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Environmental Committee
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FAQs - updated 3-31-17
 
 
Q: What is Bear Hole and why is it so significant?

A. Bear Hole, located within West Springfield, encompasses much of the northwestern border between West Springfield, Holyoke and Westfield.  Bear Hole Watershed is located within West Springfield, but the watershed is part of a tract that extends into the cities of Holyoke and Westfield.  Westward, the watershed abuts Westfield as well as the active Lane Quarry.  To the north is Holyoke and to the south the property line is located near the Bear Hole Pumping Station and abuts YMCA Camp Weber, a few residential neighborhoods and the Pioneer Valley Sportsman's Club.  The majority of the watershed includes steep-sided valley walls, although the center of Bear Hole lies within a broad, brook valley along the Pauctauck Brook and extending north into Holyoke at Ashley Pond.  A section of the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, recognized in 2009 as part of the New England National Scenic Trail system, is primarily located upon the ridge of East Mountain in Bear Hole, but also within the watershed's lower lying areas.  East Mountain is located at the watershed's western boundary and continues north into Holyoke's McLean Reservoir Watershed.  Bear Hole Reservoir, covering 20.63 acres of water surface area, went online as a public water supply in the early 1900s.  In recent years Bear Hole has incurred infrastructure and water quality issues and is now considered a back-up water supply.  The Bear Hole Pumping Station facility is not the original, which was washed out during the flood of August 1955 when the reservoir's dam burst.  The current facility is circa the mid 1950s and is old, simply outdated and dysfunctional.  Keep in mind the reservoir's engineers of the 1900s never imagined it being operational as long as it has been.  The reservoir has a distribution limit set by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and cannot supply all the town's water via the pumping station's three gravity fed sand and gravel aerated filter beds.  See belowQ. Is it true Bear Hole is no longer used as a water source?for more info.

 

The watershed's history, before it became a water supply watershed, extends back to the 1700s and probably earlier as it relates to human activity.  There were farms accompanied by homesteads and a few mills along current day Millville Road.  Between Millville Road and current day Quarry Road, was the Bosworth Quarry, which was a supplier of stone for the Holyoke canals.  Lane Quarry used to be a mountain and the Massachusetts Turnpike, which intersects the watershed, used to not be there. Records of quarrying can be found dating to the 1600s.  Of course there was the well known Bear Hole Resort, which was located at the northern end of the actual reservoir and started in its infancy in the early 1800s before blossoming to what is seen in photos today.  Bear Hole was not a thickly settled area by any means, but what did exist must have provided a challenging lifestyle within a wilderness area.  So....Bear Hole offers cultural significance.

 

In addition, of course there is the wildlife.  The wildlife corridor technically extends from Provin Mountain in Agawam all the way up to Northampton if viewed via Google Earth.  Unfortunately, the corridor is interrupted by roads.  Because Bear Hole is part of such a large tract of wildlife habitat, you will not see lots of wildlife activity.  All the creatures are spread out versus being concentrated.  You can see deer, coyote, bear, raccoon, rabbit, turkey, beaver, otter and fox to name a few mammals within Bear Hole, amongst all sorts of amphibians and birds such as heron and hawks not to mention wildflowers, geological features and a variety of trees.  There are also over 40 certified vernal pools, which come alive each spring and provide vital habitat for sensitive creatures.  Moose have also been known to venture onto East Mountain in Bear Hole, following the environmental corridor from north to south.  A corridor like what Bear Hole is part of, according to MA Audubon, is a rare territory within an urban environment and therefore reinforces the area's signficance and value. 

 

Finally, Bear Hole is well known for its passive recreation.  The area offers upwards of 20 miles of trails over varying terrain.  Some of the terrain is level, while other areas are mountainous or swampy.  Trails vary from service roads and old logging roads, ATV trails to foot paths.  The area also supports educational initiatives.

 

So when you consider what has been noted in the preceding about Bear Hole, plus everything that has not, Bear Hole is a very special place in more ways than one. 

