Supporters of Red Brook score big win on zoning vote in Massachusetts

Warren Winders casts for salter brook trout in Red Brook in Massachusetts.

There are wins. 

And there are landslide victories. 

Trout Unlimited and out allies are enjoying one of the latter, after the citizens of a small town near Cape Cod resoundingly defeated a proposed rezoning that would have allowed for massive development in the headwaters of Red Brook, a small, spring-fed stream where TU and our partners have invested millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours to help protect salter brook trout. 

At a massive public meeting on April 10, in Wareham, Mass., 954 residents voted on a proposal to create a “Hospitality, Recreation and Entertainment” overlay district on 756 acres of pine barren land.  

Of those, a whopping 813 voted “no,” to just 141 who voted in favor of the change, according to coverage in Wareham Week Today

Had the proposal been approved it could have led to development of hotels, multi-family homes and possibly even a horse track and casino. 

Red Brook is among just a few streams south of Maine to hold a viable population of so-called “salters” — brook trout that move back and forth between fresh and saltwater. 

Red Brook’s salter brook trout population has been aided by land protection and significant stream restoration work.

Trout Unlimited has been working on Red Brook for three decades. In the 1980s, TU worked with the Lyman family to preserve 650 acres through which the stream flows. Volunteers have spent thousands of hours improving habitat within the stream. 

The story of Red Brook’s protection and restoration has elicited attention well beyond Wareham, including in a 2017 feature in TROUT magazine

Visitors to Red Brook can learn about the incredible restoration work accomplished through investments in time and money.

All that effort was put at risk by the proposed change to zoning on the large parcel in the stream’s headwaters, which currently allows only single-family homes on lots of three acres. 

The proposal elicited fierce opposition from Trout Unlimited members and supporters, among many others.  

As the April 10 meeting and vote approached, volunteers with TU chapters and the Massachusetts Council rapidly initiated a campaign to advocate for the defeat of the proposal. Donors helped to raise more than $15,000, which helped with advertising to urge citizens of the town to vote against the proposal. 

More than 900 voters attended the Wareham town meeting on April 10. One of the two check-in lines for voters stretched from the gates of Spillane Field out in front of the Multi Service Center and nearly to Marion Road. All voters were not checked in until nearly 2 p.m. Photo courtesy of Madison Czopek/Wareham Week

“Big box developments such as the one proposed in the headwaters are as common as bird poop on a summer windshield,” TU President and CEO Chris Wood wrote in a column prior to the vote. “The people of Wareham can send a powerful message to communities across New England by voting ‘no’ on April 10 and demonstrating that we are not a desperate nation willing to fill in every open space with concrete, glass and metal.” 

Donations helped support an advocacy campaign urging citizens of Wareham, Mass., to oppose a proposed rezoning of a large tract in Red Brook’s headwaters.

Other organizations to oppose the proposed zoning change included the Wareham Land Trust, the Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance, the Buzzards Bay Coalition, the Trustees, the Community Land and Water Coalition, the Sea Run Brook Trout CoalitionWildlands Trust and the Northeast Wilderness Trust. The Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe has also opposed the measure. 

While there may have been a sense of how the vote may have gone, it’s hard to imagine anyone expecting just how big the margin would be.  

The rout was welcome to all who so quickly mobilized to ensure the protection of one of Massachusetts’ natural treasures and will, we can hope, show the power of a community coming together to fight for something it loves. 

By Mark Taylor. A native of rural southern Oregon, Mark Taylor has lived in Virginia since serving a stint as a ship-based naval officer in Norfolk. He joined the TU staff in 2014 after a 20-year run as a newspaper journalist, the final 16 as the outdoors editor of the Roanoke Times. A graduate of Northwestern University, he lives in Roanoke with his wife and, when they're home from college, his twin daughters.