Rediscovering Bigelow Brook in the midst of a pavement jungle

© ManchesterLIFE   April 8, 2008
by Brucie DeNeve Izard

What some people might consider a litter-strewn ditch that runs behind the empty portion of the 27-acre Parkade property actually is called Bigelow Brook. Vines and brambles obscure it from easily being seen and the number of shopping carts and just plain old garbage seem to be choking it of health.

For Doug Smith, a member of the conservation commission and the Hockanum River Linear Park Committee, Bigelow Brook at the Parkade has the potential to be a picturesque greenway with shops and cafes and benches to sit and watch the brook bubbling past.

"Back in the 1970s when they built the Broad Street portion of the Parkade, they could build close to the brook. If they were to build it today, there would have to be a 100-foot buffer," said Mr. Smith, a retired anesthesiologist who is committed to preserving and beautifying the waterways, including the Hockanum River and also Bigelow Brook.

He sees the potential of a retail center situated so that it overlooks the brook with grassy and landscaped banks and patio seating at outdoor cafes, what he calls an "urban vision."

It could be a shopping and dining attraction with some nice landscaping and little waterfalls and dams," said Mr. Smith. "If they were to tear down the present big box building and replace it with something that faced the brook with a lighted walkway. The state DEP is very supportive of a project like this because they want to enhance the waterways, restore the brooks to make things better for fish."

On April 19, from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. there will be an all out volunteer effort to clean up Bigelow Brook, sponsored by the Hockanum River Watershed Association with help from Save the Sound. Those willing to help should report to the Timken Aerospace Corporation (formerly known as Purdy Corporation) fence on Adams Street at 10 a.m. or earlier to participate.

"We're having some help from Charlie's Towing Service, the historical society and the land conservation trust," said Mr. Smith. "Once we do this clean-up we can open a new hiking path along the brook, which hopefully will be a part of the proposed Bigelow Brook greenway that I envision. I've known about this little brook for a while now. It deserves better."

According to Save the Sound outreach coordinator Emily Schaller, Mr. Smith's vision reflects the mission of the organization. "We are so pleased to be able to partner with Mr. Smith and the linear park committee on this cleanup. This is just one project in which we are taking part but it is our kickoff spring cleaning project."

As an active member of both the Hockanum River Watershed Association and the Hockanum River Linear Park Committee, Mr. Smith helps in maintaining the trails along the river that powered most of Manchester and Vernon's mills.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, weather permitting, he and the other Hockanum River Watershed committee volunteers cut back brush and vines to keep the trails lear of debris and easy to walk.

When he talks about the Bigelow Brook greenway he envisions trails that run along the brook starting from the Hilliard Mills site on Hilliard Street.

Owner Peter Bonzani is renovating the Hilliard Mills site to accommodate commercial storage and office space.

Shortly after buying the property last year he contacted Mr. Smith to give the Hockanum River organization a chance to tour the mill.

"I mentioned to Doug Smith how we wanted to create a walking trail through our property along the brook to link up with the Hilliard Trail that's already in place," said Mr. Bonzani. "Doug being the visionary he is took it to the nth degree and took on the challenge of the whole brook. We planted the seed but Doug gets 100 percent credit for the big picture of the Bigelow Brook greenway."

Bigelow Brook's headwater, its source, is located behind Shady Glen on East Middle Turnpike, according to Mr. Smith. It then runs along Woodbridge Street, which is Mr. Smith's neighborhood, and then under the high school football field and along Summit Street. The conservation commission has applied for a $5,000 feasibiilty grant that would be used to research the steps necessary to make the greenway a reality.

"There's more to it than geting some developers interested in the Parkade property," said Mr. Smith. "Run off from the parking lot need to be piped into the ground, not into the brook, and we need to look into modern technology and green methods of power for the new retail complex that would be built there. Ideally I'd like to see a mixture of both commercial and residential on that site, and again all the construction would be built with the brook as a focal point."

For one portion of the brook, there is already a scenic and well-maintained trail in a 21-acre forested parcel which is part of a town sewer easement and therefore already taken care of by the town.

It's situated behind the Timken Aerospace Corporation, and currently inaccessible because of a chain link fence that surrounds the corporation's property.

But Mr. Smith has already approached Jeff Purdy to see about moving the fence so the public can access the trail that runs along Bigelow Brook in that location which was the former site of Hilliard Pond.

"I don't see moving the fence as a problem," said Mr. Purdy who is a sales account manager at the Timken Aerospace Corporation and whose family founded the company. "Because we were just bought by Timken we can't give or sell any of our property for 25 years, but moving the fence shouldn't be an issue. We're all for it."

If that land should be given over to the town it would fall under the land conservation trust and yet another committee would have to be formed to ensure that the Bigelow Brook greenway is maintained.

There would be multiple property owners throughout the greenway," said Mr. Smith. "We'd have to get all sorts of people on board to make this happen. It would have to be a town wide effort, from the parks and rec to the land conservation trust to the Parkade owners. Wouldn't it be great to have this brook restored and add to the waterside trails in town?"