Wild & Scenic FilmFest April 14

13 Dynamic Short Films from 2:30 to 5:30 at Smith College, Wright Hall, Weinstein Auditorium

MRGI is thrilled to partner with a great group of environmental organizations for an Earth Day film festival organized by the Westfield Watershed and Wild & Scenic River folks, hosted by the Center for the Environment, Ecological Design and Sustainability at Smith.

Here is the poster with all the details: Wild & Scenic River Fest

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Winter Newsletter

Dear Mill River Rats,

The happiest of New Years to you and to our amazing river! Once again, Williamsburg and the upper watershed leads the way in accomplishments and will continue to be our chief focus over the next year. But first, some quick updates:

  • We’re thrilled to co-sponsor with Grow Food Northampton an eco-riverwalk with Hitchcock Center’s fabulous naturalist Ted Watt. The event is January 28th, 1pm-3pm. Register here! Meet up at the GFN Community Garden, 140 Meadow Street, Florence. Further details can be found on the GFN website here.
  • Heidi Stevens and the Leeds Mill River Greenway Committee now have a great set of historic signs in the center of Leeds that follow the MRGI brochure’s riverwalk. Pick up a brochure at Historic Northampton or the Northampton Chamber of Commerce (or contact us at info@millrivergreenway.org).
  • We’re still looking at an April date for publication of John Sinton’s book on the Mill River to be published by Steve Strimer’s Levellers Press. Working title? How about Devil’s Den to Licking Water: The Mill River in Landscape and History. If you’ve a better title, let us know! The book will have lots of cool maps and images for your delectation.
  • And now on to Williamsburg! Preparations for the 1874 Williamsburg Dam Disaster signage and brochure are on track for a springtime kickoff. Paul Jahnige and his Burgy Woodlands Trail Committee are leading the way on interpretive signs along the trail. John is coordinating contributions from Burgy Historical Society’s Eric Weber and Ralmon Black, Historic Northampton historian Betty Sharpe, and Smith student Amaya Ramsay-Malone to assemble a brochure to tell the story of the flood from Williamsburg to Florence. Heidi Stevens of the Leeds MRGC will provide graphic design.
  • The Williamsburg Mill River Greenway Committee is thrilled to be working for the second time with Smith College’s formidable Design Clinic. Four Engineering majors (shout out to Marcia Rojas, Laura Rosenbauer, Maya Sleiman, and Fereshta Noori!) are studying the hydrology of the Mill River at the “pinch” in Route 9 just west of the Brassworks and will contribute to the ultimate design of a retaining wall to widen the roadbed and make room for the Greenway as it follows Route 9 from Haydenville to Williamsburg. The students work is ably supported by a crack team of experts – Brett Towler of US Fish & Wildlife; Carl Gustafson of USDA NRCS (retd); Jim Hyslip of HyGround Engineering; and our champion Susannah Howe, Smith College Engineering Prof and director of the Design Clinic.
  • With elegant timing, the Design Clinic students are able to coordinate with and learn from the professional engineers of VHB, Inc., who were selected by the Town of Williamsburg to execute the Master Route 9 Corridor Survey for which funds were approved at Williamsburg’s 2017 Town Meeting. Surveyors can already be seen on and around Route 9 determining right of ways, flagging wetlands, establishing parcel boundaries, and laying down the baseline upon which the Williamsburg Mill River Greenway will be designed in the years ahead. Mark your calendars for a 2025 groundbreaking!
  • The Burgy Greenway received a big boost from Healthy Hampshire to the tune of a $9,999 grant awarded in November. Williamsburg will use the grant to design the future Mill River Greenway to maximize its safety and walkability, design the rest areas, viewpoints, river access points, safe crosswalks at road intersections and driveways, safety and accessibility accommodations, and to work with local partners to ensure that the final design is fully responsive to the needs of all users, with particular emphasis on the elderly, school children, and the disabled.  Healthy Hampshire is focused on improving people’s health in Hampshire County and the Hilltowns by collaborating with municipal leaders, elected officials, public health departments, planners, businesses, community organizations, and residents. It is part of the Mass in Motionstatewide initiative through the Department of Public Health, and administered by the City of Northampton. Thank you, friends!
  • More good Burgy news – the Greenway Committee received its second grant from the Recreational Trails Grant program of the Dept of Conservation and Recreation last October. Almost $50,000 will go directly to improvements to the South Main Connector, which someday will bring users of the Mass Central Rail Trail from the Haydenville dismount at the foot of South Main Street, to the beginning of the Burgy Greenway at the Haydenville Library. Grant funds will support:
    • The completion of trail surfacing between Leeds and Haydenville;
    • Conservation plantings along the trail dismount;
    • Establishment of a parklet at the dismount switchback;
    • Restoration of a retaining wall on South Main Street that will allow for further extension of the South Main sidewalk.

