Supporters of Upper Bondsville Dam stage 'boat-in' on the Swift River

May 2011 News

Saving the Upper Bondsville Dam means more than just preserving a recreation area for boaters and other water-sport enthusiasts. Supporters say it also means preserving an ecosystem.

More than 50 people packed boats, paddled canoes and kayaks, and floated on rafts Saturday during a "boat-in" held by the Swift River Preservation Association to raise awareness about the impact of the dam.

The association sold T-shirts and sweatshirts proclaiming "Give A Dam" and they were sported by most people on the Swift River Saturday. Almost every craft had signs reading "No Dam No Boats," and one floating dock had hand-carved wooden signs that read "No Dam No Fun," "Save our Dam" and "Dam it."

The Upper Bondsville Dam is more than a century old and in bad repair, according to three recent engineering studies. As a result, the state has instructed the Belchertown Land Trust, which owns the dam, to repair or remove it. The cost of each option is between $350,000 and $400,000, which the land trust has repeatedly said it cannot afford.

The preservation association filed a lawsuit in Land Court about a month ago, seeking to stop the destruction of the dam and the fragile ecosystem it creates.

Al Murray, whose family has lived on the Swift River for more than 100 years, said he will chain himself to the dam if the land trust tries to tear it down.

Mark Wildman, who grew up on the Swift River and floats his pontoon boat up and down the river said, "I'll park my boat right up on the dam" and join Murray in chaining himself to the structure to stop it from being torn down.

"If the land trust had simply stepped up and said 'We can't afford to fix it, could you help us raise money?' the money spent on our lawsuit could have been a substantial down payment on repairing the dam," said Murray.

Removal of the dam would cause the Swift River to dry up, leaving steep, muddy embankments lining a much narrower, shallow stream-like river, said Wildman, "and it would stink so badly no one would want to come down here!"

During the summer, the river is covered with boaters, and more than 90 percent are from outside the area, said Dennis Morin, founder and president of the preservation association.

A day out on the Swift River is shared with wildlife including black minks, bears, turtles, water fowl, snakes, beaver, eel, fish, eagles, hawks, and other large birds of prey such as the endangered osprey.


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