ROCKPORT — Efforts to restore Mill Brook and Millbrook Meadow have been going swimmingly. 

SumCo Eco-Contracting of Salem, the firm hired to renovate Millbrook Meadow, is in the midst of finishing a rock barrier 50 feet long from the mouth of the stream to stabilize water flow into the ocean. It will continue to reposition Mill Brook back to its wider, natural pathway. The brook's banks will also be more accessible to guests who wish to get up-close to the running water and the many creatures living in it.

Work on the brook began last November after SumCo dredged Mill and Frog ponds. The firm is expected to complete construction in March, according to Laura Hallowell, the Millbrook Meadow Conservancy's project manager and liaison to the town's Department of Public Works.

Upon completion, in April, SumCo will lay down grass and plant flowers and trees at four-acre parcel in downtown Rockport, adjacent to King and Beach Streets and Mill Lane. A new playground set with two climbing towers and two slides, one of which will be made of stainless steel, will be installed near Frog Pond. A granite whale statue created from Rockport granite by Maine-based artist Thomas Berger will be featured at the park as well.

If all goes according to plan, Hallowell says Millbrook Meadow will reopen to the public this summer.

"This space is such a beautiful place for people to come and relax," she said. "Our goal is to turn the meadow into a more efficient, naturalized state."

A piece of history

Originally, Mill Brook curved more towards the center of the meadow after passing through Frog Pond, about 10 feet from where it's currently located.

"Rockport's first settler used the brook to split his property with the town's second settler," said Samuel Coulbourn, chairman of the Millbrook Meadow Committee. "We had the town's first mill built by the meadow. Over the years, it housed a glue factory, buggy seat factory, and an isinglass mill for beer and wine products." 

Millbrook Meadow was made public in 1938. Around 10 years later, the town re-positioned and re-purposed Mill Brook into a skinny drainage ditch. This caused the meadow to flood constantly. In 2006, a large storm destroyed a dam at Mill Pond originally built in 1702. A new damn was built in 2012, but the meadow was left in disarray. 

"Both ponds were about one foot deep," Hallowell said. "It could no longer support the local wildlife in the area," which included turtles, ducks, eels and fish.

A host of invasive weeds and cattails also sprouted throughout the park during this time. 

"We've been working to get rid of them ever since the dam break, and we recently finished" Coulbourn said.

From 2013 through 2017, the town spent $1.2 million in community preservation funds to fix up Millbrook Meadow. An additional $500,000 was collected through private donations, according to Coulbourn.

Dredging kicked off in October 2017 and ended in February 2018. In total, around 3,350 tons of sediment was removed from both ponds. Mill Pond is now 6 feet deep and Frog Pond is 4 feet. 

Donations still needed

After all these changes, the Conservancy still needs help in paying for its playground set. 

"We tried to move the old swing set and slide for the dredging, but it just completely fell apart," Coulbourn said. "It just outlived its lifetime."

The $70,000 project is half-way to being funded. Donations may be made online by visiting www.millbrookmeadow.org/giving or checks may be sent tonECCF/Rockport Millbrook Meadow Fund, c/o Essex County Community Foundation, 175 Andover St., Danvers MA 01923.

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.

How to help

The Rockport Millbrook Meadow Conservancy​ is raising money to put in a playground set with two climbing towers near Frog Pond. Donations may be made:

Online, by visiting www.millbrookmeadow.org/giving.

By check, which may be sent to ECCF/Rockport Millbrook Meadow Fund, c/o Essex County Community Foundation, 175 Andover St., Danvers MA 01923.