April Volunteer Spotlight

Winchester High School Fells Club

Formed three years ago, the Winchester High School Fells Club gets students outside and exploring the Fells. Members can learn more about Fells ecology, meet new friends, volunteer, and spend valuable time in their local environment. With over seventy members on their email list, the Club gives students a chance to be involved at whatever level they would like.

The five Fells Club officers, Emma, Claire, Gaby, Penelope, and Maggie, have been with the Club since the beginning. Currently, the Club focuses on promoting environmental awareness in the Fells and around the town of Winchester. They work to protect the environment through invasive species removals, trash pick-ups, and local bottle collections.

The Club has consistently volunteered with Friends of the Fells (FOF) to complete a variety of projects. Club members removed the invasive garlic mustard in May 2022 and attended our open volunteer days to assist with additional invasive removal projects. At the Open House, students ran activity tables with arts and crafts, natural objects found in the Fells, and helped sell merchandise and inform guests about the variety of ways they can support the Fells. The Club continues to be involved with volunteer efforts and is planning to participate in invasive species removals and other Fells work days throughout the spring of this year.

Meet the officers!

Emma, the club’s president, hikes every weekend with her dad and enjoys the Rock Circuit Trail. Claire, the club’s social media chair and manager, has loved being in nature since she was in middle school when her parents took her on hikes to Wright’s Tower. Gaby, the initial founder of the Club and Fells Forest Camp counselor, is now learning about plant identification. Maggie, also a Fells Forest Camp counselor, has enjoyed being outdoors since she was a kid and now enjoys spending time out in the Fells with other members of the Club.

Thank you to the Winchester High School Fells Club for all that you do for your community and the Middlesex Fells! Check them out on Instagram to learn more.

If you are interested in volunteering with Friends of the Fells, visit our website and learn more.

The Friends of the Fells is very excited to announce the establishment of a new Fells Forest Camp Scholarship Fund that will provide financial assistance to qualified families starting this summer! We believe every child deserves the opportunity to experience the joys of learning and playing in nature, and look forward to expanding our community of camp families and spreading our love for the Fells.

Fells Forest Camp provides children an opportunity to learn, grow, and be successful in ways that a typical school year doesn’t leave room for. With the forest as a backdrop, children learn to care for and connect to the natural world. They are encouraged to discover hidden talents, assess risk, and develop lifelong social skills and friendships. A week at Fells Forest Camp keeps kids physically active and provides an opportunity to unplug from the frenetic, often distracting world of technology, and in its absence, awaken a sense of peace and calm that can only be felt in nature.

The Fund is supported through donations, and awards are determined based on household size and income level. Funds are limited and are awarded on a first come, first served basis.

Please share the program with any friends or families who may be interested! Details on the scholarship program are provided here.

Questions? Reach out at forestcamp@fells.org.

You’re the best!

This was an impressive year for volunteering in the Fells! Over 175 volunteers participated in our Trail Adopter program, led hikes, removed invasive species, picked up trash, collected data, and helped with community outreach. Our volunteers donated 737 hours of their time to support and engage with the Fells. We cannot thank our volunteers enough for all their hard work and dedication to keeping our Fells beautiful and safe for years to come!

Read more about the amazing work our volunteers have done below:

Boot Boutwell leads one of his famous hikes around Long Pond.

Our 34 Trail Adopters were busy out on the trails this year. They covered more than 72 miles of trails and contributed 134 hours to clearing trails, removing and reporting downed tree limbs, picking up trash, clearing culverts, and other special projects.

Our hike leaders lept into action this year to lead free public hikes for the community. There were a total of 183 social and educational hikes, 40 Babes in the Woods hikes, and seven Hike ‘n’ Seeks. Altogether, hike leaders donated 365 hours to lead hikes and build community in the Fells. A total of 1,111 people attended the community hikes this year.

The Cambridge Running Club helped us remove three bags of trash from around Spot Pond and Flynn Rink.

