Quabbin Reservoir: A gem for outdoorsmen

By DOMENIC POLI

Recorder Staff

Published: 07-28-2017 9:45 AM

When North Quabbin residents get frustrated with the Statehouse politicians and bureaucrats in Boston, sometimes they hint that they’ll shut off the water.

But these people aren’t plumbers. They’re alluding to the Quabbin Reservoir, the largest inland body of water in Massachusetts and the water supply for Boston and many other metropolitan area communities. An infamous 1872 fire in Boston sparked discussion of how the city was in need of more water and the Quabbin area was a perfect fit because it averaged 44 inches of annual rainfall and hundreds of small streams flow into a valley.

So the towns of Dana, Prescott, Enfield and Greenwich were disincorporated on April 28, 1938. The residents were paid fair market value for their homes, which were dismantled or removed intact. Then, the valley was flooded.

Today, the Quabbin Reservoir is a treasure trove of outdoor recreational activities and attracts tourists from all over to go hiking, fishing and birdwatching. New Salem resident Dale Monette, who retired from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation a couple of years ago, has been an avid photographer in retirement and now documents the reservoir’s beauty. During his career, he worked in the natural resource division and as a program coordinator in the Quabbin Visitors Center in Belchertown.

“I never know what I’m going to run into when I go for a hike,” he said. “People ask me, ‘Where can I go to see this?’ ‘Where can I go to see that?’ And I can never really answer that question because you never know what you’re going to see. There’s wildlife everywhere out there.”

Monette said, however, the only legal hunting is a deer hunt held for two days every fall.

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There remains a rumor that some building tops and church steeples can be seen from certain spots, but Monette guarantees all structures were dismantled.

“It looked like the moon when they started flooding the reservoir,” he once said. “If I had a nickel for every time someone came in and asked where they could see the rooftops and church steeples, I would have been a rich man.”

Monette also said the disincorporated towns held 38 cemeteries and the caskets were dug up before the flooding so they wouldn’t float to the top of the reservoir. He said most of the bodies were reburied in Quabbin Park Cemetery in Belchertown, unless family members requested the state deliver them elsewhere. Residents were not paid for businesses if they had them.

Monette said he has complied a book of roughly 130 photographs of the reservoir, called “The Four Seasons of Quabbin,” that is coming out in a couple of months.

He also said photographs were taken of each house before they were dismantled and people today can get copies of them at the visitors center if they know the specific town and surname.

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