How A Man Made Reservoir Created A Wilderness
Short Biography of James Hunt
James Hunt has been an environmental and fine art photographer in Worcester, Massachusetts for about 12 years. He graduated from the professional photography program at Boston University’s Center for Digital Imaging Arts. You can see more of his photography at jameshuntphotography.com and read his blog at jameshuntphotography.wordpress.com. James Hunt’s photography has been exhibited a number of times including in a show called, “Boston’s Water, Quabbin Memories” at the Jewish Community Center of Worcester, Massachusetts, a major venue in New England’s second largest city. His photographs have been involved in significant projects on urban trees and parks. James wrote, “My work explores the link between human needs and their actions in relation to the natural environment. In particular, I’m interested in the experience of ‘being there’ in the natural or man-made environment.” James is also an award winning associate professor of management at Babson College where he has chaired his department, teaches leadership, organizational behavior and most recently, sustainability. He designed and co-founded Babson’s Coaching Inside the Organization Program at Babson Executive Education and also co-founded and co-Faculty Directed Babson’s Coaching for Leadership and Teamwork Program. Babson College is one of the top colleges for entrepreneurship in the world.
The Quabbin Reservoir And The Spirituality Of Place By James Hunt
Philip Hyde typically opposed building dams on rivers, but ironically in the case of the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts, the damming the Swift River has resulted in the kind of spirituality of place with important tangible and intangible benefits that he drew our attention to in his writings. I am grateful that I have had the chance to immerse myself in this story for the past six years and for the opportunity to share it here.
Seventy-five years ago this spring, four towns in the center of Massachusetts, ceased to exist by an act of the state legislature. The citizens of the farming towns of Enfield, Prescott, Greenwich and Dana were all put off their land for minimal compensation, to make way for the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir. Two large structures, the Winsor Dam and Goodnough Dike, along with several minor dams were erected to contain the three branches of the Swift River that flowed into the valley.
The Quabbin Reservoir that resulted is one of the largest on the East Coast of the United States covering 39 square miles with over 180 miles of shoreline. It provides fresh forest filtered water to two million residents of Greater Boston. In order to filter that water, the custodians of the Reservoir helped to create, an “accidental wilderness” by planting millions of trees. Soon, wildlife, which had largely disappeared from the valley returned in force: bear, turkeys, coyote, deer, moose, and a host of other species including Bald Eagles by the 1980s.
This development occurred in the larger context of widespread Farmland abandonment throughout the Northeast and into Quebec for economic reasons. By the beginning of the Twentieth Century, thousands of square miles of what once had been fields were naturally reforested. These “new” forests were doing yeoman’s work in creating habitat and absorbing Carbon Dioxide. But, there is yet more to the story.
The Intangible Benefits Of Wilderness
As Philip Hyde probably would have appreciated, the intangible, spiritual benefits of this wilderness have become increasingly clear. To go there, just two hours from downtown Boston gives you the opportunity to be alone if that is your choice. However, you are not truly alone. The forest is there with you, and you know it. You can feel it. You can also feel the presence of those who were put off the land. Signs are everywhere, from the few remaining structures to numerous cellar holes, to strategically planted but ancient shade trees and the occasional broken dish or other artifact. It is relatively easy to walk for miles by yourself, but occasionally you do run into fellow travelers. Often it strikes me that these fellow travelers are seeking a kind of spiritual tranquility, like myself.
It is of course not the spiritual nature of the place that protects it from development. Economic conditions are such that there is little commercial urge to develop the area. The over 38 square miles inside the Reservoir perimeter is protected by two state agencies Boston’s source of drinking water. Only passive recreational activities are allowed inside the perimeter. That is not to say, however, that the Reservoir and the larger region do not face challenges. Commercial logging has supposedly only been allowed inside the Reservoir perimeter for the purposes of forest management, in other words, to protect the filtration of the water. However, much of the forested land outside that perimeter is private property.
Threats To The Quabbin Reservoir Wilderness
A brief bio fuels push a few years ago threatened the Quabbin and other forests of the area with aggressive wood harvesting until regulatory changes ceased to encourage the large scale burning of wood as an alternative fuel, at least in Massachusetts. Climate change is a significant concern however, as the forest must continually fight off a variety of invasive species that challenge the viability of the area as tolerable habitat for wildlife.
Over the past two years the Red Pine Trees planted at the creation of the Reservoir to provide a natural filtration system have been under attack from Red Pine needle scale. Pine needle scale has no known treatment and can decimate a stand of trees in just a few years. Bittersweet, the vine with which many of us in North America have become familiar, is visible everywhere. The evidence, though tentative, is growing for a direct relationship between climate change and the spread of such invasive species. Regardless, the message is clear: the tangible “wilderness” resource that emerged from the farmlands of the 1820s is fragile and its protection requires vigilance.
The intangible, spiritual benefits of the area are not widely known, except by the people of the towns surrounding the Quabbin Reservoir. Most people I ask in Boston do not even know where their water comes from. At least they did not know until a couple of years ago when there was a catastrophic leak along the tunnel that brings water into Boston necessitating a boil water order from the authorities. Suddenly the water could no longer be taken for granted. People then took notice, at least for a time.
The lessons from this story are complex. The Quabbin’s creation required the forced sacrifice of thousands of homes. It occurred, in that place on the Swift River, in large measure because those communities were without much political clout. The good news is that the Quabbin Reservoir and the resulting wilderness nourish body and mind, as well as even our, souls, if we so choose. It is an incredible resource now, but one that we cannot take for granted.
Nature Photography And The Quabbin
I began my photographic relationship with the Quabbin in 2008. The nature of that relationship evolved over time. Initially, I had thoughts of taking a documentary approach to the project but I found that somehow, I was not capturing that intangible quality that is so critical to understanding the Quabbin. Inspired by artists such as Philip Hyde, I have tried to create compelling artistic images that can communicate something of what it feels like to go there. Perhaps, if we can create art that gets people’s attention, we can inform at the same time. In that regard, I have two simple messages in my work on the Quabbin: First, people should be aware of where their water comes from, and second, I hope that through my work, people will become more aware of, and appreciate, the intrinsic values that other great photographers have portrayed so well.