Westerly Land Trust nurtures Mastuxet Brook through WP Rivers grant
By Hugh Markey, October 2023
The parking lot at Rotary Park in Westerly is buzzing as harried parents and grandparents bring children
to tennis lessons. Others watch over kids who prefer to enjoy the elaborate playground equipment.
Overhead, small planes buzz by as they land and take off at the Westerly Airport, just across the street.
A half dozen people from Westerly Land Trust (WLT) and Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers (WP
Wild Rivers) gather under a tree at one corner of the property. They’re here to tour the nearby
Mastuxet Brook and see one of the signs funded by a WP Wild Rivers grant. The sign is a partial
fulfillment of a Memorandum of Agreement between WP Wild Rivers and WLT signed in March 2023.
Part of the agreement promises that the Trust will be responsible for activities such as water quality
testing, streamflow measurement, and “…educating the public about the importance of monitoring and
enhancing water quality in our waterbodies.” That’s where the sign comes in.
The group’s guide is Marc Doherty, land stewardship manager for WLT. He says that they’re into their
second season of water quality monitoring with Watershed Watch. Three volunteers do the important
work of water sampling. The area is part of a 6.3 acre preserve that runs along and partially through the
brook. This generally flat trail is about a half mile long, passing through a forest canopy.
Doherty says he got a surprise when he first looked at a 2006 report that the tiny waterway had brook
trout in it. “I thought, ‘That? There’s brook trout in that?’ ” Normally, trout prefer cold, well-oxygenated
water, not tiny brooks gently flowing through the rocks of a moraine. Doherty decided to take a closer
look and assess the habitat and water quality. Sure enough, he found trout. Some time afterward, WLT
applied for a grant from WP Wild Rivers.
The group received a $1900 grant, which included administrative fees for water quality sampling, as well
as flow monitors to keep track of the amount and speed of the water. Other tasks include “… identifying
point-sources of pollution along the Mastuxet Brook, which will help enhance water quality downstream
in the Lower Pawcatuck River. Besides filling water quality data gaps, identifying point – sources of
pollution, and monitoring critical native fish habitat in the lower Pawcatuck, Westerly Land Trust’s water
quality program will educate the public about the importance of monitoring and enhancing water
quality in our waterbodies. This will enhance education and ecosystem health in the Pawcatuck River as
a National Wild and Scenic River.” In addition to leading children’s programs, Doherty is continuing to
explore and monitor the brook by requesting stream access from nearby property owners.
A narrow path winds through the forest, often accompanied by the sound of the gently flowing brook.
Dappled sunlight shines through maple and viburnum leaves. At one point, the group finds a skull and
bones from what may have been an opossum, now returning to the earth.
Ahead is the new sign, which relates information about the brook as well as the geographical and
biological surroundings. The location invites visitors to pause and learn beside the brook as it wanders
around and beneath great flat boulders. WP Wild Rivers’ interim coordinator Casey Merkle is pleased
with WLT’s efforts: “The sign helps people enjoy the incredible work they have going on.”