Wright’s Tower was constructed in 1937 under the direction of the Works Progress Administration. In 2008, following restoration of the tower by DCR, a plaque commemorating the visionary who was responsible for the creation of the Fells was attached to the tower. The inscription reads:
IN HONOR OF ELIZUR WRIGHT
“The years of whose unceasing labor was the natural foundation of the Metropolitan Park System, and whose aim was that the Middlesex Fells should be forever preserved as a People’s Forest Park.”
Daughter Ellen Wright in a letter to the Board of the Metropolitan Park Commission in 1896.
The first important publication in regard to the conversion of the Five Mile Wood into a public domain was an article of nine pages, written by Mr. Wilson Flagg and published January, 1856. This essay was entitled A Forest Preserve: A Proposition to State and City Governments:
“It is proposed that these public bodies should authorize the purchase of a thousand acres or more of wooded land as near as practicable to every large city, to be kept as a ‘preserve’ and to be used as a place for the study of natural history and for summer recreation.”
He then alludes to this wild region extending from Stoneham through Saugus and Lynn, as far as Salem, as a good site for the location of one or more of these “preserves”. This was a plan to be made to extend all over the United States.
“In 1869 Mr. Elizur Wright published a pamphlet entitled Mount Andrew Park in which he recommended to the citizens of Boston to convert this region, then known as ‘The Five-Mile Wood’ into a park…He advised the preservation of the forest upon the hills, and the establishment of school of natural history in connection with it. It is remarkable that Mr. Wright and Mr. Flagg, while working for almost the self-same project, were personally unacquainted and each knew nothing at all of what had been done by the other.”
Boston Evening Transcript, Sat. Nov. 13, 1880
Wright and Flagg founded the Middlesex Fells Association on October 15, 1880, at a meeting on Bear Hill in the Fells, attended by 200 people.
Generations of visitors have enjoyed experiencing the nature of the Fells since its creation in 1894, but the history of how such a diverse natural oasis was preserved, which led to the creation of the entire greater Boston Metropolitan Park System, is little known.
The Fells, shown in this view from Bear Hill taken in 1895 or 1896 by Nathaniel Stebbins, was known for its rugged landscape features. Too wild to have been farmed, clear cutting for timber raised alarm that if action wasn’t taken its beauty would be lost forever. The Fells region was known as ‘The Five Mile Wood’ in the mid-1800s.
A brief history of the creation of the Middlesex Fells Reservation is available as a PDF download.
In a terse Advisory Opinion issued December 30, 2013, the Director of the MEPA Office has endorsed the current claim by the developers of the Langwood Commons project that their redevelopment project inside the Middlesex Fells Reservation is no longer subject to MEPA jurisdiction for environmental impact review.
The developers filed their request to end environmental review after the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) terminated the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that the developers had been required to sign in 2009 by DCR and the Secretary of Environmental Affairs when the developers claimed then that their project was not subject to MEPA jurisdiction.
The MOU agreement obligated the developers to pay $1.8 million to DCR to modify Fells parkways because of safety and other impacts from the additional 4,500 traffic trips to be created by the project. At that time, DCR and the Secretary declared that the redevelopment project could not proceed without completing MEPA review unless the developers agreed to mitigate development traffic impacts.
The termination of the MOU by DCR and this new Advisory Opinion from the Secretary represent a complete reversal and abandonment of their long held regulatory positions, which cited requirements to address unacceptable public safety risks due to traffic increases from the proposed project.
The termination of the MOU and issuance of this Advisory Opinion are only the latest twists in the dealings among the developers, DCR and the Secretary that are being challenged as a violation of MEPA’s prohibition against project “segmentation” in a Superior Court lawsuit that the Friends of the Fells, ten citizens, and the City of Medford filed in 2009.
The case is scheduled to be heard by Superior Court later this year.