By far the most fun we had in town over the summer was riding shotgun on the Town of Wellesley’s brand-new $350k weed harvester as it made its way around Morses Pond. The massive diesel-run watercraft, purchased with Community Preservation Act funds, has replaced the antique workhorse the town has coaxed along for years.
The new, bright-orange pond-worthy equipment is doing what the old harvester could no longer manage—8-10 hours work days, 6 days per week, May through September, harvesting milfoil, fanwort, duckweed, and more from the dammed pond. “If we didn’t weed it, the shallow parts would become eutrophic. The pond would eventually turn back to what it was, which was essentially a wetlands,” Cricket Vlass, superintendent of the Park and Tree Division said as we tooled around the 104-acre body of water.
The harvester isn’t exactly whisper-quiet, so you’d think that perhaps the residents of the homes on and near the pond might register noise complaints. Instead, they basically said, “Bring it.” A couple of years ago the neighbors and other pond-lovers raised their voices in a petition to all but beg for a new, bigger harvester to preserve what they called “a jewel at the heart of Wellesley’s natural resources.”
Ben Smith from the Park and Tree Division was at the wheel, as he has been all summer. I didn’t have to call him Captain Smith, though. Remarkably, no special licensing is needed to drive a weed harvester. He does, however, hold a commercial license and a Class A license to operate the truck he drives to the RDF for dumping the weeds.
There are two harvester operators who ply the mighty waters of Morses Pond. Smith on the day I was there got to drive the shiny, new, stainless steel one. Mike Chapman was at the helm of a smaller, older harvester. A third harvester, the Blue Monster, is on its way to retirement. Days follow a familiar loop during weed season. Smith and Chapman each work on one of the pond’s seven zones, rotating zones every couple of weeks. As they move the vehicles around the pond, plants are cut at their base. “They don’t get pulled up by the roots,” Vlass said. “It’s like mowing a lawn underwater.” The weeds make their way up a conveyer belt and land in a holding area. Some small fish get scooped up, too, along with the occasional turtle. The turtles get rescued and thrown back. The fish…don’t.
Once the holding area is full, the weed harvesters are beached on the the commuter rail side of the pond, near the playground area (but at a safe distance). From there, the harvester spits its load into a dumpster, which is then transported via truck to the RDF. There, the RDF takes over and the weeds are eventually composted.
“When we bring this into the RDF, we weigh the container,” Smith said. “It’s not uncommon for us to bring in 6-7 thousand pounds of weeds per load.” He and Chapman typically bring in a load or two per day. Then it’s back to the pond for more weed-pulling. Sisyphus comes to mind. Unlike the hapless mortal tasked with pushing a rock uphill, only to see it roll down again, Smith keeps himself entertained and educated while he’s on the job. Audiobooks, music, and podcasts help pass the time.
About the Blue Monster, I was gently told, “She’ll be going somewhere very soon” to “maybe somebody with some interesting skills. It’s going to have to be somebody who has a lot of steel available to them, a lot of welding experience.” It felt a little like when your family says that wholly unsuitable stray dog you brought home would be going to live a great life on a farm in the country.
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