The Fells by T – Cross-Fells Trail from Davis Square

After several years of hiking the Fells with my son, there was only one major blazed trail that we had never followed end-to-end. I decided not to let another year end without hiking the Cross-Fells trail at least once in it’s entirety. But there was one little issue. We often walk to the Fells from our home or drive to an entrance. In either case we always hike a round-trip loop. But the Cross-Fells trail is a linear walk across much of Medford and some of Melrose and Malden to boot! How could we make it a round-trip?

Meanwhile, I had been thinking recently that it would be great to publish a series of guides to “the Fells by T” – complete guided hikes to and from locations easily reached by public transit. Eventually this line of thought intersected my Cross-Fells problem and my plan for yesterday’s hike was born. With my son (now 12) in tow, I set out from Oak Grove station to West Medford by T, with the intent to walk to and through the Cross-Fells Trail back to my point of origin, capturing directions and travel times for future reference. It was a lovely day for a hike (perhaps a little damp and chilly but not bad for late Autumn) and the plan went off without a hitch.

After riding the T to Davis Square and catching the #94 bus to West Medford, we strapped on our packs and set off for the Fells. The walk up to Gate #1 was uneventful and we were on our way. We enjoyed imagining the long-gone observatory tower at the top of Rams Head Hill, as my son stood atop the concrete steps that remain at that site (image below). We paused to view the Boston skyline (what we could see on this grey day) from the top of Wenepoykin Hill. We admired the reflections on Quarter Mile Pond (image above) before crossing Woodland Rd. And, though we cut it close, we got home before dark (an ever-increasing challenge at this time of year)

Based on that experience I assembled this guide:
I hope this guide will allow our friends (and the Fells’ Friends) in Somerville or elsewhere in the city to begin discovering the Fells and to create their own memories of the Cross-Fells Trail.

In the spring of 2014, the Friends of the Fells launched an updated Fell Trail Adopter Program.  Two dozen interested volunteers attended an information session and ultimately 17 individuals and groups applied to adopt a Middlesex Fells trail in 2014.

Throughout the year, over 15 miles of trails and paths through the Fells were actively maintained by trail adopters.  I could see the impact of their work when scouting trails to plan community service events like National Public Lands Day.  Areas that have often required cleanup efforts were found in a pristine state.  Several trails have been easier to navigate thanks to volunteer efforts to clear brush from the trails and signs.  While hiking or running during hurricane season, I would often encounter downed trees or branches one week, only to find the trail clear and passable the following week.

The efforts of individual Trail Adopters complemented the ongoing efforts of DCR to maintain the Reservation.  Park Ranger Mike Nelson noted that “It’s great to have extra eyes and a fresh perspective out there to let us know what problems exist so we can address them.”  DCR staff have cut away fallen trees reported by trail adopters, and also re-blazed a confusing section of the Cross-Fells Trail based on input from the adopters.

Several local groups have joined the effort.  Melrose Boy Scout Troop 615 (pictured), a Girl Scout troop from Winchester, employees and volunteers from Zoo New England, students from Medford High School working with Eagle Eye Institute, and the Young Members of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Boston chapter all participated in the Trail Adopter program this year.

Thank you to all of our Trail Adopters who have worked to make this program a great success!

Looking forward, DCR has approved the program to continue in 2015 and I have already received reports from Trail Adopters working in the Fells this January.  With 79 miles of trails and paths running through the Fells, there is room for many more to join the program this year.  The Friends of the Fells Trail Adopter Handbook will tell you all you need to know about adopting a trail.  To get involved, see the Fells Trail Adopter Program page.

51 volunteers joined us on Saturday, September 27 to support the Fells on National Public Lands Day.  These volunteers scoured 5 miles of trails along the shores of Spot Pond and Quarter-Mile Pond in Medford and Stoneham, documenting all of the trash they picked up for COASTSWEEP, an annual statewide cleanup and citizen science project along Massachusetts coastlines and waterways.  COASTSWEEP is part of the International Coastal Cleanup organized by Ocean Conservancy in Washington, DC. Volunteers from all over the world collect marine debris—trash, fishing line, and any other human-made items—and record what they find. This information is then analyzed and used to identify sources of marine debris and develop education and policy initiatives to help reduce it.

Among the rubbish collected that day, our volunteers recorded and bagged:

  • 426 Cigarette Butts
  • 147 Beverage Cans
  • 138 Glass Bottles (and 122 bottle caps)
  • 86 Plastic Bottles
  • 110 Plastic Bags
  • 108 Cups and Plates including 25 Dunkin Donuts cups
  • 239 yards of fishing line, along with 30 lures or bobbers and ~15 bait containers
  • 10 bags of dog poop

Volunteers included two shifts (morning and afternoon) from Malden Scout Pack #609, one Webelows den from Winchester, and several local families.  A special thanks goes out to four Friends of the Fells Event Captains who came out to provide supplies, support and leadership for these groups on Saturday: Linda Schwetz, Pete Costello, Ginna Day and Sherry Lyons.  The support of these dedicated volunteer leaders allowed us to really multiply the effects of the volunteers who showed up on Saturday, to cover a much wider area than would otherwise have been possible, and to ensure a positive experience for everyone who came out to help.  Thank you, Linda, Pete, Ginna and Sherry!

