Happy Earth Month!

by Amanda Treat

Every April 22nd, we collectively observe Earth Day, a day where the world shows support for our environment and its protection. While we don’t have Earth Day family traditions or Earth Day foods, there are still a variety of other ways to celebrate.

First, we can start from a place of appreciation. If we think about the Middlesex Fells as a microcosm of natural places, we can see how much the Earth gives to us. The Fells has 2,200 acres of forest, wetlands, rocky hills, and reservoirs. These ecosystems work hard to pull tons of CO2 and pollution from our air, mitigate flooding in neighboring communities, and house a variety of diverse plant and wildlife.

When we go into the Fells, studies have proven that we benefit from a reduction in stress levels, a slowing in cognitive decline, improved cardiovascular health, and improved overall well being. We can be grateful that places like the Fells make our lives happier and healthier.

Photo by Mary H. New

A great way to celebrate Earth Day and renew our appreciation could be a walk through the Fells. Maybe we could invite family or neighbors and start a tradition. Beyond that, we can find ways to give back to the Earth through action or advocacy. Friends of the Fells regularly schedules invasive species removal days, which is a hands-on way to help protect the native ecosystem (and get a workout in the process). In fact, there are multiple events on Earth Day weekend to help the Fells.

Check them out below:

Surrounding communities have Earth Day fairs and clean up events with more opportunities for local action. We can set aside time to contact politicians, non-profit groups, or even companies like grocery stores chains about changes we want to see made.

This Earth Day is a great time to start a holiday tradition around community, action, and activism. From Friends of the Fells, we wish you a very Happy and Healthy Earth Month and Day and hope to see you at one of the upcoming events!

Friends of the Fells members cheer on a members hike at Boojum Rock.

Join us for these free events all May long!

We’re so excited to celebrate our fantastic members with events all month long!

Enrich your experiences in the Fells by meeting like-minded people who share your interests at our free social walks, educational hikes, and member-only events.

Every season brings something new for you to discover at the Fells. Our In The Fells email bulletin shares engaging, useful information on how to enjoy and care for the Fells in each season. It also provides advance notice on upcoming programs, invitations to members-only walks and educational events in the Fells, and other benefits.

In May, members can join us for free guided hikes and programs, all listed below:

Meet the Executive Director on a Hike! – Wednesday, May 8th

Friends of the Fells Annual Gathering – Thursday, May 16th

Guided Evening Members Hike – Wednesday, May 22nd

Guided Hike – Learn about Fells Mosses – Wednesday, May 29th

All members will receive emails with links to register for these events. Not yet a member? You can join here!

March is Women’s History Month! Learn more about some of the women who play invaluable roles in the conservation and environmental spaces and continue to shape and guide the field today.

Sustainability at Portland State University

Winona LaDuke is a Native American activist who, among many other things, help co-found the Indigenous Women’s Network. She is devoted to protecting Native lands and would then go on to create the White Earth Land Recovery Project (WELRP), which buys back reservation land. She has written many books about the struggles that the Native American community faces.

Photo by Bonnie L. Campbell/USFWS

Dr. Sylvia Earle is an expert on marine biology, writer, oceanography and a pioneer in her field. She was the first woman Chief Scientist at NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and she brought much needed attention to pollution and its effects on our ocean and its wildlife.

Tina Short, left, with her daughter Ms. Kym Elder, right National Park Service photo

Tina Short was one of the first Black women to serve as a Park Ranger around Washington D.C. She was instrumental in founding public programming that still exists today at Fort Dupont Park like community gardens, music festivals, camp, and afterschool programs.

Photo by Luke Duggleby

Isatou Ceesay noticed heaps of trash in her village in Gambia and decided to do something about it. With a group of women, the now “Queen of Recycling” began using this plastic to create purses. The project eventually grew into the Women’s Initiative Gambia and now hosts 40 groups of over 2,000 members. 

Rachel Carson wrote the famous book, Silent Spring, which sparked the modern environmental movement, helped initiate the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and lead to a nationwide ban on the use of the pesticide, DDT. In her book, Carson called out the chemical indiustry for their products’ terrible effects on wildlife, the environment, and people.

We are lucky to have so many women with instrumental roles in our environment. Below are just a few more:

Happy Women’s History Month! Join us in celebrating the incredible work women have done for the environment and the many human beings who rely on it.

Anna Rudy has spent her entire life in Stoneham with her family, where she is a close drive from the Fells. After earning an Associates degree in Psychology from Middlesex Community College, Anna transferred to Salem State University where she is currently majoring in Biology.

Anna loved reading as a kid, especially the Magic Treehouse book series. This love of literature has stuck with her, as she is now pursuing a Professional Writing minor and wants to help make science concepts more accessible.

Anna has been volunteering with FOF since January 2023. She has helped tremendously with office work in addition to volunteering at invasive plant removals. She found this volunteer opportunity through social media after the pandemic. Anna says she “needed to get back outside and reconnect with nature.”