Friends of the Fells offered 11 open volunteer days in 2022 and our dedicated volunteers showed up ready to make a difference. 113 volunteers donated 245 hours of their time to participate in trash clean-ups, invasive species removals, and community outreach events.

We held three trash clean-ups at Sheepfold Dog Park and Flynn Rink. 50 volunteers came out to the Fells to pick up trash and help keep the forest clean and healthy.

Medford Boy Scout Troop 416 helped us remove two massive piles of multiflora rose and bittersweet.

Volunteers also tackled Asiatic bittersweet, multiflora rose, Japanese knotweed, black swallowwort, and garlic mustard at Crystal Springs, Virginia Wood, Medford High School, and the Botume House. The hard work that the 53 volunteers put into removing these invasive plants has a visible and tangible impact on the Fells ecosystem.

We attended the Stoneham Fair, Melrose Victorian Fair, Medford Farmers Market, Tufts University Community Day, and Malden Summer Festival in 2022 and had seven wonderful volunteers table with us to offer a friendly face and provide information about the Fells and FOF to community members.

This year was an exceptional year for volunteering, and we look forward to more fun volunteer events and hikes in the Fells in 2023!

written by Mike Ryan with research by Doug Heath

Elizur Wright

How it helped create the Middlesex Fells Reservation and the world’s first metropolitan park system.

The story takes place on both sides of Spot Pond. In 1864, well-known Boston abolitionist Elizur Wright and his family purchased a spacious home in what was then the outskirts of Medford, at the base of Pine Hill on whose summit Wright’s Tower now rises. Today, their home would be under Rte. 93. Alarmed by loggers clear-cutting the extraordinary wildness of the landscape around him, Wright soon launched a public campaign for the entire 4000-acre landscape to become a public forest park. He continued this campaign until his death in 1885.

In 1861, three years before the Wright family moved to Medford, William Foster, Jr. of Boston had purchased a stone mansion on the shore of Spot Pond located next to the carriage house we now call the Tudor Barn for his daughter, Fanny Foster Tudor, her daughter Virginia, and husband Henry James Tudor.

This photo taken in 1899 from across Spot Pond shows the mansion where young Virginia Tudor spent time as a teenager between 1862 and 1867. The Tudor Barn is visible to the left with a ramp leading from the mansion to the Barn’s second floor, where a door remains today. Note the lower orchard which was submerged when Spot Pond was raised by nine feet in 1900. The house was demolished sometime between 1912 and 1915, well after the shoreline had been taken by the Metropolitan Water Board as the watershed for Spot Pond, which in 1900 became a drinking water reservoir for the metropolitan area.

The Tudor mansion pictured here was bought in 1861 along with the Tudor Barn by William Foster for his daughter, Fanny Foster Tudor, and her family. His granddaughter Virginia Tudor spent time here until 1867.

The house was built around 1848 from stone quarried just north of Bellevue Pond in the Fells. Today, only the opening in the stone wall for the driveway is visible; the mansion is gone and the slight rise is forested. Virginia, called “Ginny” in family letters, had a garden here and may have sought companions in two nearby mansions or walked along the ravine of Spot Pond Brook.

The Middlesex Fells Campaign

Throughout the 1870’s and early 1880’s, Wright continued to agitate for preserving the Fells as a public reservation. In an 1869 pamphlet, he recommended the citizens of Boston convert the Fells region into a park, “as an attractive retreat into the domain of wild nature herself … and the study of natural history.” He proposed the radical idea of creating railway routes to connect cities to the Fells: “Steam has accomplished, or stands ready to accomplish, this miracle for future ages, that a City Park which is wholly outside of the city, free from its noise and from the dust and smoke of its traffic.”

He was joined in this endeavor by naturalist Wilson Flagg whose 1856 article called for setting aside “a thousand acres or more of wooded land, as near as practicable to every large city, to be kept as a preserve accessible to visitors,” an idea seconded by Henry David Thoreau in an 1859 Journal entry. The Fells today is more than 2,500 land acres.