Once again, best wishes to all of you for the New Year, and three extra cheers for the good folks from Williamsburg!!

John, Gaby, and Neal




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Big News in Burgy: and a chance to participate!

Walking Along the River. Photo credit: Helen Symons

The Williamsburg Mill River Greenway Committee invites you to a public Community Forum next Sunday, April 30, from 2-4pm at the Haydenville Town Offices.

Last week, the Burgy Greenway project — a shared use path along the river connecting the villages of Haydenville and Williamsburg — was awarded a MA DOT Project Number and declared eligible for state and federal transportation funding. The Mill River Greenway is really happening in Williamsburg! Please join the forum for updates, maps and sketches, answers to your questions and an opportunity to provide your feedback.

The Williamsburg Greenway Initiative will also be seeking donations, in specific support of this project, through Valley Gives Day on May 2. Please visit https://valley-gives.org/designee/mill-river-greenway-initiative to show your support for this transformative project for our community!

Hope to see you at the forum! Please share and forward this email far and wide!

For more information, contact: Gaby Immerman, Williamsburg MRGC chair and MRGI co-moderator

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2017 Winter News

Mill River at the Oxbow — Photo: Janine Norton www.janinenorton.com

It’s been three months since we last corresponded with you, dear MRGI supporters, and, after a Dam Walk and wonderful winter celebration to cap off a productive 2016, we’ve caught our breath and are ready to head into springtime.

  1. The Leeds-Haydenville Connection: Our happiest news is the completion of the trail dismount (aka the “Goat Path”) in Haydenville, which included grading, guard rails, and native restoration plantings.   Thanks again to the Williamsburg Highway Department for their time and skill in completing the project just before the snow fell! Gaby is now leading the charge to complete the surfacing of the last half-mile of rail trail between Leeds and Haydenville; City of Northampton and Town of Williamsburg have applied for grants together, so keep your fingers crossed! If the grants are awarded the project will occur in Spring 2018.
  2. Dam Disaster Brochure: We are planning our next brochure to tell the story of the Williamsburg Dam Disaster. Unlike our first three, this one will cover several miles of river, from the site of the old Williamsburg Dam to the floodplain at Florence Fields. Elizabeth Sharpe (In the Shadow of the Dam author) and Paul Jahnige (Williamsburg Woodland Trails Committee Chair) will be working with local historians Ralmon Black and Eric Weber to develop the text and images. Gaby will have a Smith intern ready to expedite the work, which John will shepherd through the process of design and printing with Rob and Damia at their Transit Authority Figures design shop. The Woodlands Trails Committee is also planning for interpretive signage along the trail itself. The trail itself was completed last fall and is accessible off Ashfield Road near the intersection of Judd Lane in Williamsburg.
  3. Interpretive Signs for the Hidden Mill: A lot is happening at Smith this term. Reid Bertone-Johnson’s studio will be working on signage for the Hidden Mill River reach of the river. Once we have text and designs for the signs, we will seek grants to work with Wayne Feiden, Northampton’s planner, to establish interpretive signs along the self-guided riverwalk route.
  4. Designs for Florence Fields: Reid’s class will also be scoping out a path from the parking lot at the downstream (southern) end of the recreation fields to the banks of the Mill River, a trail along the rivers edge, and, we hope, a crossing into Look Park. Smith senior Meg Kirsch is creating plans for an outdoor classroom at the river’s edge.
  5. Riverwalks? We look forward to planning at least two walks and a paddle this spring and summer. We will plan a paddle in April from Arcadia up to the South St. barrier if we have sufficient high water. We hope to work with Laurie Sanders and Betty Sharpe to find a date for a combined Historic Northampton/MRGI riverwalk at Florence Fields this summer and with John Clapp on a Roberts Meadow Brook walk this year, as well. Please, dear Mill River lovers, let us know if there are any riverwalks you would like to do again or new riverwalks on your bucket list.

As always, we wish you a joyous time on the river that runs through us!

