Spotlight: The Canoe River Land

An old map of Norton dated 1855 shows a saw mill and a wadding (cotton) mill on the Canoe River where it passes under Red 
Mill Road (Newcomb St.). It was common in that  era 
to use water power in mills,  and often dams were built to allow storage and control of the water. 
The Land Preservation Society of Norton which was formed in 1970 acquired its first property along the Canoe River with the help of The Nature Conservancy. Other parcels were donated or purchased between 1973-76 resulting in nearly 60 acres of preserved
land: The Canoe River Land. In 1978 the town designated 
Red Mill Road as “A Scenic Road.” 
This land, however, is not just scenic. It is an important water resource. In 1981, the MA Secretary of Environmental A
airs designated 
the Canoe River Aquifer as an “Area of Critical Environmental Concern” (ACEC). ACECs are “places in Massachusetts that receive special recognition because of the quality, uniqueness and significance of their natural and cultural resources.” 
Water from this aquifer supplies the towns of Sharon, Foxboro,  Mansfield, Norton and Easton with drinking water. 

The river is a meandering ribbon of water flowing from its headwaters
 near Massapoag Lake in Sharon to Winnecunnet Pond in Norton. 
From there, it makes its way to Lake Sabbatia and then into the Mill 
River in Taunton and the federally designated “Wild and Scenic” 
Taunton River. 
The Canoe River Aquifer Advisory Committee (formed in 1987) 
describes the wetlands and woods abutting the Canoe River as “integral components in maintaining water quality and quantity for these 
communities. The wetlands and woods are also prime habitat for 
numerous species of plants and wildlife, 
some of which have been designated as ‘endangered’ 
or of ‘special concern’.” 
Recently, representatives of the MA 
Department of Ecological Restoration and 
The Nature Conservancy met with LPS directors on
Red Mill Rd. to explore the mill site and the remnants of 
the dam. Removal of the dam debris would likely have enormous ecological value and would restore the 
natural flow of the river,  providing habitat continuity
 for river herring, alewife, American eels and other species.
After removal of two dams along the Taunton River, 
these species have returned upstream where they hadn’t
been seen for over two hundred years! 
With support from the state and from other organizations, 
it is possible that in just a few short years,
we may see river herring in the Canoe River. LPS is taking the first steps in making
The Canoe River Land clear and welcoming. 
A late October walk along Red Mill Rd. turned out to be more than a 
walk in the woods. We set out to put up a few signs. The LPS signs read “Wildlife Safety Zone” and indicate that we do not allow hunting and motor vehicles. We were carrying a ladder between us so we probably looked pretty funny! The idea is to get the signs up
high enough so they cannot be easily pulled o

Our first encounter was two brothers, Norton natives, with their dogs.
They chatted with us a bit and told us they walk there every day. It was easy to see that their dogs enjoyed the walk as much as they did. 
We moved along and put up another sign. To my surprise I saw a large bird fly away from us over the marsh. At first I thought it was a 
hawk because of its size, but the white breast and wings just didn’t fit that image. Nor did the shape of the wings which extended 
down the trunk of the bird! Figuring it must be an owl, I consulted 
the Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America app on my iPad and matched the size, shape and color: a barn owl. 
This is the perfect habitat for them as they eat small mammals, especially meadow voles. We wondered if our hammering 
on the tree had disturbed it. I later learned that the Barn Owl is a species of “Special Concern” by the MA Natural Heritage 
Endangered Species Program. How gratifying to see this rare owl on 
LPS land! 

A short while later we met a mom and three children from Easton. They were running and jumping and enjoying the outdoors in the way we wish all children could! 

canoe river kids

We continued along the road and caught up with them a short while later. We were delighted to see them 
seesawing on a fallen tree caught in the crook of another dead 
tree. They were having a wonderful time; their joy was heartwarming and contagious. 
A few cyclists zipped on through the woods and another 
couple with a dog caught up with us. They were from Mansfield and they said they 
come here all the time, too. They inspired us with stories of 
walking here even when the snow was two-feet deep. 
They like to take the paths o
 the road as part of their walk. 

They had many questions after they learned we were from the LPS and that the LPS owned this land. They and the Easton mom asked the same question: Will this land be developed? We assured 
them that the land owned by LPS would not be developed; as a land 
trust, we endeavor to save it in as natural a state as possible. They were relieved and sincerely expressed their 

We want to share their message with all members of LPS. 

By Kathy Ebert-Zawasky and Phil Zawasky 2013

Spotlight: An Update on the Canoe River Land, Norton

The Canoe River Land consists of 60 acres along the Canoe River, where it flows from Easton into Norton. As one of the jewels in the Norton Land Preservation Society’s (LPS) portfolio, this mixed habitat area is the home for a diverse ecosystem that encompasses both riparian and wooded upland zones. It was the first parcel of land acquired by the LPS from Florence Hallett in 1974, with the aid of a loan from the Nature Conservancy. 

During the 19th century dams were developed here and elsewhere along the Canoe River, in service of the industrialization of southeastern New England. No longer operational, these dams are slowly being removed, as part of regional efforts to restore the Canoe River to its original free-flowing channel, and the LPS is a participant in these efforts. Only remnants of the mill and its waterwheel remain, and they do not interfere with the flow 
of the river. However, the river’s channel is constrained

where it passes under the main trail on LPS land. 
Our plan, with funding, is to replace the two narrow conduits under the trail with one significantly larger one. This will allow the Canoe River to flow unimpeded from Easton to Norton and onto Taunton, to the benefit of both the ecosystems and water quality. 

Recently the LPS submitted a proposal to a state environmental agency for funds to carry out work on the Canoe River as it flows through the LPS land. Here is an excerpt from that proposal, which summarizes the geologic setting, as a basis for discussion of the importance of the proposed work. 

There are no bedrock exposures in the area, and glacial sediments related to the retreat of the Wisconsinan ice sheet dominate this region. Specifically, the Canoe River, drains till, sand and gravel deposits in the Red Mill
area, and until recently the sand and gravel were quarried from lands adjacent to the Red Mill property. 
Moreover, unconfined aquifers associated with the Canoe River occur primarily in these deposits, and are a major source for potable water for the towns in the region. Through removal of dams and other impediments to the natural flow of the Canoe River in the Rd Mill area, our proposed work will help to restore the natural hydrologic flow for the region. This should in turn increase the ability of Canoe River aquifers to meet the increasing water needs of Norton and other towns along the river.

The accompanying picture was taken when the water table was unusually low. This is a wonderful place for a family to walk (it’s flat) on wide trails. It’s dog friendly (though on a leash please, and tidy-up), and a good place to launch a kayak.  Enjoy!! 

canoe river

The Canoe River at Red Mill Road

By Dan Murray, Geologist  President of the LPS Board of Directors. Red Mill Photos by Dan Murray 2015