Master Plan

West Hill Dam in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, Worcester County, is located on the West River in the Blackstone River Basin. This is a multi-purpose project built and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) New England District. Construction of West Hill Dam began in June 1959 and was completed in June 1961, requiring the relocation of several town roads and utilities. The cost of construction was $2.3 million. The project consists of an earth fill dam with stone slope protection 2,400-feet long and 48-feet high; four earth fill dikes with stone slope protection totaling 1,910 feet in length with a maximum elevation of 14 feet; three gated conduits, each measuring five-feet high, three feet wide, and 39-feet long; and a chute spillway cut in rock with a concrete weir 50-feet long. The weir’s crest elevation is 18 feet lower than the top of the dam. The main mission of the project is flood risk management and subsequent legislation authorizes the use of the West Hill Dam project area for recreation and fish and wildlife management.

There is no lake at West Hill Dam. The dam is designed to hold back flood waters during heavy rains, until rivers begin to recede, and the stored water can be safely released. West Hill protects Uxbridge, Massachusetts, and Woonsocket and Providence, Rhode Island, and other communities along the Blackstone River in both states. The flood storage area of the project covers 1,025 acres and extends about 4.7 miles upstream into Northbridge and Upton. This area is normally empty and is utilized only to store floodwaters. The project and all associated lands cover 1,401 acres. West Hill Dam can store up to 4.04 billion gallons of water for flood control purposes.

While the main purpose of West Hill Dam is to provide flood risk management to the Blackstone River Basin, over the years the project has become a recreational hotspot. There are approximately 12 miles of multi-use trails weaving their way around the project area which are for non-motorized use, including hiking, mountain biking, cross country skiing, and horseback riding. There is a newly installed mountain bike skills course that is extremely popular among visitors. The project also has many tables and grills available for picnicking along with three picnic shelters available for reservations for special events.

In 2019 there was an error found in the real estate records that required the closure of the former day use beach area entrance in 2022. This closure to the main access of the day use area beach limited access to the beach area as no public roadways exist nearby. At the same time there was a growing concern that the quality of the water in the swimming area was not meeting the state of Massachusetts swimmable waters standard. It was determined that the swimming area would be closed while the shelters, playground, tables, and grills will continue to remain for public use. The former beach area remains to be used for wildlife viewing, fishing and passive recreation.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages the natural resources at West Dam for multiple uses: flood risk management, wildlife habitat, forest production, watershed protection, and outdoor recreation. Approximately 567 acres of land make up the natural environment at West Hill Dam. The West River winds through white pine and red oak forests, broken here and there by rolling meadows. Red maple swamps and several bogs fill the lowlands while three small brooks feed the river. Park rangers manage the woodlands to improve fish and wildlife habitat. Anglers will find trout in the main river channel and bass, pickerel and horned pout in the pools. Hunting for deer, small game and upland birds is permitted in accordance with state laws. Trout and pheasant are stocked seasonally by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. All project lands and waters are under the jurisdiction of CFR Title 36 regulations, state, and local laws.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is updating the West Hill Dam Master Plan. The Master Plan is the strategic land use management document that guides the comprehensive management and development of all project resources throughout the life of a USACE project. The Master Plan guides efficient and cost-effective management, development, and use of project lands. It is a vital tool for the responsible stewardship and sustainability of project resources for the benefit of present and future generations. The Master Plan guides and articulates USACE responsibilities, pursuant to federal laws to preserve, conserve, restore, maintain, manage, and develop project lands and waters and associated resources. The intent of an updated Master Plan is to present a current inventory and assessment of resources, provide an analysis of resource use, and evaluate existing and future needs required to protect and improve the value of resources at a project.

The current West Hill Dam Master Plan, last approved in 2011, needs revision to address changes in regional land use, population, outdoor recreation trends, and the USACE management policy. Key topics to be discussed in the revised Master Plan include revised land use classifications, new natural and recreational resource management objectives, recreation facility needs, and special issues such as invasive species management and threatened and endangered species habitat. The Master Plan revision WILL NOT address the technical and operational aspects of the lake related to flood risk management or the water conservation missions of the project. During the process, the team will collect data, conduct analysis, prepare a draft report (which will become available for public and agency comments), and ultimately finalize and adopt the new Master Plan.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will host an open house on Tuesday, July 30, 2024, at Valley Chapel (14 Hunter Road, Uxbridge, MA), to share details on a draft revision process of the West Hill Dam Master Plan and showcase the existing land use classification maps, which are from 2011.  A 30-day public comment period began on July 30, 2024, and will end on August 30, 2024.

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