Gaby, John, and Neal


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December 3 Autumn Bash and Riverwalk

Williamsburg Dam Trail Map

Your celebration-minded co-moderators – Gaby, John, and Neal – will throw a pizza and beer fundraising party at the home of Neal and Susannah Bastek on Saturday, December 3rd on Village Hill in Williamsburg. From 2:00-4:00, Eric Weber, chairman of the Williamsburg Historical Commission will lead us on a guided hike along the new trail that the Williamsburg Woodland Trails Committee created this summer from Ashfield Rd. to the site of the dam that failed in 1874.  It’s a two-mile round trip.  Eric is a  tremendously knowledgeable guide who has amazing photos to show and stories to tell.  We’re lucky to have him aboard.  Then at 5:00, we’ll gather at the Basteks for an Autumn Bash. We’re asking our hikers and party goers to contribute a small donation of $5 to $10 for the design and printing of the upcoming self-guided tour brochure for this walk that we’ll create in conjunction with the Williamsburg Woodland Trails Committee and Williamsburg Historical Commission. Please RSVP, and we’ll send you details.  We already have a dozen or so of you coming and look forward to welcoming many more.

At the bash, we’ll give you a short update on what MRGI has been doing and what’s ahead, but mostly we just want you to enjoy each other’s company and drink in the holiday spirit!  We can’t do any of this without you, and we’re grateful that you’ve been our stout support for so many years.

THANKS from Gaby, Neal, and John!


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Our Autumn Bash and More!

We’ve got a full plate this fall, dear MRGI supporters, starting with an inaugural Riverwalk and a party in Williamsburg! Let’s get to it:

  1. Your celebration-minded co-moderators – Gaby, John, and Neal – will throw a pizza and beer fundraising party at the home of Neal and Susannah Bastek on Saturday, December 3rd on Village Hill in Williamsburg. From 2:00-4:00 we’ll walk the new trail that the Williamsburg Woodland Trails Committee created this summer from Ashfield Rd. to the site of the dam that failed in 1874 and back. It’s a two-mile round trip. Then at 5:00, we’ll gather at the Basteks for an Autumn Bash. We’re asking our party goers to contribute a small donation for the design and printing of the self-guided tour brochure for this walk that we’ll do in conjunction with the Williamsburg Woodland Trails Committee. Please RSVP, and we’ll send you details.
  1. The latest self-guided riverwalk brochure focuses on Florence from Riverside Drive to the Meadow Street Bridge and is now available either at Historic Northampton or the Northampton Chamber of Commerce. We can also mail you a copy. It’s a fascinating story that Wendy Sinton of the Sojourner Truth Memorial Committee has written, exploring the unique juxtaposition of industrial activity and the abolitionist movement.

3.  The “Goat Path” connects the end of the Northampton section of the Mass Central Rail Trail to Haydenville. As we write this, the Williamsburg Highway Department is out on the trail turning a steep, eroded slope into a safer and more ecologically stable trail down to South Main Street, with a switchback, paved surface, guard rails, and native plantings to restore the slope. Cheers to Gaby and the Williamsburg Mill River Greenway Committee for marshalling the funds and people power to get this done!

  1. This summer, Amherst College sophomore Gil Wermeling made huge strides in mapping invasive plant species on three large stretches of the Mill River that impact our big farms – Smith Voke’s agricultural fields in Northampton, Grow Food Northampton Community Farm in Florence, and Valley View Farm in Haydenville. Areas shaded in black on this map are now mapped and catalogued according to species and level of invasion on a dozen of our worst offenders, such as Japanese Knotweed, Bittersweet, and Multiflora Rose. This information will be incorporated into a grant proposal to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service next year, seeking to tackle the problem in one comprehensive ten-mile project. Any private landowners along the Mill River who are interested in joining forces, please be in touch with Gaby who is spearheading these efforts. And thanks to Gil for this outstanding work!

Invasive Species Areas of Interest Watershed Map

  1. Did you know there used to be a village on Roberts Meadow Brook, a major tributary of the Mill that feeds into Leeds? You can find out all about it in John Clapp’s The Lost Village of Roberts Meadow. It’s the story of a forgotten village founded in 1770 in the northwest corner of Northampton. You can buy the book at Historic Northampton on Bridge St., Northampton.
Village of Roberts Meadow by John Clapp

