By Kim Siebert MacPhail
When the gates opened at Springs Brook Park on June 16th for the start of this year’s season, many in the community could be heard to utter a sigh of relief. The scramble that began last December to address the water clarity issue—ultimately leading to replacement of fine-particulate sand with a heavier-quality variety—seems to have paid off, although the situation continues to be closely monitored.
Water clarity has been an issue at the Park since it opened in 1971. The 1970 Town Warrant describes the creation of a “spring-fed, pollution-free” swimming area, hollowed out of surplus VA wetland and able to accommodate “500 or more persons.” To prepare for summer and winter recreation use, the one-acre pond was excavated and lined with 2,500 tons of crushed rock, and a 600 foot beach was created. Fill from the excavation was used to form a grassy area and to create the quarter-mile road leading to the Park that tied in with a “new horse-training and riding area.”A bathhouse was built, largely by volunteer effort and for “less than $4,000.”
Due to its natural origin, the pond has often experienced murky conditions and, by all reports, the situation seems to have been taken in stride. It wasn’t until last summer, following the widely reported tragedy at a Fall River public swimming pool, that the state signaled its intent to increase visibility standards, and the Town realized it had to address water clarity at the Park.
The call to action came last December when the Town’s Selectmen heard a report from Recreation Department Director Amy Hamilton, who enumerated the problems— as well as the benefits— of continuing to operate of the facility as it was. Following the holiday break, at their meeting on January 9th, the Selectmen formed a nine-member subcommittee, chaired by a member of the Recreation Commission, Caroline Fedele. With the summer season quickly approaching, the group was tasked with making recommendations that would ultimately lead to the replacement of the Park’s fine-grain particulate sand with a six inch layer (1,100 tons) of heavier-grade and the diversion of storm water run-off away from the pond.
According to Rich Warrington (Director of Public Works), head lifeguard Nikki Lua, Recreation Director Hamilton and several Park patrons who agreed to be interviewed, these remedies have made a significant difference and water clarity has improved, though some cloudiness remains following high volume use.
“When you put people in the pond, that’s when it changes,” said Hamilton. “There was low attendance at first but during the heat wave, people came out in droves.We’re watching to see how the new sand responds to high volume use. It always takes a while to settle early in the season, but the water started off very clear. It even has a different look to it.”
In Hamilton’s office hangs a small snapshot taken in the 80’s that shows a much bigger pond. When it opened in 1971, the reported water volume was 2,500,000 gallons. In 2004, before the last expansion work was done —including an added slide, a new spray park, plus a newly engineered filtration system— the water volume was recorded at 1,300,000 gallons. Today the water volume is further diminished with Hamilton quoting a recent calculation of 800,000 gallons.
Long-time patron Lisa Kaushik, who grew up in Bedford and worked at the Park as a teen, spoke about these decreases: “You can’t dive from the docks anymore because the water level is so much lower. You used to never be able to see the bottom but now, in most parts, you can.”
It is uncertain why the water volume has declined over time, although the most recent drop followed the work done in 2006 that included attempts to address water clarity concerns. Following completion of that project, according to the report given the Selectmen in December 2011, Hamilton stated that there was a difference of opinion about water depth at the docks. “They (the contractors) came out and measured and said we had 9 feet. When we measured, we got 6 ½ feet,” said Hamilton at that time .
In a more recent interview, Hamilton speculated that lower water volume may adversely affect water clarity. “I’m not an engineer,” Hamilton remarked, “but it seems as though more water in the pond would improve over-all clarity.”
Kausik, now a mother of three, brings her children most days, all summer long. She reports, “The water quality is much better this year. But I’d come no matter what.”
Another patron who lives close by says her family also frequents the Park throughout the summer. “This is one of the things that make me so proud to live in Bedford. It’s a quality of life issue. I can’t imagine losing this place,” she said.
Because no one was certain last winter whether Springs Brook would open at all this year, Hamilton turned away several large, out-of-town camp and school groups that have contracted to use the Park in recent years. These strategies— lowering the level of use where possible, replacing the old sand with new and improving rain water diversion— have thus far combined to keep the Park open and in full operation.Said Recreation Director Hamilton, “We’re watching everything carefully. We have a plan for keeping parts of the pond open even if we can’t use the dock area or the lanes at the far end. We keep experimenting.”