On Saturday April 28th, Laurie Sanders, Elizabeth Sharpe, and John Sinton co-led a group of 17 along the ribbon of Northampton City-owned conservation land that borders and runs through the Northampton Community Farm (NCF) off of Meadow and Spring Streets in Florence. The NCF site is the Mill River’s hinge between the upper and lower watershed, and this riverwalk is one of the most revealing in the whole watershed, indeed, in Western Massachusetts. It contains post-glacial history in its soils, the history of early English settlement in its land use, the flood history of the Mill River from the 18th through the 20th centuries, and a set of classic flood-plain forests from relatively undisturbed stretches to sections chock full of invasives. It is, as well, the field where most of the buildings and bodies from the 1874 Williamsburg Dam Disaster ended up. And, finally, it is part and parcel of the history of the area’s silk mills and the famous Northampton Association of Education and Industry in which Sojourner Truth and other notable antebellum citizens participated.
Action is recommended on 3 fronts:
1. The NCF is a perfect place for a kiosk or information board, which could inform visitors, especially the large number of parents and children who will be gathering at the recreation fields, about the site’s human and natural history.
2. We should develop a permanent riverwalk. We should provide opportunities for parents of soccer and baseball players to investigate the history and ecology of the conservation land and to participate in caring for it.
3. We suggest establishing a “Friends of the Mill River Greenway” as an arm of the Mill River Greenway Initiative to work with Northampton and Williamsburg (and, perhaps, Goshen) to develop riverwalks and educational material as part of an overall conservation and restoration effort.