Village of Roberts Meadow by John Clapp

  1. We’ve got fantastic news about the Mill River Greenway from the end of the Mass Central Rail Trail in Haydenville to the center of Williamsburg, but you’ll have to be patient because it will take 6 to 8 years for Mass DOT to execute the project. The Greenway will run along Route 9 from the Haydenville Library to the intersection with South Street in downtown Burgy, separated from traffic by a landscaped curb. The Williamsburg Mill River Greenway Committee has been working closely with the MA DOT for the last three years to incorporate plans for the Greenway into their scheduled rebuild of Route 9, slated for roughly 8 years from now. Plans for this “linear park” include several green spaces along the way, and a link to the MassCentral Rail Trail dismount at the foot of South Main Street. Deep gratitude to Nick Dines, who has been spearheading this effort for several years! Stay tuned for updates and opportunities to get involved as the project progresses (During this phase, it would be spectacular if anyone wished to provide pro bono survey or engineering services!).
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Florence Riverwalk October 1

Nonotuck Silk/Littfield Parsons Co. ca. 1865

Nonotuck Silk/Littfield Parsons Co. ca. 1865

Florence Riverwalk Oct. 1

Join us for the inaugural riverwalk celebrating the new Florence Self-Guided Tour Brochure!

Saturday October 1st 10:00 am to 11:30 am

Meet at the Nonotuck Mill parking lot across Nonotuck St. from ChemiPlastica (do not park at ChemiPlastica!)

MRGI’s third Historic Mill River Walk brochure is hot off the press, and we’re pleased that Wendy Sinton, author of the brochure, will be our leader for our inaugural guided tour.  The walk is a mile and a half, but those who are unable to walk that far will be able to do the first half mile and then return to their car.

Long the center of Mill River industry, Florence, originally known as Broughton’s Meadow, was home to factories that produced silk thread, plastics, and brushes.  You’ll explore the unique juxtaposition of industrial activity and the abolitionist movement.  Sojourner Truth and David Ruggles once lived and worked here as part of a utopian community.  This tour ends at the farm of a noted abolitionist and the spot where the sad remains from the 1874 flood came to rest.

As usual, the tour is limited to 20 participants, so let us know of your interest.

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Mid-Summer Newsletter

Happy mid-summer to you all, and, yes, we are also bewildered by the surfeit of stones and dearth of water in our beloved Mill River. Yet the rain gods have come and we, who follow in the footsteps of the Nonotuck – the People In the Midst of the River – will husband our resources and prepare for late summer’s bounty

Unlike the frantic pace of outdoor activities last year, especially the monthly riverwalks, this summer has been one of gathering up and preparing for the fall. We have been busy, but it’s been like organizing the plumbing and electric in the house that you can’t see happening.

So let’s get on with it. Here’s what is, in fact, happening:

  • After the publication of our collaborative invasive/native plants guide with Smith College, we received lots of requests for hard copies, and then the Hampshire Gazette covered the story in mid-July: http://www.gazettenet.com/Mill-River-Greenway-Initiative-seeks-to-remove-Invasive-plants-3187059. You can find the digital copy of “Making Room for Native Plants and Wildlife” on the MRGI website here: http://millrivergreenway.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Smith-College-invasive-guide-booklet.pdf.
  • We are in the process of completing a new historic riverwalk brochure, once again in collaboration with Smith College. “Florence: Riverside Drive to Meadow St. Bridge,” will be available in September, and we’ll inaugurate the brochure with a guided tour in October led by Wendy Sinton of the Sojourner Truth Memorial Committee, who managed the project. This brochure features the Northampton Association of Arts and Education and the silk and plastics industries in the life of the Mill River.
  • The Burgy Mill River Greenway Committee is working with the Williamsburg Highway Department to alleviate erosion problems and make rough improvements to the trail link (aka the Goat Path) at the Northampton/Haydenville boundary on the rail trail. This fall the town of Williamsburg will be improving sidewalks and signage on South Main Street in Haydenville to provide safer passage for pedestrians, bicycles, and automobiles.
  • In collaboration with the Northampton Office of Planning and Sustainability (thank you, Wayne Feiden!), we are producing handsome new trail markers for the Mill River Greenway. You’ll begin to see them in the Leeds-Haydenville area this fall. Here’s what they’ll look like: http://millrivergreenway.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/MIL-trail-markers-03-1.pdf
  • Conway School students Margot Halpin and Armi Macaballug, class of ’16, compiled reams of GIS data for us on the Mill River watershed. The emerging “Master Map of the Mill River Greenway” will be housed at Smith College’s Center for the Environment, Ecological Design, and Sustainability (aka CEEDS) under the able stewardship of Smith’s Spatial Analysis Lab.  Digital or hard copies of Margot and Armi’s report, “Building a Strategic Plan for the Mill River Greenway,” are available from the Conway School: http://www.csld.edu/contact-us/ Unfortunately, since the digital copy is 63 megabytes, we at MRGI aren’t capable of providing the direct link. Thanks again to our members for funding this project!
  • We are delighted to welcome intern Silke Hensteback, a UMass Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning undergraduate, who will be studying options and supporting planning/organizing for the Bay State section of the Greenway, a trail from Smith College (Paradise Pond), along the base of Hospital and Yankee Hills and close to the Clement St. Bridge

As always, let us know your thoughts, keep in touch, keep cool, and keep loving our river!