 

Q: Is Bear Hole Watershed a safe place to explore and recreate?
A: Incidents of hard crime have been non-existent in recent years.  Hard crime being incidents such as shootings, stabbings, murder and rape.  More recent issues include bonfires, destruction of habitat, abuse by off road vehicles, illegal dumping, illegal hunting and arson of stolen or unwanted vehicles.  On Monday, September 20, 2010 a vehicle was set ablaze (a felony in Massachusetts) at an isolated area on Great Plains Road near the junction of Morgan Road.  The fire was reported by Massachusetts State Police - Troop E on the Turnpike at approximately 10pm.  The Turnpike parallels Great Plains and crosses Morgan.  The vehicle was registered out of state.  This incident is being labeled as suspicous while also being a rare incident of "hard crime" for Bear Hole.
 
November 20, 2010 (Saturday) at 2pm, the West Springfield Fire Deptartment received a report of a vehicle set ablaze.  The location was within an isolated area adjacent to Lost Pond, which abuts Millville Road in Bear Hole and is closed to traffic.  The fire ignited adjacent woodlands. The incident is being treated as suspicious while also considering the fact that vehicles are prohibited from traversing Millville.  The Millville area is a haven for off-road vehicles.  If you are hiking or recreating within the Millville / Four Corners area and observe something that doesn't seem quite right to you, please call 911 from your cell phone.  Of course video and/or photos are always helpful. 
 
On December 1, 2012, a West Springfield Environmental Committee member was hiking on East Mountain within Bear Hole and encountered a group of illegal hunters gutting a deer they had just shot.  The hiker was able to ascertain enough information from the hunters so that West Springfield Police could investigate.  Hunting within Bear Hole is not allowed. 
 
On December 12, 2012, a West Springfield Environmental Committee member was hiking within the northern section of Bear Hole and found a car abandoned on a trail.  The car was subsequently reported to West Springfield Police, who later confirmed it had been stolen out of Springfield.  The trail was relatively remote and due to this issue, the car was not removed until mid January 2013.  The question arises, "how did it get in there?"  Nobody knows for sure, but one of the area's issues is poorly secured access points, sometimes due to abutting private property owners not deterring unwarranted vehicle activity.  Another major issue is breached gates, particularly at the Four Corners area.

June 2014 a member of the Environmental Committee was trekking the gated end of Prospect and encountered an unusually large group of off-roaders.  West Springfield Police was notified, responded in force and encountered a bold and less than receptive group.  The out-of-town group was properly dealt with, with one individual being trespassed.  He later returned and was arrested.  This incident initiated a beefed up response by police, in collaboration with MA Environmental Police to reclaim the watershed from illegal off-roading, which has been an issue for decades.  Off-roading not only degrades Bear Hole's wooded areas, but also creates a liability for the town and creates safety issues not only for the off roaders, but for people passively recreating who encounter the riders.  Police report their initiative is making a difference and they have dealt with many off-roaders since starting in early June.

April 2015 an elderly gentleman was found approx 8pm deceased in a deep mud pool on Millville Road in Bear Hole within the Holyoke section near the Pioneer Valley Railroad track, which abuts Ashley Reservoir Watershed.  His Nissan sedan was in the puddle / pool and the body floating next to it.  Off-roaders made the discovery.  West Springfield, Holyoke and State Police responded.  The death is not being labeled as being foul play.  Media sources incorrectly labeled the location being Ashley Pond or Ashley Reservoir or "in a pond"   All are inaccurate.  Holyoke drinking water was never at risk as Ashley Reservoir is upland and stream from the site.  Article #1   Article #2    WWLP broadcast coverage   

May 6, 2015 West Springfield Fire and Police Departments respond to a brush fire at Lost Pond in Bear Hole.  The fire was relatively small, but appeared to have started from a bonfire the night prior that was not completely extinguished and the wind whipped up embers, which started the fire.  The fire was reported by an Environmental Committee member out for a hike.

Saturday, May 23, 2015 ATV riders entered the immediate reservoir area.  They were operating at an excessive speed, poorly navigated a corner and one rider crashed into the Bear Hole reservoir.  Police patrolling on mountain bikes were present within Bear Hole and were dispatched to the scene.  

