BY LEAH HOWARD
Cold winds rushed across the water and shocked my exposed skin. I raised my neck warmer, hoping that it would shield my face and save me from the bone-chilling breeze. It barely helped. I looked ahead to the end of the dam and noticed I still had a long dam walk to go before I could find shelter in the trees.
While walking across the exposed dam was a little chilly, the rest of the six and a half mile Long Dam Walk that DNRT and Mike Labossiere, Fall River Water Department’s Reservoir Superintendent, hosted this past Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was gratifying. Nearly 100 individuals showed up for the brisk morning hike that started at the private Copicut Reservoir Dam. The walk lead the participants through several conservation properties and along a few historic carriage paths.
The first part of the walk traversed the Copicut Reservoir Dam, which is one of the longest dams in Massachusetts. Copicut Reservoir was created in the 1970s as a secondary water source for Fall River. It is also a water source for the towns of Freetown, Tiverton, and Westport. Before the dam was constructed the land where the current reservoir sits today was once a large cedar swamp valley between Copicut Hill and Quanipaug Hill with Copicut River running through it.
After crossing the dam, the Walk led us along the southern shore of Copicut Reservoir and onto the Arabia Sampson path, an old historic carriage path. The Arabia Sampson path leads to the abandoned Arabia Sampson homestead, where the foundations and stonewalls still remain. If you did not go on the Walk, you can still walk the Arabia Sampson Path, which is a section of the Red Trail at Ridge Hill Reserve.
The Long Dam Walk continued through DNRT’s Ridge Hill Reserve (175-acres) following the Red Trail south, passing by my favorite old Eastern Hemlock tree, and along yet another dam. This dam was constructed in the 19th century to create a mill. The Jason Phillips Mill had a grindstone that was used to sharpen and finish axes. The Red Trail crosses the old earthen dam and you can still see reminisces of the mill today.
Did you know that the southern boundary of Ridge Hill is the historic Collins Lane, another old carriage path? The Green Trail follows a small section of this historic carriage path before it turns north. Instead of turning north to pursue the rest of the Green Trail, the Walk continued down Collins Lane passing New Bedford Rod and Gun Club and yet another historic mill. The Andrews Mill was used to grind corn and grains. It also had a sawmill to cut lumber.
Continuing on, we walked along North Hixville Road to get to Copicut Woods, a Trustees of Reservations property. The Wampanoags called the woods in the Fall River, North Westport, North Dartmouth, and Freetown area Copicut, which means “deep, dark woods.” The Trustees acquired Copicut Woods (516-acres) in 2002, creating a southern gateway to the now 16,000-acre Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve. The Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve is a large area of protected conservation land owned by multiple entities to protect water, wildlife, and rare habitats.
Copicut Woods contains an abandoned farm settlement, which was started by Isaac Miller in the 1830’s. Using teams of oxen he cleared the land to farm. The Miller family lived on and farmed the land for three generations. The Long Dam Walk led people up Miller Lane, a 150-year old carriage path framed by stone walls. Miller Lane has an old cow tunnel at the southern end which you can still peer into and imagine farm animals being herded through it to greener pastures. Farther up the Lane, we crossed over a beautiful stone bridge over the narrow Miller Brook, which winds throughout Copicut Woods and empties into Copicut Reservoir.
The last property the Long Dam Walk passed through was Miller Brook Conservation Area. We passed over yet another beautiful stone bridge over the widening Miller Brook. At the intersection of the utility easement, we spotted the foundation of the Terry homestead house. Large trees were growing in the center of the foundation, making you wonder how long ago was this homestead abandoned?
After the trail dumped us out on Copicut Road and as we walked back to our cars parked at the Copicut Reservoir Dam, participants exclaimed how much they enjoyed the walk. The morning may have started out chilly, but the walk warmed our core with its beautiful views, historical sites, and company of other outdoor enthusiasts.