Water quality testing to begin in Fort River 

  • A barn swallow perches near its nest in a barn at the Fort River Division of the National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Hadley on Friday, July 13, 2018. The barn remains on the site from the former Bri-Mar Stables. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/14/2020 1:49:50 PM

AMHERST — A group advocating for protecting the Fort River and the habitat surrounding the 15-mile long tributary of the Connecticut River, where several swimming holes are used throughout the summer, is beginning water quality tests this month.

The Fort River Watershed Association, formed in 2019, recently started drawing samples from the river at Amethyst Brook Conservation Area on Pelham Road and at Groff Park on Mill Lane so the bacteria levels can be assessed.

Brian Yellen, a member of the group and a research assistant professor in the geosciences department at the University of Massachusetts, said the group will be obtaining samples every other week through the end of September.

Data from the tests, which are being coordinated with the Connecticut River Conservancy’s water quality program, will be posted on the “Is It Clean” database at https://connecticutriver.us/.

Supported by a small state grant and through sponsorship of Fort Hill Collision Services, the testing comes during a period when summer camps are closed and some communities have shuttered municipal pools, putting more pressure on the places along the river for people to cool off, including a place known as the Jump Bridge off Stanley Street.  

Yellen said the Fort River is known to have some of the highest nutrient levels, causing excessive algae and bacteria. 

But the Fort River, as it passes through parts of five towns, including Shutesbury, Pelham, Belchertown, Amherst and Hadley, is also free of dams.

Yellen said the broader mission of the group, and the water samples, is to protect the ecology of the Fort River.

One of the reasons the group formed was to advocate for the town to purchase and protect the former Hickory Ridge Golf Course, where a 1.5-mile-long section of the Fort River passes through. The purchase has been approved by town officials, but not completed yet as the private owner continues to wait for a state decision to get into the state’s Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target, or SMART program.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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