In addition to all the great work that was done, a great time really was had by all (look at all those smiling faces!).  It was a beautiful fall day in the Fells, and all of the participants enjoyed the opportunity to spend the time outdoors, doing good, with like-minded people.  We also enjoyed some surprising finds, including a ceramic idol and the concrete dragon pictured below.

If you, your family, or a group with which you are affiliated are interested in volunteering in the Fells please contact us at or by completing the Volunteer Interest Form at

NPLD2 NPLD1 PeteNPLD4-edit NPLDdragon

On September 25th, Friends of the Fells hosted it’s 2014 Volunteer Appreciation Reception at the Beebe Estate.  About 20 guests joined us that night including Friends’ staff and board members, Trail Adopters, Babes in the Woods leaders, and others who support us in the office, in the field, or in our various publicity efforts.  The Friends of the Fells could not function without significant volunteer participation in all aspects of our work and programs.  While we appreciate our volunteers every day, it was great to have one night set aside to focus on them.

The event was scheduled during Fells Art Month at the Beebe, so that guests could browse the various works of art celebrating “Nature, our Most Precious Resource.”  A selection of cheeses and delicious pies were served and a slideshow of our “volunteers in action” was displayed continuously through the evening.  Volunteers spent the evening relaxing, sharing stories and catching up on the latest goings-on in and around the Fells.  It was a grand way to spend a crisp Autumn evening, with fine food, fine art and fine people.

Friends of the Fells extends a hearty thank you to ALL of our volunteers, for all that you do.  We owe you more gratitude than one evening can demonstrate, but we very much enjoyed this opportunity to step out of our busy lives and reflect on the great experiences we’ve shared.  We’ll have to do it again, soon.

volunteerreception2014-4 volunteerreception2014-3 volunteerreception2014-2

This past weekend, for the third consecutive year, I had the pleasure of working with two groups of Tufts students through the Tufts FOCUS pre-orientation community service program.  In a true win-win scenario, the Fells benefits from the work of these dedicated volunteer crews, while the students benefit by learning of a wonderful resource for outdoor recreation and contemplation located surprisingly near to their urban campus.

On Saturday, 11 students worked to clear the overgrown trail at Doleful Pond.  While working, we watched a jogger enter the woods, only to turn back from the impassable section of trail, making the impact of this work immediately obvious.  In addition to cutting back the branches and vines that had blocked the trail, the group carried out a large bag of trash and another large bag of recyclables which were taken by the students to be put into the recycling stream.  Two hearty group members even managed to pull out a heavy old carpet that had been discarded by the side of the trail.  The group continued to clear and clean their way along the Crystal Spring Trail to Greenwood Park, and along Spot Pond to the Botume House.  Finishing the day at Botume House created the opportunity for interested volunteers to enjoy the wonderful new interpretive displays on the geography, biology and cultural history of the properties that now comprise the Middlesex Fells Reservation.

Tufts University students collecting discarded cans from the trailside to be recycled

Tufts University students collecting discarded cans from the trailside to be recycled

On Sunday the second group of 10 students joined me in clearing invasive Winged Euonymous (Burning Bush) from the Crystal Spring area and in Virginia Wood.  Returning to this site for the third year with Tufts FOCUS, I was able to witness a real change in the landscape.  Areas away from the water where the cut stumps had been chemically treated in past years saw almost no return of the invasive, while even the areas near the water saw native plants beginning to fill in where the invasive bushes had been cut back in prior years.  The group finished work early and was in the right place at the right time to cap their day with a Ranger-led program discussing the industrial history of Virginia Wood.  Two students were thrilled to discover the connection to Frederick Tudor (Boston’s “Ice King”), whose gravesite they had visited earlier this week at King’s Chapel Cemetery in Boston.

Tufts University students clearing invasive Burning Bush from Virginia Wood

Tufts University students clearing invasive Burning Bush from Virginia Wood

Looking ahead, National Public Lands Day is Saturday, September 27 and the Friends of the Fells will again be hosting several volunteer opportunities throughout the Reservation on that date, including several cleanups around Spot Pond in conjunction with Massachusetts COASTSWEEP.  To learn more or to pre-register yourself or your group for that event, please email

This Spring, the Friends of the Fells revamped Trail Adopter Program was approved by DCR.  As of this writing, 15 volunteers have already adopted trail segments of 1-2 miles each throughout the reservation.  Adopters commit to visit their adopted trails at least three times per year, to ensure that the treadway and any drainage structures are clear, that signage and blazes are clearly visible, and to remove trash that may accumulate along the trail.  More motivated and experienced trail adopters may approach DCR with specific projects to improve their trails, close illegal trails or remove invasive plants.

Anyone interested in adopting a Fells trail or path should review the Fells Trail Adopter Handbook for a more detailed description of the program and is requirements.  The Appendix to the handbook contains the application form and liability waiver form which are all you need to get started.  The forms may be submitted via email or in hardcopy form via the US Mail until we get the online versions up and running.  Thanks to DCR for your support of this program and a hearty thanks to all of our new adopters.  See you on the trails!