But Boston’s politicians narrowly voted against spending money on parks outside its city borders. Undeterred, Elizur Wright continued through writings and speeches to gather popular and political support for setting aside the rugged natural beauty he saw in Fells. The movement to save the Fells grew thanks to widespread publicity and organizing throughout Greater Boston greatly assisted by journalist and city planner Sylvester Baxter who wrote extensively for the Fells campaign. In 1880, Wright, naturalist Flagg, Baxter, and others formed the Middlesex Fells Association.

That same year, Flagg wrote three influential articles for saving the Fells as a ‘forest conservancy’ in the Boston Evening Transcript and was instrumental in arranging for F. L. Olmsted’s visit to the Fells with Elizur Wright, which led to Olmsted’s important endorsement of the campaign to preserve the Fells as a forest reservation.

In 1882 the ‘Forest Act’ was passed by the state legislature. As Wright wrote in the Boston Transcript, “The Middlesex Fells agitation has resulted in a…piece of State legislation giving towns and cities the right to take land to be devoted to forestry, on the same terms as for roads or streets.” He later wrote, “Since the passage of the Forest Law, the destiny of the “Middlesex Fells…has become a subject of great interest to the entire commonwealth.”

Nevertheless, at the time of Wright’s death in 1885, the Fells movement had not yet accomplished its mission. But Wright’s campaign for a regional network of larger tracts of public forest land was accelerating.

The next chapter in Wright’s park system vision was about to be written. And while the Tudor family had left their Spot Pond home in 1867, William Foster Jr.’s estate continued to own land near the Pond’s eastern shore in trust for his family.

Trustees of Public Reservations

Fast forward to 1886, a year after Elizur Wright died. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s protégé, Charles Eliot, had opened his own firm in Boston. By 1890, by working with Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) leaders, he began to organize support for a plan to create a new kind of institution, a “land trust.” Called the Trustees of Public Reservations, chartered by the Commonwealth, this would acquire beautiful or historical places in any part of the State through gift or purchase. The lands would be held in trust to protect important Massachusetts locations before the forces of development removed them from public access forever.

Soon, activists who had pushed the idea of the Fells as a public reservation joined the organizing committee, encouraged by Frederick Law Olmsted and aided by Medford resident and AMC officer Rosewell Lawrence and Malden resident, journalist and city planner Sylvester Baxter. Strong public support for the goals of the new “Trustees” was said to be due to “public sentiment already in existence” largely formed around the powerful Middlesex Fells campaign, as Eliot’s father later wrote of his son’s career. Following a series of public meetings and State House hearings in May 1891, the charter of the Trustees of Public Reservations was signed into law by the governor, giving the Trustees board the right to accept gifts of property to be managed for use and enjoyment of the public.

By this time, Fanny Foster Tudor was living in Paris across the Atlantic, and may have been aware of the efforts to create the Trustees of Public Reservations and the long-running campaign to set aside the landscape of her former home where her father had invested so much. In 1886 Fanny lost her third and final child, Virginia Tudor, at age 36. With the formation of the Trustees the idea to memorialize Virginia through a gift of land near Spot Pond, where she had lived as a teenager, was born.

Her attorneys in Boston arranged to offer 20 acres along Spot Pond Brook to the brand-new Trustees of Public Reservations. The deed conveyed Virginia Wood to the Trustees “as a natural park for the public benefit,” stipulating that they “maintain the aforesaid designation of said land, ‘Virginia Wood,’ in memory of Virginia Tudor, daughter of Henry J. and Fanny H. Tudor…”

Charles Eliot wrote of the memorial purpose of this generous gift, the first land donated to the Trustees, “Is not a religiously guarded, living landscape a finer monument than any ordinary work in marble or stained glass?”