Friday, May 29, 2015 West Springfield Police were patrolling Bear Hole via mountain bike and encountered a group of vehicles that had transported ATVs via trailers within the gated end of Prospect of Bear Hole.  Vehicles / ATVs were towed and impounded.  $300 citations issued for violation of Bear Hole ordinances. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016 a hiker trekking at Lost Pond observed two snow mobile trailers that had been burnt at the bonfire site. West Springfield and Environmental Police notified.  DPW also notified and removed all debris at the site.  

Friday, February 12, 2016 at 3:13pm a hiker on Great Plains encountered a Jeep Cherokee that had navigated illegally around barriers at the junction of Great Plains and Morgan Road.  License plate info obtained and forwarded to the police.    

Thursday, February 16, 2016 a hiker on Great Plains witnessed two men target shooting at a tree not far from Morgan Road.  Police, mayor and DPW notified as was Dan O'Brien, town councilor for that area.  Discharging firearms on any town owned land is forbidden.  This is quite dangerous due to hikers that frequent that area and vehicles using Morgan Road being not too far away.  Wouldn't take much for a stray bullet to cross the road.  This is a highly unusual incident.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016  at 1:12pm, a dog walker in Bear Hole encountered the a vehicle traveling illegally and at a high rate of speed, sometimes fish-tailing on the closed to traffic section of Great Plains Road in Bear Hole.
The operator navigated around cement jersey barriers located at the intersection of Great Plains and Morgan Road.
The vehicle unsuccessfully attempted to exit and hit a large, metal fence post, then returned to Great Plains and crashed into a service gate, destroying it.  Hikers and dog walkers were almost hit due to the operator's antics. Hikers notified West Springfield Police, which responded with due force. 3 police SUVs. Police issued multiple $300 fines for violation of watershed ordinances and the vehicle was towed / impounded.  The offender's vehicle sustained at least $1,000 worth of damage.  See this link for more incident photos:  BH SUV incident photos: March 8, 2016    
 
People young and old explore and enjoy various areas of Bear Hole everyday without incident.  Does the area have its issues?  Absolutely!  But the more people venture into Bear Hole and report illegal activities to police, the more illegal activities will be deterred. 
 
Yes, it's safe.  Always use common sense when exploring wild areas.

Q: Are there trail maps of Bear Hole?
A: Unfortunately, no, but generalized maps can be found online via mountain biking and trail running websites.  Formalized trail mapping is a big project for a property hosting at least 15 miles of trails.  Not only does it require substantial man hours, but also financial resources to produce maps and mark (blaze) trails.  Such a project is a vision of the committee, but nothing is currently in the works to get such a project in motion.  A relatively comprehensive, non color coded map is available via Open Street Maps.  Creating an account allows a more detailed view.  
 
Feel free to go to the "Contact Us" link and send an e-mail if you need suggestions where to go or if you have the means to help map Bear Hole trails.


Q: Are there bears in Bear Hole?  What type of wildlife is in the area?

A: Yes, there are black bear in Bear Hole.  You should be aware they're within the watershed, which extends to the ridge of

East Mountain.  Odds are in favor you will never see a bear in Bear Hole, most people who frequent the area never have.  If you encounter a black bear, DO NOT run.  Instead back away slowly with your arms raised and speak in a soothing voice.  Nine times out of ten, when a bear sees you in the woods, it will run in the opposite direction.  

 

Black bear weight ranges from 125 to 500 pounds with females weighing between 90 and 300 pounds on average.  If you happen to encounter a black bear mother and her cubs, remember, a mother bear with cubs is at its most aggressive state.  They are highly dedicated to their cubs wellbeing and will attack humans as well as dogs or any other creature viewed as a threat.  

Particularly during spring, for safety reasons, it is wise to hike with a partner. 

 

Other wildlife includes coyote, bobcat, herons, otter, fox, white tailed deer, wild turkey and beaver.


Q: Is it true Bear Hole is no longer used as a water source?

