Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Quabbin Gate 40: The Road to Dana Common

Quabbin's Gate 40 on Rte. 32a in Petersham is undoubtedly one of the most well-known and visited areas of the watershed.

The gate is located on the eastern side of what used to be the town of Dana, one of the four towns disincorporated on April 28, 1938, to make way for Quabbin Reservoir.

Dana is unique in that its town common and many of its main roads lie far above the waterline of the reservoir, allowing them to be visited and explored today. Only the town of Prescott, most of which is off-limits to the public, rivals Dana in the amount of land area remaining high and dry after Quabbin reached its capacity of 412 billion gallons on June 22, 1946.

The road to Dana Common is paved, although there are areas where the gravel has broken down over the years. It's not all flat walking, but the hills aren't particularly straining, either. Within a relatively short walk of two miles or so, one can see old stone foundations and 'reclaimed' fields along either side of the road.

There is a small apple orchard and even a foundation that must have once been a garage, with old rusted parts from a car that looks like it fell apart where it had been parked, one piece at a time.

The East Branch of the Swift River follows the road for a bit to the east, feeding into Pottapaug Pond, glimmering through the trees for a ways until the road curves to the west, toward the Common and points beyond.

According to Walter E. Clark's book, "Quabbin Reservoir," (1946), much of the land around the pond was privately owned by the Johnson family and dotted by summer camps occupying large chunks of land.

In fact, Gate 40's road to Dana Common, known as the Dana to Greenwich Road, or just Greenwich Road, passes through 78 acres that were owned by a doctor from New York City, Redford K. Johnson, who kept a summer home there, on the west side of Pottapaug Pond. He also owned a farm to the west of this property.

Charles W. Johnson owned 100 acres on the east side of the pond with what is described by Clark as a "fine summer camp" that was built by Colonel T.S. Johnson, Charles' father.

To the south of Pottapaug Pond, Harry S. Johnson relaxed at his summer home comfortably situated on 69 acres, while north of the pond, Charles A. and Ida M. Johnson owned land that stretched for about a mile along the east side of the East Branch of the Swift River, almost to the pond.

The dirt road to the left a little over a mile in with the massive tree on the corner leads down to the pond's edge. A short diversion worth checking out. Shore fishing is allowed here.

Pottapaug Pond is the only area of Quabbin Reservoir where canoes are allowed, although last we knew, you must have a fishing license, and presumably, fishing equipment. Check with the Massachusetts DCR to be sure.

When Quabbin Reservoir is at capacity, Pottapaug Pond is fourteen feet deeper than when the Johnsons spent their summers there.

Dana Common is a fun area to explore, with several interesting foundations to be seen along the roads that make up its triangular shape. The field to the northeast of the common was once a cemetery and was behind the Town Hall and the schoolhouse. The Congregational Church was nearby. The General Store-Post Office was on the south side of Main Street.

One can't help but see the remnant of sidewalk that once ran in front of the Town Hall and wonder about the lives of the townspeople who trod this ground as they went about the everyday business of life, running errands, attending school, worshiping the Lord and burying their dead.

Settled by European immigrants around 1735, the land had seen the movement and machinations of these hardy settlers for almost 200 years by the time the people of Dana began their long goodbye in the 1920's, when the Swift River Act was passed by the Massachusetts General Court. This Act authorized the taking of their land for the purpose of creating what would be the largest man-made unfiltered water supply in the world at the time.

Now the Common lies silent, its memories fading away with the former townsfolk whose numbers amongst us decrease with each passing day.

The road bordering the Common to the north is Skinner Hill Road and once led to North Dana, in the northwestern corner of the town.

Following this road west another two or so miles beyond the Common brings you to a beautiful spot along the shoreline known as "Grave's Landing." I have seen moose and moose tracks here. Loons often choose this quiet spot to dine in peace. The water is usually clear enough to see turtles swimming or the circular spawning nests of small-mouth bass in the Spring.

Right before you reach the shoreline is an area of Skinner Hill Road once known as "Dead Man's Curve." Not only does the road twist dangerously here, it's also a pretty steep grade. Today the description would aptly fit for how one feels upon reaching the top of the hill on the way back.

Off the right of Skinner Hill Road, heading north off Dana Common, is Tamplin Road. This road is a nice, vigorous hike if you want to make a loop back to Gate 40. Follow it north until you get to the tree that grew with the giant hole through its trunk, then head south on the trail that is between that and the old foundation on the opposite corner. This brings you back to the main road to the gate. To reverse this loop, take the first trail on the right after you enter Gate 40.

All kinds of different terrains are represented on the loop-hike, from boulder-strewn hillsides to cleared fields. A couple of spots I noticed had grass that looked like it had probably been part of someone's yard.

There are swampy areas, pine groves and hardwood forest. Beavers seem to live in every sizable body of water along the trail, which passes and crosses several scenic ponds and streams.

There is plenty of evidence of animal activities, from coyote scat piles to woodpecker-ravaged old trees. Look for moose tracks in swampy areas and turkey vultures in the air.

The road bordering Dana Common on its south side that heads southwest is Greenwich Road. This road once connected with the Monson Turnpike north of Greenwich Village, skirting 895 foot high Pottapaug Hill to its southeast. It's a little under two miles more from the Common to the shoreline taking this road. You can see the edge of the baffle dam in Hardwick from some spots along the water's edge in this area.

The road that runs off to the left of Greenwich Road, just past the edge of the Common heading west, is Thayer Road. This is a relatively short road-remnant of about a mile and brings you out to the edge of Pottapaug Pond. Thayer Road passed along Pottapaug Hill's eastern side and connected with roads heading to Greenwich and Hardwick.

As always, I recommend getting yourself a topographical map of the area before you head out. Google Earth is another neat tool I use for planning hikes and can be downloaded for free.

The Gate 40 area covers a lot of territory. The opportunities to explore are only limited by the amount of daylight hours and the hiker's energy. Even when you think you've seen it all, there is something new that catches your eye, or imagination.

It's a great gate to hike for all seasons, too, the ample parking area usually plowed out pretty quickly after each storm.

It's tempting to want to bike the trails and dirt roads of Quabbin, but please keep in mind, bicycles are allowed only on paved roads within the watershed.

As Spring blooms around us, it's interesting to ponder as one walks along silent roads what the Spring of 1938 must have been like for the folks that once populated these byways. What it must have been like saying goodbye to home while the beauty of the Swift River Valley could only have been a potent lure to stay.

The rebirth of dormant land a poignant reminder of what was lost. And what remained.

For more town of Dana information and photos intended as a supplement to this article, check out the previous EWM posts: 'Quabbin Gate 40: Dana Town Common' and 'Quabbin Gate 40: The Dana-Greenwich Road.'

And to explore Quabbin even further, check out EWM's The Quabbin Page, with on and off-site links galore.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.


Taylor Player said...

Thanks for a nice read on this area and a couple of new hiking ideas...

Mark T. Alamed said...

You're welcome Taylor. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

Quabbin is one of those spots you could hike every weekend and still find something new. Happy trails!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I think I might try to snowshoe the Tamplin Road might just kill me, but it looks like a good one to try.

Nancy Belinsky said...

Thanks so much, Mark for your insight. We went to this area today but couldn't find it. Your article helps alot, we can't wait to go back next weekend!

Nancy in Shrewsbury Ma

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the detailed info. My great grand mother lived there along with her daughter and son in law at the town farm. They were in charge of the farm. I have walked the road last spring and was not able to figure out where it was located. Are you familiar with its location?

Bob Chaffee

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if metal detecting is allowed anywhere around the fields or foundations?

Anonymous said...