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Citizens undertake major restoration of Stockbridge Bowl

“The future health of the lake is hanging in the balance. If we don’t address these issues soon, the lake will decline and die.” --- Stockbridge Board of Selectmen Annual Report

Stockbridge — Stockbridge Bowl, a 375-acre lake in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, is undoubtedly one of the most valuable natural resources in the Berkshires. Formed when the glaciers receded after the last ice age, its waters welcome more than 6,000 watercraft every year, including kayaks, rowing shells, sailboats, stand-up paddle boards, canoes and fishing boats. During the Josh Billings Runaground, more than 500 kayaks and canoes race twice around the Bowl during one leg of that renowned fall triathlon. From the lawn of Tanglewood, concertgoers can gaze down on the Bowl’s mirror-like surface much as Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne once did.

But there are problems threatening the health and beauty of Stockbridge Bowl. An invasive weed known as Eurasian Water Milfoil has been proliferating around the perimeter of the Bowl, and regular attempts to mow the weeds beneath the surface only provide temporary relief. In addition, enormous accumulations of sediment have been building up in parts of the lake for the last half century, threatening to turn areas of the lake behind the Island and throughout the outlet of the lake into an unattractive bog. Left unchecked, these problems would prevent boaters and swimmers from using many parts of the lake and would critically diminish the Bowl’s natural beauty. The Stockbridge Board of Selectmen recognized this concern when they stated in one recent Annual Report, “The future health of the lake is hanging in the balance. If we don’t address these issues soon, the lake will decline and die.”

Stockbridge Bowl, in a photograph taken from a kayak.
Stockbridge Bowl, from the boat launch. Photo: David Scribner

One group of local residents — the Stockbridge Bowl Association (SBA), a membership group open to all — has been working to save Stockbridge Bowl by mobilizing support from the Town, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and from people living near the lake. Raising more than $3.5 million so far, the SBA has created a plan to dredge key areas of the Bowl and draw down the water level in the winter to freeze and kill the roots of the invasive Milfoil.

Now we are asking for help to fund this plan from the broader Berkshires community.

With $1 million in funding from the SBA, the Town of Stockbridge has already installed a 250-foot long concrete pipe in the outlet of the Bowl so that water can be withdrawn from the lake, bypassing the obstruction created years ago by a Town sewer and three natural gas pipes. With the planned dredging of more than 20,000 cubic yards of sediment (now scheduled for the winter of 2017/18), the Town will be able to lower the water level in the winter to kill Milfoil near the shore.

The boat and kayak inspection station at the Stockbridge Bowl boat launch off Route 183. Photo: David Scribner
The boat and kayak inspection station at the Stockbridge Bowl boat launch off Route 183. Photo: David Scribner

The dredging of key areas of the Bowl will cost an estimated $2.8 million, of which $2.5 million has been raised to date. The state DEP has been extremely supportive with Clean Water Act funding — both for the diversion pipe and for the dredging — contributing $910,000 and praising the SBA for its “extremely responsible management” of the lake. The Stockbridge Community Preservation Committee has shown its commitment to the preservation of the Bowl with grants of more than $400,000 in previous years; a proposal to contribute an additional $50,000 will be voted upon at this Monday’s (May 16) Annual Town Meeting in Stockbridge. The Select Board is proposing to contribute $75,000 in the next fiscal year, also subject to approval at Town Meeting. In addition, 18 individual homeowners have become leaders of the capital campaign, contributing at least $25,000 each. Other users of the Bowl have also strongly supported this program to restore the original ecology of the lake, including Canyon Ranch, Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, Camp Mah-Kee-Nac and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

During this coming summer season, the SBA is working closely with an independent firm of environmental engineers to secure all of the final environmental approvals to dredge parts of the lake. If the SBA is able to raise the final $300,000 needed, the Town of Stockbridge will go out for bids next year to get the dredging project underway. The sediment will be deposited in 30 acres of meadow that are part of the SBA’s Bullard Woods located at the north end of the Bowl, which will afterwards be restored to its natural condition.

The completion of this fundraising campaign and the dredging project are critical to restoring the health of Stockbridge Bowl. For more information about the project or to donate, please visit us online: https://www.thesba.org/save-stockbridge-bowl-campaign/ You can also support our efforts to preserve the Bowl by mailing donations to the SBA, PO Box 118, Stockbridge MA 01262.

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Richard Seltzer
Richard Seltzer

 

Richard Seltzer has been president of the Stockbridge Bowl Association for 4 years. He also serves on the boards of Edith Wharton’s The Mount and Hancock Shaker Village.

 

 

 

Matt Mandel
Matt Mandel

Matt Mandel is co-chairman of the Save Stockbridge Bowl Campaign. A retired physician who has lived on the Stockbridge Bowl since 1981, he serves on the Board of Directors of the Stockbridge Bowl Association. He is a Founding Board Member of Volunteers In Medicine (VIM) Berkshires.

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