“Whenever I think of nature, comfort, or happiness, I think of Bellevue Pond,” Anna says about her favorite place in the Fells. Every Easter, her family visits Bellevue Pond and goes for a walk while they appreciate nature and the beginning of spring. Anna has numerous memories in the Fells and it is hard to pick a favorite, but one thing that she has always enjoyed is birding.

Anna’s love of birds developed from a young age after she saw a great blue heron fly overhead on a walk. “They are absolutely amazing, I still love great blue herons to this day. They are so majestic and goofy,” says Anna.

If you are interested in volunteering, Anna has some advice for you. “Volunteering can take all kinds of forms,” Anna says. “Ultimately, I think you shouldn’t let any preconceived ideas about what volunteering is prevent you from helping a cause that you love. There are so many different ways to help out. You just have to ask!”

Thank you, Anna, for all that you do for the Fells!

If you are interested in learning more and getting involved, please reach out to friends@fells.org, complete the Volunteer Application, or keep an eye on our calendar here for upcoming volunteer events.

National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) is February 26 to March 3, 2024.

To recognize NISAW, we will be releasing a blog post every day this week on a different invasive plant species commonly found throughout the Fells.

Invasive plants are non-native plants that were introduced to our area from another region of the world. The elements that kept the non-native plant populations in check in its home region (e.g. disease, competition, predators) are no longer present once they are introduced to this new region. This means that the plant can grow out of control, rapidly outcompete native plants, and threaten native biodiversity. This threat to our native habitats and biodiversity makes management of invasives all the more important.

Read on to learn more about today’s invasive plant: Garlic mustard.

John Fielding / “Jack-by-the-hedge” or Garlic Mustard / CC BY-SA 2.0

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

A much smaller plant than the vines and shrubs we discussed so far, garlic mustard is a biennial herb, which means that it takes two years to mature and complete its life cycle. Garlic mustard is native to Europe and parts of Asia. It was brought over to the United States in the 1860s, likely for cooking and medicinal uses.

First year garlic mustard presents as a rosette with smaller, rounder leaves that remain close to the ground. Second year garlic mustard experiences a significant growth spurt, reaching up to three and a half feet in height. It produces small white flowers in April and May, which give way to long thin seed pods that appear in June packed with thousands of seeds. By the middle to late summer the plant dies.

Photo by Ryan Hodnett

Garlic mustard is aptly named. When crushed, the plant’s leaves smell like garlic. The plant can also be eaten if prepared correctly. Younger plants make for better eating as they are less bitter, and older plants contain cyanide, so they need to be cooked thoroughly before eating. It can be used in salads or to make a pesto.

While it was just used in the kitchen in the nineteenth century, it eventually spread to become a problem in forests and other habitats. Garlic mustard is allelopathic, which means it produces and releases chemicals into the soil that prevent the growth of other plants. This gives garlic mustard an obvious chemical advantage over its native neighbors.

Thank you for joining us this week to learn more about some of the invasive plants found in the Fells! Want to help us combat invasive plants like garlic mustard? Join us for a volunteer day by signing up on our calendar here!

National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) is February 26 to March 3, 2024.

To recognize NISAW, we will be releasing a blog post every day this week on a different invasive plant species commonly found throughout the Fells.

Invasive plants are non-native plants that were introduced to our area from another region of the world. The elements that kept the non-native plant populations in check in its home region (e.g. disease, competition, predators) are no longer present once they are introduced to this new region. This means that the plant can grow out of control, rapidly outcompete native plants, and threaten native biodiversity. This threat to our native habitats and biodiversity makes management of invasives all the more important.

Read on to learn more about today’s invasive plant: Glossy buckthorn.

Photo by OldMuzzle on Wikimedia Commons.

Glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus)

Glossy buckthorn is a large shrub native to Europe and parts of Asia. Buckthorn was introduced to the United States in the mid-1800s as an ornamental plant and to help improve wildlife habitat. While it is not one of the more striking plants, it can grow up to 20 feet tall in dense thickets, making it a good privacy hedge for homes.

As the name suggests, glossy buckthorn has smooth leaves with smooth edges. It also has small white marks on its bark called lenticels. Lenticels are structures on bark that allow for a plant to exchange gas between the air and its internal tissues. Buckthorn grow small, inconspicuous white flowers in the spring and produce dark purple berries that ripen in the late summer.

Photo by Krzysztof Ziarnek.

Like the other invasive plant species discussed this week, glossy buckthorn can survive in a variety of environments and especially in a variety of soil types and qualities. It leaves out earlier than in the spring than native plants, blocking the sun from reaching the forest floor and the plants that reside there. It can also prevent the establishment of native seedlings, which impacts biodiversity and harm insects and other species that rely on a diverse understory of plants to survive.

Check in tomorrow to learn about our last invasive plant of the week: Garlic mustard.

Want to help us combat invasive plants like glossy buckthorn? Join us for a volunteer day by signing up on our calendar here!