Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Delaney Complex, Stow, MA

Sunrise at Delaney Pond, Stow, MA (frozen) looking north, January 2017
The Delaney Complex, also referred to as the Delaney Project, applies to two earthen dams in Stow and Bolton that provide flood control on Great Brook and Elizabeth Brook. These were completed in 1971. The larger dam is in the northwest corner of Stow. It creates a permanent pond with a surface area of 163 acres. It times of heavy rain the water-covered area expands to surrounding marsh and lowlands to cover as much as 397 acres. Surrounding the pond is a wildlife conservation area. The whole encompasses 580 acres in Stow, Harvard, Bolton and a wee bit in Boxborough.  

The Delaney Complex serves three functions: flood control, wildlife preserve, and recreational use for boating, fishing, hunting and hiking. There are many rules applying to the Delaney - a state Wildlife Management Area - including no alcoholic beverages, no fires, no overnight camping, etc. Example, "Any person aboard a canoe or kayak between September 15 and May 15 shall wear at all times a Type I, II or III Coast Guard approved personal flotation device."

Dog rules for Delaney Complex
 Dogs are allowed (unlike in the federal Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge), but one rule that irks many people is the 2008 Stow decision that all dogs must be leashed and owners required to pick up after their dogs, enforced by a $50 fine. The rationale for this was that dog owners were using the grassy area and main path leading from the boat launch parking lot as a dog park, to the annoyance of people who pass through to get to the hiking trails.

Flood control areas (marked "Fc" on maps) are designed to either retain a permanent pool of water, such as at Delaney and Nichols (the headwaters of the Assabet River) or to be dry except in times of heavy rainfall or snowmelt, such as at Tyler Dam, also on the Assabet. All told, the Assabet River and its tributaries have ten flood control dams - the two in Delaney and eight others. Collectively, these dams can hold back up to four billion gallons of water, and by doing so, reduce downstream flood damage by millions of dollars.

In 2015 the federal National Resources Conservation Service evaluated all dams on the Assabet and tributaries and decided that six needed work (Nichols had work done in 2012). This included $2.9 million to modify the auxiliary spillway of the Delaney Dam and to raise the height of the East Bolton Dam by 3.5 feet. These projects will increase flood holdback capacity of the Delaney Complex. 

Stow Conservation Trust has descriptions of trails, with maps, posted at http://www.stowconservationtrust.org/trails.php. The listings include two trail walk guides for the Delaney area. However, parking for both is supposed to be at Finn Road, Harvard. The area in question is a bit west of the Stow:Harvard border sign. It is very small, currently iced over and presumably soon to be snowed over. Come spring thaw, a good guess is that it is a morass of mud. This leaves as the only realistic parking the lot at the boat launch site, next to Harvard Road, in Stow. From there, the south set of trails can be accessed by walking to the end of the dam, and then north.

There are unknowns to this column that internet searching could not solve, but may have answers in the Stow Historical Society records. Or the memories of people from Stow. For example, is the area so-named the Delaney Complex/Project because it is near Delaney Street? Was the street named for a landowner? If so, who? And was there a Delaney Farm before it became Delaney Pond? There do not appear to be Delaney family members buried in any of Stow's cemeteries, so no clues there. 

Flood control structure referred to as a riser. Water enters lower openings,
which are protected by the sets of bars called trash racks. Except in times
of drought this allows some flow into Elizabeth Brook. Only after water level
rises about six feet would it enter the larger opening protected by the top
set of bars, resulting in faster outflow. Click on any photo to enlarge. 
The aforementioned walking guides show the network of trails as twisty and criss-crossy, so even an experienced woods hiker should have a compass or a cell phone with a compass app. Worst case - the latter will allow you to call for help, and for rescue to find you. Police reports in the newspaper have on occasion been about darkness and foul weather descending on people lost in Delaney.

Odds are this pond is quite shallow, given its man-made nature. By comparison, Walden Pond, formed by glaciers, covers only 61 acres but has a maximum depth of 102 feet.  

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