Bartlett Pond was built a century ago by damming the Wekepeke Brook, a tributary of the Nashua River, in order to power the saws of a furniture mill. Wekepeke Brook is actually the last remnant of Wekepeke Lake, a glacial lake that at one time covered the town of Sterling, Massachusetts, and large parts of neighboring Lancaster some 13,000 years ago. Little more than a trickle, the stream is clean, cold, and gravelly, and still holds native trout and freshwater mussels, holdovers from the last ice-age.
The mill didn’t last more than a generation, but the dam remained. As a small boy I used to fish for kivers and largemouth – warm water fish- in Bartlett Pond. Older kids would bowfish for suckers. By the time I was a teenager the pond’s limited value for fishing was already in decline: silt was settling in, lowering the depth and raising the temperature, which meant dwindling oxygen until there was nothing left but a handful of carp.
Eventually the dam became structurally unstable, and the Town of Lancaster opted to remove it rather than repair it based on advice from the State and from conservation groups like Trout Unlimited. Removal was not only much cheaper, it would also benefit the native species of the Wekepeke by lowering the water temperature and increasing their range of travel. Brook trout, a cold water fish, were common upstream of the pond while they were a rarity below the dam. Letting the water flow freely would help this and other native species.
There is now an ongoing project by corporate and advocacy groups to remove any other man-made obstacles to fish travel and to plant beneficial trees and shrubs along the Wekepeke.
This is common sense conservation, removing an unnecessary dam is both cost effective and environmentally beneficial. It only happened because advocates like Trout Unlimited cared enough to ask about the effects the dam had on native species while the state was willing to fund responsible research. This careful and practical conservation makes better sense than an environmental idealism that does not acknowledge the necessary trade offs between the environmental ideals and economic realities.