Charles River

Natick Residents Push to Save Iconic Dam on Charles River

The South Natick Dam has been a popular spot on the Charles River in Natick, Massachusetts, since it was established in the 1930s; it is falling apart, and the town must either repair it or remove the spillway

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A dam that has stood for nearly 90 years in Natick, Massachusetts, is falling apart, and there's a push to preserve it for future generations.

The South Natick Dam has been a popular spot since it was established on the Charles River in the 1930s. It holds 160 million gallons of water, and officials are concerned about what could happen if that water would break through.

The town could either fix the dam or remove the spillway, and either decision will drastically change the character of the area.

The scenic water feature is classified as a high-hazard dam by the Department of Conservation and Recreation because a dam failure could be destructive and deadly downstream. A recent inspection found the dam to be in poor condition, largely due to the trees on the right embankment.

"This spillway, the dam, is a cornerstone of this environment, and if they remove it, we'll lose our pond and it will become essentially a dry, muddy creek like the rest of the Charles River beneath the spillway," said resident Brad Peterson.

Removing the spillway would change the water flow from a pond to more of a river. The northern section would drop down to a foot of water, and less in some areas.

"It is part of my everyday life throughout the winter and summer, and for there not to be a body of water to kayak in during the summer would be devastating," said Steve Dannin. "Not only for me and my family and our neighbors, but the whole town."

Peterson and Dannin support an effort to repair the dam. That would include removing 60 trees, replacing the broken gates and repairing the concrete spillway and retaining walls.

The estimated cost is over $2 million.

Removing the spillway would cost $1.5 million.

"This dam has been here for almost a century," Peterson said. "The sound of the water flowing over the river has become the soundtrack of South Natick."

An advisory committee appointed by the town administrator has been evaluating the options over the past year. It has two more meetings scheduled this month before it plans to submit its recommendation to the Natick Board of Selectmen next month.

The board will make the ultimate decision on how to move forward.

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