Virginia Wood was given into the keeping of the Trustees of Public Reservations by Fanny Foster Tudor in memory of her daughter Virginia Tudor, 1894

In 1905, this bronze tablet was embedded high in a stone outcrop in Virginia Wood where it can be found today. Surrounded almost immediately by the newly formed Fells Reservation, Virginia Wood was managed as part of the Fells but not transferred to the state until 1923.

But before the newly hatched Trustees could accept Fanny’s gift they needed to raise enough money to maintain the forest. In December 1891, a total of 158 individuals had contributed $2,000; many were associated with the long campaign to preserve the Fells. But noting the slow pace securing donations for managing private gifts of land into the public domain, the report from the initial meeting of the Trustees Committee stated that urgency required a broader approach in Massachusetts; “the final destruction of the finest remaining bits of scenery goes on more and more rapidly.”

Metropolitan Park Commission Idea

Advocates for the Fells Reservation again came to the fore as Charles Eliot tackled how to manage the first property in the world donated to a land trust. At a September 1891 Trustees committee meeting, a member “broached the subject of the Middlesex Fells and this brought out some suggestions looking toward a metropolitan or State Board possessed of power to condemn lands for public reserves.” Even earlier, at a May, 1890 MIT organizing meeting to create the Trustees, Eliot presciently suggested that a broader state commission would be required: “Someday, perhaps, the State may create a commission and assume the charge of a large number of scattered spots, to be held for the enjoyment of the people. But this day is not yet.”

But that quickly changed.

In November 1891, only six months after the Trustees of Public Reservations was created by Chapter 352 of the Acts of 1891, the Trustees voted to begin galvanizing support “to secure to the public the Middlesex Fells and to consider whether or not it is advisable that a metropolitan park commission be established.” In quick succession the Trustees forged a coalition of regional park commissioners and city officers and launched a petition drive in support of creating a metropolitan park commission. Following a State House public hearing, Eliot drafted legislation for the Metropolitan Park Act which was signed by the governor on June 2, 1892.

The legislation authorized a temporary commission to report on the needs and requirements of a unified park system. Charles Eliot was appointed as Landscape Architect to the Commission, and he selected Sylvester Baxter, the Malden journalist and visionary planner, to serve as Secretary. During the fall of 1892 the new park commissioners engaged in a series of inspection visits to points of scenic interest within 11 miles of Boston. The places they visited were unfamiliar to most of the members, and Baxter wrote that the outings “were like voyages of discovery about home.”

In their 1893 report to the Legislature using detailed maps and surveys, the park commissioners recommended that the state create a system of parks spread over thirty-six municipalities. The report became a best seller with 9,000 copies printed! In June 1893 the Park Act became permanent, new commissioners were appointed, and the way was cleared to realize the vision behind the Fells movement.

On Sunday, March 4, 1894, Boston Herald Readers were greeted with a full-page feature article announcing the creation of the Middlesex Fells Reservation and the Park System. The Herald article informed readers that the creation of the Fells and other great reservations (Blue Hills, Stony Brook, and Beaver Brook) could be directly traced to the educational forces of agitation over many years by leaders of the Middlesex Fells movement. “Of all the tracts whose reservation for recreative purposes has been urged in the course of the past 10 or 15 years, there has been no other whose name has been made so familiar throughout the country.”

Photo by Mike Ryan

One of the first Metropolitan Park Commissioners, William B. De las Casas, wrote an article in 1898 entitled “The Middlesex Fells,” in which he stated that “the efforts made to preserve this region as a public park have given us the entire metropolitan park system.”

It is notable to consider the numerous ways that Fanny Foster Tudor’s Virginia Wood gift to the Trustees as a living memorial in honor of her daughter helped coalesce and advance the drive to create the Middlesex Fells Reservation and the world’s first Metropolitan Park System.

Today’s visitors to the scenic beauty of the Fells Virginia Wood continue to be beneficiaries of the Tudor family’s extraordinary generosity.