A:  Yes and No.  Bear Hole Reservoir is still an active water supply and has not been officially decommissioned.  If you walk down to the Bear Hole Pumping Station and there is no water in the filter beds, the system is offline or a particular filter bed is not being used.  If there is water coming from filter tank aerators, the system is active.  If a filter tank is full of water, but no water coming from aerators, that particular tank is on stand-by.  State regulations mandate that Bear Hole cannot supply water 24hrs/day. 

 

As of Fall 2009 and still on September 1, 2010 the system is offline due to pending routine maintenance such as replacing gaskets and repairing aerators.  On September 22, 2010 it was confirmed with the DPW that Bear Hole is back online as a drinking water supply after being offline for 1 year.  May 2011 the committee was informed that due to a severe water main leak located on the hill in front of the Bear Hole Pumping Station, the reservoir is offline as a water source.  20 gallons of water were leaking per minute.  900,000 gallons per month.  The pipes and valves that had been leaking since summer or fall 2010 and as of fall 2012, the leaks have been repaired.  The pipe / valves of issue actively transports water from the town's Southwick Wells to homes throughout West Springfield.  As of March 2012 the Bear Hole Pumping Station remains off-line due to extensive damage the filter beds incurred during the winter of 2010-2011. 


March 2014, according to the Water Division of the West Springfield Department of Public Works, Bear Hole, if fully operational, could provide a maximum of 1 million gallons of water per day as is mandated by MA DEP, which equals 25% West Springfield's water use.  This limit is also known as a "safe yield".  As of June 2016, West Springfield uses between 3.5 million and 4.5 million gallons of water per day.  Peak use has been 6.5 million gallons.  Three of the 9 top commercial water users in town includes Bondi's Island, Agri-Mark and the Eastern States Exposition, which collectively consume 750,000 gallons per day.  Bear Hole Reservoir has a capacity to hold 9 million gallons within its 20.63 acres of water surface area and is treated via a gravity fed sand filtration system with onsite chlorination.  In contrast, Bear Hole's northerly neighbor, McLean Reservoir in Holyoke, has a 365 million gallon capacity, yielding .5 million gallons daily for public consumption.  Ashley Reservoir, also Bear Hole's northerly neighbor, has a 795 million gallon capacity and can yield 2.1 million gallons per day.  Quabbin Reservoir has a 412 billion gallon capacity and Wachusett Reservoir 65 billion. As of 2014 the MA Department of Environmental Protection has mandated the town act what it will do with Bear Hole's water infrastructure.  June 2016 the W Springfield DPW Water Division classifies Bear Hole as a back-up water supply with "sub-par" water quality.  This MA DEP mandate situation does not threaten Bear Hole's wild lands.  If Bear Hole was activated during an urgent situation, a boil order provision would be mandated.  The pumping station is in severe disrepair and would require substantial financial resources to overhaul (see proceeding paragraph).


As of June 2016, the state's Water Management Act, due to anticipated forthcoming water use limitations from the Act, which would limit the volume of water drawn from the town's Southwick well-fields, the town could consider reactivating Bear Hole to make up the difference, but according to the the W Springfield DPW Water Division, the sand filtration beds would not be used.  The pumping station would be upgraded to use a modern treatment method, such as osmosis.  Reactivating Bear Hole is a hypothetical possibility and would require a financial commitment to upgrade the reservoir's infrastructure.           


The Environmental Committee is unaware if / when the pumping station will be active again.  So is Bear Hole currently being used for water?  NO.  Could it be used?  YES, if infrastructure was repaired. 

 

The DPW labels Bear Hole reservoir as inefficient and outdated. Currently, when Bear Hole is offline, our drinking water originates from the town's "Southwick Wells", as well as what is purchased from the City of Springfield. 

(source of information:  West Springfield Water Dept) 


Q: Does logging / timber harvests occur in Bear Hole?