Gaby, John, and Neal

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Two Great August Events for MRGI Members

While not directly related to the Mill River, both these events will appeal to MRGI members — first, a play and second, a paddle.

1. Join us for an outing to the William Cullen Bryant Homestead in Cummington for a performance of “A Fiery and Still Voice,” a site-based living history play about the poet.  Here’s what playwright Priscilla Hellweg of Enchanted Circle Theater says about Bryant:

“He was an amazing man — fiery abolitionist, conservationist, statesman, journalist, and poet. Who knew HE was the reason Lincoln became elected (and then he was furious with him for only gradually emancipating the slaves)?! He had the original idea for Central Park! He founded the Metropolitan Museum of Art!”

Members of the Mill River Greenway Initiative and Sojourner Truth Memorial Committee can get tickets through us at the member price of $9/each. We invite you to bring a picnic lunch and walk the beautiful farm and woodland trails of the Bryant Homestead afterward.

Wednesday, August 17
Show time 11:45am (meet at Bryant Homestead 11:30am)

Please RSVP directly to Gaby Immerman at gimmerma@smith.edu if you’d like to join us for this outing!

2. Paddle For Home (002)

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A Stunning Spring and Summer Ahead

We’re thrilled to announce a series of great initiatives this spring and summer:


We’re delighted to make available a new guide for land stewards in the Mill River watershed, “Making Room for Native Plants and Wildlife.” The guide, written by the New England Wild Flower Society with support from Smith College, is a plant-by-plant guide to the management and removal of invasive plants species commonly found encroaching on the banks and floodplains of the Mill River. The guide devotes one page per species to repeat offenders such as Japanese knotweed, oriental bittersweet, and multiflora rose, offering pictures and description for identification, a table of when and how best to combat each species, and suggestions for replacement plantings of species native to this region. The guide is available for free on our http://millrivergreenway.org website and will also be available in a printed, bound version at cost, $15 per guide (email us at info@millrivergreenway.org if you’re interested in purchasing print copies). We’re planning to organize educational and stewardship events along the river this summer to distribute the guide and galvanize the community to care for the river. Stay tuned for more info. We hope we’ll see you out there!


We’ve gotten an early peek at Armi and Margot’s work at the Conway School and it looks beautiful. The book, entitled “Building a Strategic Plan for the Mill River Greenway” is 68 pages and chock full of photographs, maps, and data. THANK YOU, Mill River Lovers, this is your gift to the river, and the river will be giving back to you. We can’t wait to get this out to you. Watch this space.


Wendy Sinton of the Sojourner Truth Memorial Committee, with the help of Dianne Jester-Wieland (Smith ’16), Julia Franchi Scarselli (Smith ’18), and Florence architect Scott Laidlaw have a draft prepared for a Mill Riverwalk in Florence. Designed once again by the inimitable Rob and Damia of TransitAuthorityFigures.com, we expect to have copies of the brochure early this summer. This is the third brochure in what we hope will someday be a series of ten!


Once again, Smith students lived up to their reputation for amazing projects by producing maps and data that summarize parcel data, historical features, and invasive species challenges on the Bay State reach of the river. This work will provide the basis for Bay State residents and the City of Northampton to envision the Greenway from Paradise Pond to the Cutlery Building, as well as gathering the information that will become another self-guided tour brochure. We will post their work on the website in May. Thanks, Julia Graham, Grace Peralta, and Bryn Gingrich for work that will have lasting impact!


…speaking of lasting impact, Joanna Kenneally, Sophia Poulos, Jin Rui Yap, and Eliana Perlmutter, Smith seniors working through the Engineering Department’s Design Clinic, have completed an engineering study to link the end of the rail trail in Leeds to South Main Street in Haydenville (Williamsburg). They presented two options, one earthwork and one boardwalk, at a very well attended Community Forum in Williamsburg on April 9. The students’ design and analysis lays the groundwork for Williamsburg to seek the funding that will be required to complete the project. Our deepest gratitude to Smith and the College’s superb students!





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