A Look into Lake Massasoit: Part 1 of 2

Tyler Leahy
Contributing Writer

Photo courtesy Ofiice of Archives and Special Collections Lake Massasoit as it appeared in an earlier time on the campus of Springfield College.

Photo courtesy Ofiice of Archives and Special Collections
Lake Massasoit as it appeared in an earlier time on the campus of Springfield College.

On cloudless April days the sunlight dances, glinting rays of gold against the navy ripples of the abyss that is Lake Massasoit.  It is more exposed than in the past, having lost significant shade to the wrath of the June 1, 2011 tornado.

Just months ago the lake was tucked beneath a sheet of ice and blanketed with feets of heavy snow. Few visitors graced the shores of Lake Massasoit over the dreary New England winter months, although some audacious students shoveled a patch of ice behind Abbey-Appleton Hall to play pond hockey.

As spring weather delivers a joyous air of refreshment here on campus, you may find yourself enjoying the outdoors—escaping the accumulated stress of the academic year. You may see students and locals alike walk along the expansive shores of the lake. Many will fish for a myriad of species that includes largemouth bass, pickerel and catfish.

Few canoes are paddled, and it is unlikely to witness any swimmers. This was not always the case.

“During finals you would see boats out there racing, as well as students sunbathing and jumping in the water,” recalls Charles Redington, Ph.D., professor of biology, and 2012-13 Distinguished Springfield College Professor of Humanics.

Much about Lake Massasoit has changed since Redington’s arrival on campus in 1969. Massachusetts’ second-largest man-made body of water is no longer swimmable.

Some parameters of the lake are in decent condition. Over the years, Redington’s studies with other experts and with students have found that the lake’s conductivity is pretty good, the pH level is relatively normal. Dissolved oxygen levels are, too. All 198 acres are unfit for swimming, but why?

“The runoff to Lake Massasoit, originating from over 30 square miles of urbanized area, contributes very substantial pollutional loadings from upstream areas,” reads a City of Springfield document, summarizing studies done in the past.

Lake Massasoit has a very wide watershed. Surrounding communities have storm drains that slowly runoff into the Massasoit, having major implications. As Redington explains, “If you fertilize your lawn in Wilbraham, for example, it may runoff into the storm drain. It will eventually make its way to Lake Massasoit, which is the low spot, and then out to the Connecticut River.”

Redington also notes that there are over thirty of what are called point sources of discharge. These are pipes that directly flow into the Massasoit. Counting indirect plumes of runoff, there are an estimated eighty total sources. The formation of E. coli and other bacteria caused by this drainage during times of rain is the main contributor to the toxic state of Lake Massasoit.

Because the only way to cure the issue is to stop bacteria from entering the lake, an overhaul is unexpected. A study done in 1990 headed by the Smithsonian Institute concluded that a complete fix would cost an estimated $10 million to $15 million. Today, with inflation accounted for, that would cost between $17 million and $26 million—a very steep price.

There are still aspects of the lake that can be worked on, most notably pollution. “I think that we can make a more sound effort to clean the lake,” says sophomore Michael Sherry.

On Humanics in Action Day, Sherry was assigned to help clean the lakefront, which was littered with broken glass, trash, and even television sets.

Redington suggests that a student-led cleanup effort could be a viable option if the initiative is there. During Redington’s tenure the water level has been lowered on a couple occasions to allow students to clean the shorelines, but it has been quite some time since the last cleanup effort.

While there are still issues at hand, the college has generally done all in their power to maximize the role of Lake Massasoit as part of our beautiful campus.

“Springfield College should be commended for their cleanup efforts following the tornado,” preaches Springfield Executive Director of Parks, Buildings, and Recreation Management Patrick Sullivan.

Redington agrees with such praise, adding “This is becoming a very beautiful campus. The college is beautifying the lakefront. It’s beautiful the way the Union looks out over the lake. It’s quite the atmosphere.”

Improving the water quality may currently be out of the question, but protecting the diversity of life on campus is pertinent.  Campus is not only home to students, professors and faculty, but to an entire ecosystem—including a wealth of fish and sixty-four different species of birds.

Further diversifying the campus, Redington is planting a tree domestic to all 104 countries that have been represented by students here at Springfield College.

The Springfield College campus is more aesthetically valuable than ever, with the lake being a paramount component; while Lake Massasoit may have flaws, it must not be taken for granted.

As a college community, we are fortunate to have such a scenic body of water. We must continue to uphold both respect and admiration for Lake Massasoit and its surrounding nature.

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