The Swift River

Last Updated: 2/2018
General Description   

StartFragment       At its most restrictive, the Quabbin-Swift River Valley includes the towns immediately bordering the reservoir and lower length of the river. These towns include:
Orange, Belchertown, Hardwick,Wendell, New Salem, 
Pelham, Petersham, Shutesbury, Palmer, and Ware.

      The Swift River watershed is the primary source of water for Quabbin Reservior.  A diversion of the Ware River is sometimes used.  Construction on the Quabbin Reservoir began in 1936. Filling commenced on August 14, 1939 and was completed in 1946 when water first flowed over the spillway.  Observing the river today, it is hard to believe that such a large reservoir can be filled by this watershed of such a small river!

Some DAM facts!
         The Winsor Dam and the Goodnough Dike impound the waters of the Swift River and the Ware River Diversion forming the Quabbin Reservoir, the largest water body in Massachusetts. The Winsor Dam was named for Frank E. Winsor, its chief engineer.
         The Goodnough Dike is not as large as the Winsor Dam, but it is equally important as they both trap the waters of the Quabbin Reservoir. The dam was named after Boston’s Metropolitan Water and Sewer Board’s chair during 1921 Henry Goodnough.

Total Length: 4.4 + 3.3 + 6.5 + 9.1 = 23.3 miles
      The miles are numbered from the mouth of the river where it meets the Ware River northward. Quabbin Reservoir hides the river below its waters. Each of the three branches drain into the Quabbin and we have carefully measured these branches as described below.  These branches are not normally paddled because of their size.  If you have any experience on these waters please write and let us know.

East Branch - 4.4 miles
Headwater at Conner Pond - 42-27.90 N 72-09.65 W
Enters Quabbin - 42-25.69 N 72-12.84 W
This begins in Conner Pond in Petersham Worcester County.  Conner Pond borders Rutland Wildlife Sancturary.  After passing under Route 32 it travels throught part of Harvard Forest and then into Quabbin Reservoir property. Passing under Route 32A it enters Dana Center Pond, a upper section of the reservoir.

Middle Branch - 3.3 miles
Headwaters at the Lake Matawa Dam -
                              42-33.78 N 72-18.98 W
Enters Quabbin - 42-31.74 N 72-18.05 W
This begins in Lake Matatawa, Orange, Worcester County. It goes south into Quabbin Reservoir property and under route 202 before traveling into the reservoir.

West Branch - 6.5 miles
Headwaters - 42-32.10 N 72-23.45
Enters Quabbin - 42-26.95 N 72-22.75 W
This begins in a small marsh pond in Wendell State Forest, Wendell, Franklin County and travels south Shutesbury and becomes the border of Shutesbury and New Salem and then into Quabbin Reservoir.
Lower Swift River - 9.1 miles
Winsor Dam Quabbin Reservoir -  42-16.85 N 72-20.36 W
Mouth of River entering Ware River - 42-11.37 N 72-21.50 W
Swift River Valley Historical Society

        The Swift River Valley Historical Society (SRVHS) was incorporated in 1962 to be the historical society for the four Massachusetts towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott. The towns were  officially disincorporated on April 28, 1938 as construction of the Winsor Dam and Goodnough Dike began. All buildings, graves and residents were gone, leaving stone walls and shade trees in some places, but devastation everywhere else.  For more information check out the link below
Access Points
        We have carefully cataloged each access point and significant location of the lower Swift River.  There are more locations that can be used but the list matchs up with the usable reaches.
  Winsor Dam
  Below Route 9
 Cold Spring Road Bridge
  Upper Bondville Dam
  Lower Bondville Dam
  Mouth of Swift River
42-16.85 N 72-20.36 W
42-16.40 N 72-20.20 W
42-14.56 N 72-20.10 W
42-31.13 N 72-20.45 W
StartFragment42-12.68 N 72-20.80 WEndFragment
StartFragment42-11.39 N 72-21.49 WEndFragment
Nearest Address
 No direct access since 911
 61 Enoch Sanford Road, Belchertown, MA 01007

