Proposal to remove the Camp Robinson Crusoe lakes:
The Hamant Brook Restoration Project

The Hamant Brook Restoration Project is a proposal by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife to approximately restore the original state of the Hamant Brook, as it was before the building of the dams that created the Camp Robinson Crusoe lakes. They appear to be motivated by a desire to impove fishing for brook trout and other such species of fish. There is opposition to this proposal on the grounds that the lakes are an asset to the site, which can be used for various recreational purposes. A .pdf presentation on the proposal can be found here, but CAUTION! it is 4.5 Mbytes in size, contains lots of large images, and opens very slowly, even if you have a fast connection.

Current status of the project:  A public walk-through of the old Camp Robinson Crusoe land was held on Saturday, April 11, 2009, from 9:00 AM through 11:30 AM. This event was sponsored by the Town of Sturbridge Public Lands Advisory Committee ("PLAC"). Representatives were also present from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, and Sturbridge's Conservation and Finance Commissions. I attended the event, representing the former campers.

Click here for a report on the walk-through, with photos.

Sturbridge Annual Town Meeting, April 27, 2009

At the Town of Sturbridge Annual Town Meeting, held on April 27, 2009, a non-binding vote was conducted to see what the Town of Sturbridge residents think about removal of the dams. Although I think many residents consider the lakes attractive, and would like to see them remain, the Town is faced with the following dilemma: there may be money available now to remove the dams, eliminating any future Town liability for their maintenance. If the dams are retained, the Town may be hit with a large bill some time in the future.

What is an Open Town Meeting?

For those not familiar with Town Meeting procedures, here's a quick summary. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a town can opt to have an "Open Town Meeting" form of government, in which any resident who shows up at the Town Meeting is a legislator. My own town of Wayland, Massachusetts, like Sturbridge, has this form of government. The meeting is announced by the circulation of a document called the "Warrant", which lists numbered "Articles" to be discussed at the meeting. At the meeting itself, residents can make motions which fall within the scope of these Articles.

Town meetings are run by a "Moderator", using procedures partly determined by Commonwealth law, and partly determined locally ("Robert's Rules of Order" is not used). Votes are generally voice votes, with the residents present saying "Aye" or "Nay" when prompted by the Moderator. If the Moderator is in doubt, he or she can have a show of hands, or an informal standing counted vote. If necessary, a formal standing counted vote can be taken, counted by "Tellers" appointed by the Moderator. A formal counted vote also must be taken if it is requested by seven residents.

The CRC article

The Article of interest to us at the Town of Sturbridge Annual Town Meeting of April 27, 2009 read: Article 36: To see what the Town's opinion is in regard to the removal of the dams at the former Camp Robinson Crusoe property to remove the ponds and restore Hamant Brook through a grant from the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. (Click here for complete text of Article 36)

Note: An article that begins "To see what the Town's opinion is ..." is a way to get a non-binding opinion from the Town residents.

Sturbridge historian Bob Briere, an indefatigable supporter of CRC ex-campers (although not an ex-camper himself), reported on the meeting:

I'd like to let you know how the Sturbridge Town Meeting went, in particular the non-binding vote to keep or remove the CRC dams (thus eliminating the ponds). We were number 36 out of 38 articles. There were possibly 350 people at the beginning, but as the hours passed by the number dwindled to around 140 at the time this vote was taken close to 11:30 p.m. Various speakers spoke in favor of retaining the dams, including CRC neighbor and staunch supporter Bill Muir, myself and several others. The Department of Fish and Wildlife man on the job naturally spoke about dam removal and fish (mostly the trout) liking cold water, which the dam removal would help. A couple of other speakers also voiced their opinion along the same lines. My guess was they were members of an organization known as Trout Unlimited.

Finally a vote was taken by a show of hands ("all in favor" then "all opposed"). My personal feeling - the moderator just wanted to get it over with, and took a shot at a quick count. The result, according to the moderator's count, was 60 - 40 in favor of removing the dams. However, Bill Muir requested a formal standing counted vote. Seven people agreed with Bill, a vote was again taken, and the result was 62-62.

So we are now back to the beginning. Neither the Finance Committee or Board of Selectmen made their official stance known. Neither did members of the Conservation Commission or the Public Lands Advisory Committee give any input. I have to assume they remained neutral, as the final decision is theirs to make, and they needed to observe more than speak out at this time, which does make sense to me. I thought members of the Community Preservation Committee SHOULD have lent support to keeping the dams and ponds. They knew the benefits from the very beginning.

Where does the town go from here? Well, the Town Administrator is leaving Sturbridge to be a Town Manager in Westboro, Massachusetts. Fisheries and Wildlife will continue their "dams gotta go" attitude. Keep in mind though the funding they would need to remove the dams has not been officially designated from Millennium Power. It is one request out of many for the money Millennium Power is offering as a condition for dumping water from their plant into the Quinebaug River.

My hope is that the Conservation Commission, as a commission, will eventually say the dams and ponds will stay. Funding for the repair of the dams becomes then a big problem for the town to undertake.

Dams in general in Massachusetts are lacking in maintenance. As a result of such tragedies as the bridge collapse in Minnesota, inspections are being done on many large structures, including all dams. As you saw, the CRC dams are indeed needing repairs and will most likely not pass a state inspection, giving credence to the claim by Fish and Wildlife ("F&W") that Sturbridge needs to repair them. My understanding is F&W may press for inspection of these dams, so work would need to be done shortly or the dams would have to be removed. Their justification is evidently that in a dam failure, all the water and sediment would run into the Quinebaug. In short, time may be a factor.

Now then ex-campers: If any of you can think of a person or persons of means amongst the alumni who might be willing to step forward and lead a crusade of sorts to raise the necessary funds through personal, business donations or grant funding, PLEASE, this may be the time to step forward. Even a matching grant to the town could make the difference.

I assume there will be those among the former campers who might say, "So be it. We have the memories and have long since moved on." I will continue to work to save what is there and hopefully someday see a park for all to enjoy, complete with beautiful ponds.

Complete text of Article 36

This is Article 36 (page 58) in the meeting Warrant, and it reads:


To see what the Town's opinion is in regard to the removal of the dams at the former Camp Robinson Crusoe property to remove the ponds and restore Hamant Brook through a grant from the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Sponsor:       Board of Selectmen

Summary - The Town was approached by the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife to see whether there was interest in removing the dams at the former Camp Robinson Crusoe property and restoring Hamant Brook as a cold water trout hatchery. The Board of Selectmen has met several times with state officials and other Town officials and interested residents and have heard "pros" and "cons" of removing the dams. Removal of the dams would be paid for by a grant from a fund set aside by the Millenium Power Plant that can only be used for improving water quality in the Quinebaug River. If the dams remain, there will be ongoing maintenance and repairs of the dams which the Town Engineer (CME Associates) has estimated the cost of needed repairs to be $ ______________. Proponents argue that removal of the dams would have the effect of improving water quality in the Quinebaug River. Opponents argue the ponds are valuable from an aesthetic and recreation point of view. Because the decision either way will be permanent, the Board of Selectmen is seeking a broad-based non-binding question to better gauge public opinion on this issue.

The boating lake
Photo by Robert Handloff, 8/3/06

Go to the CRC Starting page
This page was last updated May 6, 2009