Carlisle, Chelmsford confer on Cranberry Bog conservation lands 

by Karina Coombs

The joint Carlisle-Chelmsford Cranberry Bog Committee met on January 6 to discuss the status of a new lease for the bog as well as water levels in River Meadow Brook. The advisory committee meets occasionally to share management ideas and concerns about the Cranberry Bog and surrounding conservation land. While the 40-acre Cranberry Bog is located within Carlisle, it is part of 310 acres of contiguous conservation land that formerly belonged to the Lowell Cranberry Company. Each town owns about half of the conservation land.  

Mark Duffy of Great Brook Farm has farmed the Cranberry Bog for over 20 years and his current lease expires June 12, 2015. Warren Lyman of the Land Stewardship Committee explained that the Cranberry Bog Agricultural Subcommittee is working on creating two documents for the lease renewal process: a request for proposal (RFP) and management agreement. Lyman explained the management agreement would include a range of responsibilities for a farmer, from what is specifically required in taking care of the bog to encouraging future enhancements such as restoring a section of bog currently in renovation. Enhancements would have to be done at a farmer’s expense. And with cranberry prices low and bog restoration costs high, Lyman conceded a farmer may not recoup the investment. “We’ll ask,” he said. “[And] label it as, ‘nice to have.’”

Lyman explained that there were preliminary drafts of each document, but both required additional review before being presented to Carlisle’s Conservation Commission (ConsCom), Board of Selectmen (BOS) and Town Counsel. “We need to get to a point where a consensus is reached among the town, especially the BOS,” explained Lyman. Once agreed upon, the documents would then be included on the Town Warrant for the spring Town Meeting, allowing the committee to issue an RFP and sign a new management agreement with the best bidder found. “We’re looking for permission to pursue [a lease],” added Carlisle Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard, clarifying the committee was not asking for town funding. 

River Meadow Brook monitoring

Lyman also presented water level monitoring data for River Meadow Brook. The source of the brook is Chelmsford’s Heart Pond and it fills the two reservoirs that border the Cranberry Bog and flows into Great Brook Farm State Park. The monitoring program began in May, 2013 in an effort to help determine water use and potential impacts in the area. The gauge is located in Carlisle and six volunteers monitor measurements. “We have the Chevrolet version [of stream gauge],” said Lyman. “So far it’s worked out [and] we haven’t lost any volunteers.” Lyman added that new flow measurements would not be collected until the weather improves.

November and December showed significant water flow fluctuation caused by unusual events: bog flooding and a water drawdown from Heart Pond. 

“We’re seeing a stream whose flow varies greatly,” explained Lyman, adding that the stream can slow to a trickle or drop to zero depending on use. He noted that significant rainfall accounted for a rapid rise in water levels. A rapid decrease in mid-December was due to Duffy’s flooding of the fields for freeze protection. Lyman added that Duffy checks the water levels to prevent overflow and has already released some of the water. Chelmsford ConsCom member Dave McLaughlin noted that while the Chelmsford DPW had adjusted water levels in the past as part of a routine maintenance program, he was unsure of specifics involving the Heart Pond drawdown. Lyman requested the dates of the Chelmsford drawdown so he could add the information to his report and McLaughlin offered to assist.

Unauthorized trail

McLaughlin explained that an unauthorized trail still exists despite efforts to discourage its use. (See, “Carlisle and Chelmsford discuss Cranberry Bog future,” June 12, 2013.) He noted that signs put up in Chelmsford initially had “favorable results,” but need to be replaced since they have all come down either because of weather or other causes. 

Chelmsford Conservation Agent Alison LeFlore explained that branches and brush had been put across the trail entrances both in Chelmsford and Carlisle, but have been removed by someone. While McLaughlin does not want to encourage use of the trail, he acknowledged that if it is used heavily he might suggest validating it in the future, but with some sections relocated. He noted that while the unauthorized trail is an attractive one, use of the trail is being discouraged because some of it is too close to sensitive wildlife habitats. “There is mapped species habitat in the area and it is all wetland,” said LeFlore about the trail. “Additionally, [it] cuts right through a nice area of uninterrupted nature with no trails and little human presence.”

Future role

While the committee had discussed working collectively to tackle the problem of invasive species in the 300-acre parcel of land, the enormity of the project has proved to make it unlikely to happen. Instead, Chelmsford and Carlisle will update one another as to what each town is doing to educate about and eradicate invasive species. The committee also agreed to its existing format and continuing to meet twice per year. The next meeting is scheduled for June. ∆