  506 Cold Spring Rd, Belchertown, MA 01007

  3182 Main St, Bondsville, MA
  195 River St Belchertown, MA 01007
        We have broken down the river into 2 reaches numbered from the headwaters to the mouth.  Each reach has a map with put-in and take-out positions, description, length, difficulty, and information as appropriate.
Windsor Dam to  Upper Bondsville Dam
Upper Bondsville Dam  to   The Mouth of the Swift River
Bondsville Dam History
          The Bondsville Dam most certainly is of historical significance. It was built over 100 years ago for the purpose of providing water to the mills of Bondsville that produced the fabric known as duck. In fact, the name of the fabric produced became the nickname for the town of Bondsville. If you lived in Bondsville you notably lived in “duck”. The building of this dam not only provided water for the mills but additionally provided an impound and a way of life for the many who lived in the towns surrounding this watershed and for many well beyond the borders of the neighboring communities.
      This watershed became a mecca for fishermen, hunters, trappers, boaters, swimmers, ice skaters and ice fishermen. The area behind the dam was both a recreational area and one of subsistence as every fish caught was eaten, every muskrat trapped and sold brought food and fuel to a depression era family, and every duck downed was a much needed meal. Virtually every family in the area had a boat “tied” on the river and small summer camps (now gone) were built on leased land that bordered this waterway. The dam while being built for economic purposes inadvertently created a recreational, ecological and environmental masterpiece. In later years, coupled with the clear, pure, cold and consistent discharge of water from the Quabbin Reservoir it became an area second to none in the state of Massachusetts.
          In the late 1940′s/50′s and aqueduct was constructed from the Quabbin Reservoir to provide water to the cities of Chicopee and Holyoke. To bring the pipeline across the river the water was dropped to the level of what it would be if the dam were to be removed. It was an environmental, ecological and recreational disaster. Coves and alcoves went dry, the deeper parts of the river became steep banks with a trickle of a river, aquatic animals, amphibians, fish and vertebrates were left stranded and the fish population was decimated. Some species of fish never returned.
        Subsistence fishing, hunting and trapping and old leaky boats have given into sport fishing, aluminum and fiberglass boats and Kayaks. In any given week during the prime season times this area is a beehive of activity with the state boat launching/parking area well oversubscribed on many, many days. This watershed has become a magnet to hundreds in any given week and is a vast home to a wide variety of fauna and flora and needs to be preserved by updating and retaining the Bondsville Dam.
        Won’t you please join in supporting the “Swift River Preservation Association” before this irreplaceable piece of history, nature and recreation is lost forever.
Swift River Preservation Association
Latest on Dam Repair 12/6/2016
         The following is from TOWN OF PALMER CONSERVATION COMMISSION meeting minutes.  Please click the button below for a complete copy of the meeting minutes.

     ODS considers the dam to be in poor condition, mainly due to the fact the existing spillway capacity is approximately 6,400 cfs. The spillway can only pass 85% of the 500-year recurrence interval flood.  ODS requires BLT to upgrade the spillway capacity to safely pass 100% of the 500-year recurrence interval flood, or 7,425 cfs.

To achieve this (William) Fay gave a summary of the repairs/upgrades required by ODS, including:
  • Remove the remains of the canal head gates.
  • Remove the brush from the south abutment.
  • Repair the downstream corner of the south abutment.
  • Repair the canal low level outlet.
  • Remove the debris in front of the canal spillway.
  • Stop the leakage through the canal spillway.
  • Repair the vertical crack in the face of the north abutment.
  • Fill in the scour hole in front of the spillway.
  • Remove the trees and vegetation on the north abutment including the top, downstream and upstream slopes.
  • Rebuild the upstream wall of the north abutment.
  • Armor plate and restore the downstream slope of the north abutment’s downstream face with riprap.
  • Increase the spillway capacity by adding a row of concrete blocks to north and south abutments.

ODS - DCR Office of Dam Safety
BLT - Belchertown Land Trust  The owner of the Upper Bondsville Dam (UBD) 

Upper Bondsville Dam Repairs (PDF)