A: Yes, logging or what's known as timber harvests have occurred in Bear Hole for decades on a rotating basis.  According to Mary Wigmore, owner of Wigmore Forest Resource Management, the town's forester for Bear Hole, the last harvest was done in 2004 around the immediate reservoir area.  As of 2014 there are initiatives in motion to ensure that harvesting will not occur in Bear Hole or if it does it would be highly selective.  It's a change in current day environmental thinking.  Years ago thinking was that harvesting Bear Hole allowed for a healthier forest.  Current thinking is that a mature forest promotes many environmental benefits, such as long term carbon storage and supports "carbon sequestration" initiatives.  Carbon sequestration is also known as geo-engineering.  Basically what this means is that large mature forests act as vaults per se with sucking and storing dangerous carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  Carbon dioxide contributes to climate change.  There are programs available to land owners that reward them for maintaining an intact forest.  


As of 2014, West Springfield is pursuing taking advantage of such a program for Bear Hole.          


Q: I want to help out the Environmental Committee, but I'm not sure how. 

A: There are many possibilities.  Attend a meeting or watch this website for upcoming events.  Just because you help out once, doesn't mean you have to do it everytime.  At meetings you can express your ideas and concerns, share your knowledge of the area, learn how to get things done in town or just sit back and listen.  Community events you can volunteer with various tasks.   At clean-ups expect to get dirty and make an immediate difference by removing debris from Bear Hole and Mittineague Park.  Environmental research includes researching/documenting vernal pools, wildlife and fauna - no experience is necessary.  

 
There are boundless opportunities for students of all ages who need community service hours. 
They can come to us with an idea and we'll work with them and the town (if needed) to get things done. 
Send us an e-mail if you're ever interested. 

Q: Who should I call if I witness suspicious activity?
A:Please call the West Springfield Police Department at 413-263-3210. 
Emergencies and urgent matters call 911.  More details you can give the dispatcher, the better.  Vehicle and/or person description, nature of the problem, license plate info and your location are essential.
Cell phone callers not knowing their location when calling 911 can be tracked via GPS/satellite tracking at the state police barracks in Northampton, which is where all cellular 911 calls are handled for our area.  The state police will then transfer your call to West Springfield Police and relay any pertinent info, such as your location.

Q:  I have heard about a trail maintenance crew for Mittineague Park and Bear Hole.  What is this and how do I join?
A:  The park's trail maintenance crew came into existence in August 2011 under cooperation of the 
West Springfield Park and Recreation Department.  West Springfield was hit hard with various storms in 2011, which left many of Mittineague Park's trails impassable due to tree debris.  Various other trail issues had come to surface as well.  Todd Steglinski of the Environmental Committee, in conjunction with Park / Recreation, formed the Mittineague Park Trail Maintenance Crew to help address many of the park's trail issues, which the DPW does not have the resources to handle.  The volunteer crew, as of February 2012, has logged in excess of 100 volunteer trail maintenance hours.  Not bad for just 6 months of service and it also demonstrates the volume of attention the park's trails have necessitated.  Removing tree debris, trash, graffiti, cutting back brush and removing general trail hazards have been the most recent tasks at hand.  Volunteers, particularly during the warmer months, are identified by red "trail maintenance" shirts or gray "staff" shirts with the official Park / Rec seal on the front.  The lack of snow during the winter of 2011-2012 has allowed the crew to stay active during months that would normally not be conducive to trail work.  As of March 2012, there are 23 trail volunteers on the roster.  Volunteers supply their own equipment such as trash bags, chainsaws and fuel, shovels etc..  In 2013 the crew volunteered 107 hours of trail maintenance in Mittineague Park and to a lesser degree in Bear Hole.  2014 delivered 360.25 volunteer hours.  323.25 in Mittineague Park and 37 hours in Bear Hole.              2015 delivered 368.5 volunteer hours.  284.75 in Mittineague Park and 83.75 in Bear Hole.  
Ages of volunteers range from high school students to senior citizens. 
 
