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Crazy Awesome: A Forest Reborn

Bart's Cobble: River

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Plan your visit to Bartholomew's Cobble!

Read more about floodplain forests.

Though the Housatonic meanders leisurely through the Berkshires, life on the river hasn’t always been easy. Decades of intensive farming on its banks and dumped toxins such a PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in its waters have left their marks.

Through it all, The Trustees’ Bartholomew’s Cobble Reservation has remained a remarkable display of nature’s richness and resilience. In August, one of the final steps in a multi-year grant project began with the planting of over 1,800 trees to restore a swath of floodplain forest along the river.

In the 1970s, the National Park Service designated Bartholomew’s Cobble a National Natural Landmark for its biodiversity, identifying the area as a “critically important natural resource.” Trustees’ property manager Rene Wendell exuberantly explains, “To illustrate how crazy awesome this place is and botanically rich: our original 60 acres was compared to 60,000 acres of Mount Desert Island in Maine as having comparable biodiversity.” 

The 10 acres of floodplain being restored didn’t mirror the rest of the property. Once farmed and subsequently overrun with invasive plants such as canary grass, the area’s value as habitat, and its ability to trap potentially contaminated sediments from the river and prevent them from flowing into the ocean, had diminished considerably.

Thanks to a collaboration of The Trustees of the Reservations, Project Native, and Helia Land Design, saplings of silver maple, box elder, cottonwood, sycamore, tulip tree, hackberry, and seven varieties of disease-resistant elms, now dot the riverside meadow. The impressive scale of the project, which also included an additional 10 acres of state-listed priority habitat nearby, required Project Native to expand its native plant nursery at its Housatonic location to accommodate and care for the trees used in the restoration.

Partially funded by a Natural Resources Damages Grant established in 2000 to help remedy the harm caused by releases of PCBs into the Housatonic River watershed in western Massachusetts and Connecticut, the project also included clearing the land of invasive plants. Keeping those species at bay, along with the involved task of watering 1,800 young trees, is a substantial commitment that The Trustees’ staff and volunteers are more than willing to make, knowing that their time and talent, years from now, will help grow a forest.

Published September 2013