice picnic area and field adjacent to the site.
The Natchaug Trail is just over 19 miles long and traverses through beautiful forest habitat and along the banks of the Natchaug River. The southern end of the Natchaug Trail is located in James L. Goodwin State Forest and the northern end is in Westford where it joins the Nipmuck Trail.
I highly recommend the Natchaug Trail and suggest that folks interested in exploring the trail — as well as other blue blazed trails in the state — get the Connecticut Forest and Park Association’s “Trail Book — East” for a detailed description of the Natchaug Trail’s five hiking segments of approximately 4 miles each.
The Natchaug River is not only a beautiful river, but it is also very popular for fishing and is known as “trophy trout” river. The watershed of the Natchaug also provides drinking water for Willimantic and parts of Mansfield.
Several years ago, a group headed by Holly Drinkuth of the Nature Conservancy began bringing Nachaug River communities together to protect water quality throughout the Natchaug River watershed. Using a Community Natural Resource Planning Program, they brought together municipal leaders to focus on conservation strategies that would protect and restore water quality within the basin.
Conservation professions from several fields as well as community leaders identified the highest value resources within the watershed, listed threats to those resources, and developed a prioritized list of actions to alleviate those threats in the form of a conservation action plan.
The following text is from an 11-minute YouTube production by John Meyer called “For Grandchildren: The Natchaug River Basin Conservation Compact.” Beautifully enriched with images of the river and locally written and performed music, the short film shares the compelling story of the Natchaug River basin. Narrated by Holly Drinkuth, it also describes her work with leaders from eight communities to develop the Natchaug River Basin Conservation Compact.
“The Natchaug watershed is the largest public drinking water surface watershed in the state of Connecticut. It includes three main stem rivers, the Fenton, the Mount Hope and the Natchaug, which is the healthiest river of its size in the state and a benchmark watercourse by which others are measured.
“The Natchaug River basin is home to people from the towns of Ashford, Chaplin, Eastford, Mansfield, Union, Willington, Windham and Woodstock.
“Its rivers are rich in history. These waters have provided fish and hunting grounds, rich soils and clear water for farms, and have powered mills.
“Diana’s Pool on the Natchaug has been the site more than one mill. It is a natural treasure during dry times and during flood conditions.
“On April 29, 2011, the mayors and selectmen of the eight towns in the basin gathered at Diana’s Pool. They signed an agreement to protect the resources of the basin.
“The Natchaug River Basin Conservation Compact recognizes that our towns in the basin comprise a river community. That the way we — the river community — live in the basin, will affect how healthy the watershed remains.
“Signing the compact was recognition by all eight towns that more than 60,000 people depend on the basin’s waters. The compact is a commitment from the eight communities to work together regionally.
“What we do here in the Natchaug River basin will impact our quality of life, and help provide clean healthy water all the way to Long Island Sound for generations to come.”
You can find the program on YouTube by going to: http://www.YouTube.com/watch?v=493uu3Ap138&feature=youtu.be
Since the initial process establishing the Natchaug River Basin Conservation Compact, work has continued to ensure good water quality in the Natchaug River. I spoke with Jean Pillo, TLGV’s Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Coordinator, about work she is doing in the Natchaug watershed. She provided me with the following update:
- The Last Green Valley’s volunteers have been collecting data in the upper Natchaug River, upstream of Mansfield Hollow Lake. TLGV volunteers have placed thermometers in stream segments to record year-round temperatures. These locations were chosen with input from fisheries staff at the CT Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection, as cold summertime stream temperatures are important to the survival of native brook trout. Volunteers also search for pollution-sensitive bugs in the fall using the “Riffle Bioassessment for Volunteers” program. If volunteers find four or more pollution-sensitive bugs in stream riffles, they indicate that water quality is good for other aquatic life. Training will be offered in early September for new and returning volunteers. If you are interested in learning more about these programs, call Jean Pillo at (860) 928-4948.
- In 2013, the Eastern Connecticut Conservation District and TLGV volunteers completed a “track-down” survey looking for sources of E. coli contamination in the Mount Hope River. As a result, a watershed plan with recommended actions was submitted to DEEP in 2014, focusing on storm water management in Ashford and Mansfield. A demonstration project for better manure management was also completed at a llama farm in Ashford.
- The Eastern Connecticut Conservation District is also the recipient of a new grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to complete a Healthy Watershed Initiative Project in the upper Natchaug River, in Woodstock, Union, Eastford, Chaplin and Mansfield. As this watershed is considered the least-degraded river system in our region, the project will focus on policies to keep it clean. This is the first Healthy Watershed Initiative Grant awarded in Connecticut.
We live in a special place called The Last Green Valley. The Natchaug River watershed is one of the beautiful and pristine areas in our region and thankfully many people are working together to ensure it remains as such. I hope you’ll join us as we care for, enjoy and pass on this place we call home.
Bill Reid is the chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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