If you'd like more info or would like to join up, please e-mail Todd at WSGSD@comcast.net  or
Vicky Connor, Director of Park and Recreation vconnor@west-springfield.ma.us      

Q: You're involved with recycling efforts, who should I contact to learn more? 
A: Years ago the town had no formal recycling program.  The Environmental Committee was instrumental with convincing the town to initiate a program.  The Department of Public Works currently manages the recycling program.  From time to time, the Committee offers suggestions.  March 2013 the Environmental Committee endorsed the town's interest with switching to single stream municipal waste recycling, which is now being used quite successfully.    
See this link for more info: 

Q: How much junk has been removed from Bear Hole since you've started your clean-up events? 
A: In the Fall 2008, June 2009, Fall 2009 and Spring 2010, Spring 2011 we did clean-ups.  Summer of 2015 we removed in excess of 1 ton total of junk, primarily from Millville Road, Morgan Road and Prospect within Bear Hole.  March 2012 had Americorps visiting Bear Hole where they conducted an extensive clean-up of the Morgan Road, Prospect, Millville and Lost Pond watershed areas.  The DPW assisted by providing dump trucks and a backhoe.  We also randomly pick-up loose litter throughout the watershed.  Most of the debris appears to belong to contractors or people from surrounding communities who don't want to pay to dispose of their waste, so they dump illegally.  Household items have included computer monitors, furniture and appliances.  It's suspected these homeowners are from out of town since West Springfield provides free bulk pick-up as well as a drop off location at the DPW yard on Westfield Street.  Unfortunately, other nearby communities don't offer these amenities. 
 
As of August 2015 over 20 tons of debris have been tallied. 
Since 2012 we have conducted numerous other clean-ups, particularly in Bear Hole.  Some was basic litter, other bulk.  The DPW also routinely removes junk on their own.  General litter pick-up is often conducted within Mittineague Park.

Q: I hear a lot about Bear Hole's history, particularly the "bear's den". 

What can you tell me about all this?

A. Bear Hole is rich in history.  The "Bear Hole Resort" and "Massasoit Spring" existed until around 1900, which is when

Bear Hole was taken by eminent domain for the purpose of being a public water supply.  At that time the town demolished the resort's buildings and drained an adjacent man-made pond.  There was indeed a bear that was part of the resort.  It was a three legged bear from the Adirondacks.  Today, a few pictures of the area, an old chimney, cellar wells, the shadows of stone dams within a stream, remnants of Massasoit Spring and of the bear's den are all that remain.

 

In the Four Corners area there were farms and down Millville Road a complex of mills existed along the stream.  A quarry was also in the area hence the street name "Quarry Road". 

 

All our historical information is derived from the town's historian.

If you want to learn more, please e-mail us.


Q:  What about other areas and environmental issues in town?

A.  In early 2010 the committee focused on utility line maintenance within the outer wooded areas of Mittineague Park that was done by Western Massachusetts Electric.  Committee members conducted a site walking tour with town and WMECO officials, attended a hearing at town hall regarding the project, monitored the project's environmental impact as it was in progress and worked with the town's Conservation Officer as needed.  We are also actively monitoring, as of July 2012 the concept of the proposed "dog park" that is being planned near the horseshoe courts within Mittineague Park as well as other proposed improvements at the "Santa's House / Fife Lane" areas and at the Unico building.  As of 2014 the town received a state grant to pursue these projects.  We are monitoring as is needed.  As of Fall 2010, we are interacting with the West Springfield Parks and Recreation Department regarding vandalism, possible illegal hunting and ATV activity within Mittineague Park.  We also conducted a Mittineague park clean-up in November 2010 comprised of 13 volunteers who removed various bulk items, as well as up to 30 large trash bags of everyday litter, including dozens of plastic beverage bottles and aluminum cans, all of which were recycled.   April 16, 2011 the Environmental Committee assisted in organizing "Clean-Up West Springfield Day", an Earth Day themed event, that had 100+ volunteers focus on 15 public locations throughout town that needed removal of litter and bulk debris. Five tons of debris were recovered.  Since 2011 we continue to co-sponsor this annual event.  Are there other environmental issues in town to focus on?  Yes..absolutely.  We focus on what we can based on the resources at our disposal on a case by case basis.  We have a good working relationship with the town's Conservation Commission. 

 

Our main focus is Bear Hole Watershed, though as of 2011 we are becomming more involved with Mittineague Park.