The Quabbin Reservoir

Over 100 years ago, Boston was running out of water. They’d built a few reservoirs and aqueducts in the suburbs, but as the population grew demand once again exceeded supply, which led to the undertaking of building what, at the time, was “the largest man-made reservoir in the world which was devoted solely to water supply.”  This involved the disincorporation, dismantling, and flooding of four towns along the Swift River in central Massachusetts, as well as building a half mile long dam plus a smaller dyke to hold back the currents of the Swift River to form the Quabbin Reservoir.

This area has always fascinated me, and I’ve made a few trips down here to go exploring.  Yesterday around 11am it seemed too late to start planning a day trip, but then I thought of the Quabbin, knew it was only about 90 minutes away, and decided to head out there for the rest of the day.

IMG_0936After bypassing the still torn up section of Route 2 between home and 495 (when they groove it up, then paint lines on it, it’s a bad sign that they’re going to leave it torn up for a while), I hopped on 2 west. The level of traffic made me think it was rush hour, not noon on a Saturday – wall to wall cars, and made worse by slow people clogging up the left lane.  It was like this all the way to Gardiner, where I stopped for gas. After that, the ride got more fun. I followed 2 a short distance to Route 101 in Templeton.  Once out of town this felt like a narrow back road, judging from the size, condition, and the thick canopy of trees through which little direct sunlight fell, but it is actually a state highway.  Route 101 led me to Route 32 and Petersham, but soon after I turned onto Route 32A to ride south near the east side of the reservoir.  The water isn’t visible from the road since it’s actually a fair distance away.  The state owns much of the surrounding land as a buffer between civilization and the water supply to prevent contamination.

Someday I want to hike or bicycle the two miles or so from 32A to the former center of the town of Dana.  Many of the old roads still exist but are closed to motor vehicles.  Access by non-motorized means, however, is permitted.  I can only imagine how surreal it must feel to stand on the common of a town that no longer exists.  Massachusetts isn’t the west.  Ghost towns simply don’t happen here.

Route 32A eventually merged back into 32, and soon I turned west on Route 9 through the town of Ware. (Where? I’m sure they hear that joke all the time.) A few miles beyond the center of town I turned into the first entrance into the park, kicked down my speed, and took it all in.  Suddenly there were no buildings, houses, or businesses – just woods, and the occasional side road gated off from traffic leading to a fishing spot of some kind.  A hundred years ago these roads led to towns that no longer exist.

IMG_0941I stopped at the Enfield Overlook, which provides a beautiful view of the reservoir and islands, as well as photos of the former town of Enfield from this very spot, now submerged.  I parked next to an ST1100, and noticed a number of similarities between it and my PC800 – pedals, for instance, and the mirrors are identical.  The owner noticed me checking out his bike, and we chatted a little about our Hondas.  My bike has a lot more cargo space in its current configuration, but I wouldn’t mind rocking an ST1100 or ST1300 at some point.  Bamarider speaks highly of them, and I’ve long since been a fan of Honda motorcycles as well as cars.  The ST has far better range on a tank of gas than my PC800, which itself would be a good reason to upgrade to one before a cross country trip.  On the other hand, I’m not completely convinced that the PC wouldn’t be up for the trip.  I’d just have to plan my route to not go through 300 miles of desert with no gas stations.

Moving on down the road, I decided to skip the trip up the Quabbin lookout tower (been there, done that, didn’t feel like it today) and head straight out to Winsor Dam.  I was on absolutely no schedule today, and I hadn’t taken a good walk in a while, so I parked the bike and took a walk from one side of the dam to the other.

IMG_0945IMG_0944These pictures don’t adequately demonstrate the difference in height between the water level and the dry land on the other side of the dam.  There’s probably a 150 foot or so hill on the south side of the dam. A friend once told me she had fun rolling down it, but seeing that it’s at least a 45 degree angle, I’m not sure I wouldn’t break something if I tried that. I’d hoped to walk down a trail and come back along the bottom of the dam, but the trail was closed.

I walked to the far end, where there’s a visitor center in the old police barracks (some of it is still used by the State Police), but I turned around and walked back across the dam to where I’d parked.  I hopped back on the bike, rode back to Route 9, and rode a while longer until I reached the entrance to that visitor’s center.  It was definitely more than a half a mile ride.  I followed a couple of Japanese cruisers in, parked, and went inside the visitor center to see what they had.  There was a lot of information on the area’s wildlife, and some large binders on a table all about the construction of the Quabbin Reservoir as well as the Wachusett (closer to home for me, and part of the same system), plus history and information about each of the of the towns that was disincorporated to make the reservoir.  The other riders were there, and we got talking and exchanging notes about the area.  One of them had been here a lot, while the other was visiting for the first time.  We were all fascinated by what it took to transform the Swift River Valley into a huge reservoir.

Once I’d read enough, I returned to the bike and followed 9 west to 202 north, up the west side of the Quabbin.  There are some fun hills and curves in here – nothing too technical, but fun, scenic, and not a lot of traffic.  I didn’t feel like superslabbing Route 2 back home, so before I got that far I turned east on Route 122 across the north end of the Quabbin.  I completed the loop when I crossed 32A and kept going.  I repeated a few miles of road, but followed 32 into the town of Barre, where I picked up Route 62 at its western terminus and followed it east.  I’ve ridden this many times, but I don’t as much as I used to since I live farther north and east now, and Route 2 is the fastest way for me to get around.  Route 62 is also fun, twisty, and hilly. Another sport touring bike hooked up with me for a while, and we enjoyed the twisties together for several miles until he turned south on 140.

After passing the turn for I-190, I stopped at Sterling Ice Cream for… well, ice cream.  It was a comfortable day and a perfect temperature for riding, but once I was off the bike I was a little warm, and that helped me cool off a bit.  From there I meandered back roads the rest of the way home.

Not bad for a six hour trip with almost no planning whatsoever.  Once again, APRS failed to register my route in the low lying areas with anything remotely resembling accuracy, so I don’t have a map to share of my trip.

Categories: day trip | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “The Quabbin Reservoir

  1. I seem to recognize that first picture for some reason 🙂

  2. James Carlson

    I liked your description of your ride “loop” around Quabbin Reservior. It’s the same loop that I take e few times a year by motorcycle, but coming in on Rt. 32 from the south in Palmer and Ware.
    I did a review on YELP about it a while back, under the name “James C”., if you’re interested.
    I also did reviews on YELP of a couple of other motorcycle day trips that I often take in western Massachusetts, in case you’dlike other destinations to shoot for. I live in southern Connecticut, which is about the same driving time/distance from those destinations as they would be for you, coming from Boston suburbs.
    I enjoy your writing style. Easy to read and paints a nice picture

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