Photo by Ran Cui.

An Act preserving open space in the Commonwealth (H.5381) will become effective February 17, 2023 for lands subject to Article 97. Also known as the Public Lands Preservation Act (PLPA), the legislation was proposed over 20 years ago when the proponents of the PLPA first sought to codify a 1998 “No Net Loss” by the secretary of energy and environment as a more permanent and enforceable statutory law. But, sometimes the value and replacement requirements weren’t followed and completed. In some cases, it has been impossible to determine if replacement land of any sort was obtained. 

The PLPA will close those gaps in the process and the public can engage with the official process when their public land is disposed of or changed. 

As a concession, necessary to passing this legislation, if no comparable replacement land can be identified, a proposal can still be realized if settlement monies are provided (cash in lieu of replacement land). But those funds must be expended for land at least 110% greater in market value and equal to or greater in resource value compared with land taken. The replacement land must also be found and acquired at a nearby location and the replacement land shall be dedicated to conservation in perpetuity under Article 97. 

What is Article 97?

Approved by voters in 1972, Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution enshrines our rights to a clean and healthy environment. It also authorizes the Commonwealth to acquire land for the purpose of placing it under conservation easements and protecting those open spaces. Learn more here.

Photo by Mac Doucette.

With the PLPA enactment, public entities looking to repurpose Article 97 land must notify the secretary of energy and environmental affairs and the public. They must then conduct and publicize an analysis that defines whether it is feasible to dedicate replacement land or if they need to provide funding in lieu of the replacement land, a so-called “cash in lieu” settlement. and such settlements will require approval by the secretary of energy and environmental affairs to ensure the proposed action will not harm the health of Massachusetts residents and that the change serves the common good. 

As others have already said, this is a “first of its kind” law in all of the United States,” said Steve Engel, chair of Friends of the Fells Advocacy Committee and Friends of the Fells board member. “The idea of a PLPA was brought to Friends of the Fells by its originator, Phil Saunders, whose insight and passionate, seemingly relentless advocacy to preserve public open land inspired many, many others. We saw that a PLPA would be a natural fit with our desires to protect and enjoy the natural beauty of the Fells. It took real stick-to-it-ive-ness by many supporters across the Commonwealth to accomplish this.”

Persistent work from environmental and land conservation organizations in partnership with municipal and state public officials has led to this victory for the Commonwealth and its public spaces. It will serve us all well to be vigilant about how our official business is accomplished with regard to Article 97 land to preserve our legacy for future generations.

Photo by Jess Garton

In a bid to better protect ecologically sensitive habitats and rare and endangered species, the Friends of the Fells has asked the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to designate portions of the Middlesex Fells as patch reserves. 

“The Fells is home to a remarkable diversity of life, including many unique and uncommon plant communities, dozens of vernal pools, and rare species that depend on these patches of habitat,” said Chris Redfern, Friends of the Fells Executive Director. “Establishing patch reserves to protect these sensitive resources is our best chance to ensure their survival.”

Patch Reserves are defined landscape areas that require special management practices for biodiversity conservation. Patch reserves reduce the potential for habitat fragmentation and degradation and increase ecological resilience by improving connectivity among habitats (for example, protecting the upland habitats of vernal pools for invertebrates and amphibians). These reserves could also reduce recreational impacts through management actions such as installation of educational signage, adding boardwalks, and rerouting and/or removing trails as needed.

An opportunity to request the establishment of patch reserves in the Fells came about when DCR requested public comment on a 10-year review of their Landscape Designation Management Guidelines. Friends of the Fells submitted extensive comments, founded on more than a decade of field research by Fells advocates. Our advocates’ comprehensive understanding and documentation of the presence and location of sensitive habitats and rare and endangered species make the Middlesex Fells a particularly suitable and attractive park unit at which to pilot a new patch reserve designation.

To learn more, read our full comments here.