Somerset strives to bring ice skating back by flooding The Marsh
SOMERSET — Sharpen those skates and pray for at least a few cold snaps this winter.
The town is stepping back in time as it prepares to restore Somerset Marsh to its ice-skating glory. This week, workers from the city’s highway department cut reeds and tall grass in the western part of the swamp at the north end of town, across from St. Patrick’s Church.
The plan is, during this winter, to flood the marsh with fresh water from Labor in Vain Brook by setting up a gate at the culvert where water flows in and out of the marsh. The inflow to the culvert is brackish water from the nearby Taunton River estuary.
The swamp, as it is affectionately called, has not been flooded in the winter for skating since the culvert was built at the turn of the century. Apparently it had been incorrectly assumed that such flooding was illegal or prohibited due to environmental concerns about a lack of salt water from the Taunton River estuary reaching the marsh.
Allen Smith (Chairman of the Board of Selectmen), Timothy Turner (Town Health Officer and Conservation Officer) and Christopher M. Simons (Highways Department Superintendent) spearheaded the campaign to bring skating back on ice at the Marsh.
Smith said he enjoys monitoring the various Facebook pages around town. He said he noticed a frequent response to requests for favorite memories.
“Hands down, I would say 9 to 1, it would be skating at The Marsh,” he said. “I thought to myself that we had to find a way to get this back.”
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Why skating was halted at The Marsh
A sign in The Marsh gravel car park near the culvert indicates that previous saltwater blockages – from an undersized culvert and tidal gate – killed salt marsh plants and triggered the growth of an overgrown reed, thereby damaging the salt marsh. He added that the 21st century culvert brought more salt water at high tide to reach the marsh, allowing saltwater plants to thrive and thereby “creating a healthy habitat for wildlife”.
Smith said he heard several times that it would be illegal to go back to flooding the swamp. But, he said, when he decided to look for documents limiting winter flooding, there were none — neither from the state nor from the city.
Culvert project never limited flooding
He said the Department of Environmental Protection’s Wetlands Department told him flooding for skating was more of a local conservation council issue. The certificate of completion for the culvert project, he said, did not limit the flooding.
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Smith said the city conducted a flood test in the swamp last summer and “it worked well.”
The Taunton River, he added, does not rise high enough to flood the marsh with salt water.
Smith said he plans to do the flooding in late December. He said he hoped to have a big reopening celebration at the swamp, possibly with one or more food trucks. He sees the swamp as a place where people visit each other, introduce themselves to each other, “rebuild a sense of community”.