“How the movement to create the Middlesex Fells led to the creation of the Metropolitan Park System”

Elizur Wright – Visionary for the Fells (1804-1885)

Wright’s Tower

At the Friends of the Fells annual meeting on May 15, 2019, the slide presentation by Mike Ryan showed how in the late 1800’s a local group of visionaries was able to address a public health crisis and stop deforestation through organization, advocacy, and education, thereby assuring citizens the right to enjoy the healthy benefits of access to forests, rivers, and seashores.

Spot Pond Brook Falls

Over a 25-year period, working through the Appalachian Mountain Club, the movement for the Middlesex Fells Reservation led to the creation of the Greater Boston Metropolitan Park system.

Family at Overlook – Rock Circuit Trail

The success of this movement left us with a rich legacy of lessons which are as relevant today as they were then.

[Fells photos by Mike Ryan]

The following post is republished from our email sent to members and supporters on Sunday, December 28, 2014.

Dear Friends,

It has been my great honor and pleasure to serve for the past eleven years as director of the Friends of the Middlesex Fells Reservation. During this time I have been grateful that the dedication of our board of directors and program volunteers — plus the support of countless members, supporters and organizations — has enabled the Friends to embrace its mission to protect and enhance the features of the incomparable Fells Reservation.

Mike Ryan Photo

Photo by Jackie Bishop

I am thankful that this support has enabled innovative new programs and collaborative projects, during a time of great challenges to the nature and character of the Fells. Expanding programs for education and healthy interaction with nature, for young and old, will continue to deepen commitment for protection of the wildness of the habitats of plants and animals found in the Fells.

In the coming days, the Board will be formally announcing the hire of my successor as Executive Director, Neil Anderson. Upon my retirement I extend my congratulations and support to Neil, wishing him all the best leading the Friends of the Fells as it embarks on an exciting new phase of stewardship service.

With best wishes,
Mike Ryan
Executive Director


You can thank Mike Ryan for his years of service and help Neil get off to a great start in 2015 by making an end-of-year contribution to the Friends.  Until the clock strikes midnight on December 31, all contributions will be matched 2:1 by a generous donor, so every dollar you can contribute becomes three!  Please help ensure that Mike’s vision for the future of the Fells and the Friends becomes a reality by donating to support our programming and stewardship of the Fells. Thank you.

Artists are busy painting new panels soon to be added to the Mystic River Mural Project, a stunning display of the Mystic River watershed’s beauty seen alongside I-93 in Somerville!  Earlier this summer Friends board chairman Bryan Hamlin met in the Fells with the project’s high school student artists and mural project coordinator David Fichter to share information about the reservation’s many native plants.  This field experience, plus viewing slides from Bryan’s Found in the Fells website, has provided the artists with information and inspiration for painting the majority of plant species that will be painted on the mural sections.   Anna Miller, Environmental Educator for the Mystic Mural Project, stated that “Through the Fells, the students have learned how different plants interact with each other and obtained a glimpse into the beauty of nature. With the help of these talented students, the beauty of the watershed will be brought to the community for all to enjoy on their daily commute.”   The photos here, provided by David Fichter, show the artists at work painting the panels soon to be added to the Mystic River Mural.

Mystic River Mural graces the side of I-93

Mystic River Mural graces the side of I-93

Painters feature Fells native plants

Painters feature Fells native plants

Attention to detail!

Attention to detail!


The 2009 lawsuit filed by Friends of the Fells, ten individual citizens, and the Mayor of the City of Medford to restore MEPA environmental review of impacts from the huge Langwood Commons housing and office development project is scheduled for resolution at a hearing to be held in Superior Court on July 29th.  The court’s decision is expected in coming months.

At issue is the attempt by the developers – with the concurrence of the Department of Conservation and Recreation – to proceed with the development project without completing environmental impact review and defer analysis of the traffic problems associated with 4,500 new daily traffic trips. Allowing the developers to build their project at its current scale without a full review of the traffic alterations effectively guarantees that there will be no way to prevent traffic alterations that will destroy the scenic and character-defining features of the adjacent historic parkways.

It would be too late to change the scale of the development if the MEPA environmental impact review and the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s review are deferred until after thousands of additional traffic trips have overwhelmed the amenities sought by visitors to the eastern Fells for over a century.

The Friends lawsuit’s goal is that the developers adhere to prior MEPA rulings that a reduced-scale Langwood Commons development project must be identified and presented for public review in order to protect the Fells parkways from excessive traffic impacts and alterations that would adversely affect their scenic and historic characteristics.



Sunday’s low humidity and clear skies was perfect for the third running of the 2014 VERT Sasquatch 2.3 mile Fells trail race!  Starting from the field across from the Stone Zoo three waves of a total of 931 runners headed out for the sprint to the finish line!

While the fastest runner completed the course in just 12:37 minutes(!) everyone was happy to have experienced the results of their training and determination to complete the race!  Here is a map of the course and see photos from previous Fells races.

The after race dj party was a blast with free food & beer sponsored by Notch Brewing, Slumbrew, Night Shift Brewing & Downeast Cider.

The race benefits Friends of the Fells and the Stoneham Senior Center.  Thanks to VERT organizer Eddie O’Connor and so many other race volunteers including Friends of the Fells members, DCR Rangers, Stone Zoo, State Police,  City of Stoneham and many others for helping make this event a highlight of the summer!

For more information on additional VERT races click here: http://www.vertraceseries.com

Woodland Road route before entering the Fells

VERT after race DJ Party!



In November of 1880, the month after its formation, the Middlesex Fells Association wrote to prominent American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted asking his advice on the plan for creating a four thousand acre rural park in the wild rocky hills north of Boston.

Olmsted’s letter in response referred to a earlier visit he had made to the Fells landscape, and conveyed what he declared was “the most important lesson of my professional study” which spanned thirty years; “the wisdom of…developing in the highest degree whatever may be the distinguishing characteristics of each particular property.”

He advised that since the impulse for the Fells preservation “comes from an appreciation of the beauty & use of absolutely wild sylvan scenery it is most desirable to avoid complicating the purpose of preserving & developing such scenery…”

Referring to the topography of the Middlesex Fells, Olmsted wrote it was advisable to “take it as it stands, develop to the utmost its natural characteristics, and make a true retreat not only from town but from suburban conditions” and that “every inducement should be offered visitors to ramble and wander about.”

As it turned out F. L. Olmsted himself did not work on the Fells Reservation plan. He retired in 1885 the same year that Elizur Wright died. But in 1890 Olmsted’s protege, Charles Eliot, had begun to put together what became a successful movement to create the nation’s first metropolitan park system.

When the Metropolitan Park Commission was established in 1893, Eliot, working with Olmsted’s two stepsons, was appointed to lay out boundaries for five reservations, including the Fells. The first parkway Eliot designed was a route to connect the Fells to Boston.

Following Charles Eliot’s death in 1897 the Olmsted Brothers firm continued extensive landscape work in the Fells Reservation.

Thanks to the efforts of the Massachusetts Historical Commission today Fells Historic Parkways and the Fells Spot Pond Historic District have been listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, to provide protection to the legacy which has been bequeathed to us.

And we would like to think that F. L. Olmsted would solidly endorse the growing citizens’ movement to protect the Fells from being swamped by development, to actively make sure the Reservation and its parkways remain a natural place of refuge, “a true retreat from city life.”