Friends of the Fells Annual Meeting Highlights
On May 15, Friends of the Fells Board Vice Chair Sandra Pascal (below left) opened the meeting and later bestowed the prestigious Elizur Wright award to Medford Mayor Stephanie Burke (right) for her staunch support of the Friends’ 2018 efforts to block a hockey rink development in the 90mm meadow area of the Middlesex Fells, including writing an impactful letter to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker [click here for PDF copy].
Next, former Executive Director Mike Ryan (below) spoke eloquently about the history and legacy of the Middlesex Fells Reservation, as did Heather Clish, Director of Conservation and Recreation Policy at the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). Clish runs AMC’s conservation policy and advocacy work and long-distance trail planning as well as their land policy. The intersection of the two groups’ histories and mission have blossomed into an upcoming dedicated day of AMC hikes in honor of the Fells. “On Sunday, June 2, 2019 from 1 to 4 pm the AMC will be offering four hikes celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Fells with co-leaders from the Friends who are experts on the history and nature of the Middlesex Fells Reservation.”
1.) Nature Walk with naturalist Bryan Hamlin. 2 miles, 2.) Family Nature Walk with naturalist Clay Hobart. 2 miles, 3.) History Hike, Cross-Fells trail to Wright’s Tower and back, with Fells historian Anita Brewer-Siljeholm. 4 miles, 4.) Young Members Hike & Litter Cleanup. 4 miles — See https://activities.outdoors.org/search/index.cfm/action/details/id/113064 for overview on all 4 hikes and to register.
(Below) Mike Ryan speaking on 1893 Metropolitan Parks Act
Next up was current Executive Director Ron Morin who linked the tradition of the founders Mike Ryan presented — explaining that when the Friends of the Fells stood up to oppose the construction of the hockey rink in 90 mm meadow, we too started with Educational Agitation. Here is how he detailed the organizational outreach:
- First, we wrote a position paper and distributed it to the media asking for help. It was published in five newspapers, our newsletter, and our Facebook blast got over 3,000 engagements.
- We received over 200 personal contacts and responded to all. Many people took different roles. Some wrote letters, mostly to their representatives. Others wrote to newspapers, and some wrote to DCR. Out of those 200 contacts, we formed an ad hoc committee of 15 very skilled people. I am deliberately not thanking specific people because there are simply too many of you. Just know we all worked hard and to good purpose. Our reward is our success.
- And we continued—in Wright’s words—“to agitate the subject”. Two stories appeared in the Boston Globe, WBZ radio did a sound bite, and two more stories came out in several local newspapers.
- Next, we published our briefing book, The Butterfly Effect. It was a 15-page concise graphic and bulleted description of our defense of the 90mm meadow. Showcased on Wicked Local. this document was distributed to neighbors and interested parties, and would serve as the centerpiece of our community organizing.
- Then, one young Fells-loving Winchester family contacted Change.org to create an electronic petition which eventually gathered 7,000 signatures opposing the hockey rink. Over 1,000 of those signatures came from the City of Medford, where the 90mm site located.
In Wright’s words again: “The purpose of this land was to devote it to the uses of the public as a place of education in nature and recreation”. People got that. The outcry was clear. As one 84-year-old resident of Winchester wrote to me: “I have never had a kid who played hockey except on the pond . . . and yes, we need a hockey rink, but I don’t think the area proposed is the place for this rink . . . We need the bees and butterflies to pollinate our crops, flowers, trees . . . don’t want to see that land dug up to put a hockey rink there.”
(Photo credit: Laura Costello from 90mm pollinators blog)
- The tipping point came when Mayor Burke, expressing her opposition to the rink, wrote on October 23, 2018 to Governor Charlie Baker.
- A strong letter from the Trustees of Reservations, the Appalachian Mountain Club, Audubon Society, and Environmental League of Massachusetts followed.
- Our “educational agitation” was working.
- Once again in Wright’s words: “All over the territory within 10 miles of the Fells, till we have established what is called a public ‘craze’, and it will turn out to be the sanest craze that ever took possession of this hub”.
- Wright passed away a year after that statement, but a 134 years later, the hockey rink proposal went down in defeat. His legacy lives on.
- But what lessons have we learned?
- What if the proponents had succeeded to push their effort all the way to the general courts, making our legislature invoke article 97?
- There are already 42 hockey rinks on DCR property! Clearly a precedent has been set. We know our legislative delegation almost unanimously opposed the hockey rink. Would that have been enough to stop this proposal?
What if the proponents had pushed their proposal to litigation?
- We reviewed the case law of 10 large litigations since Article 97 was amended to the Massachusetts Constitution in 1972. In every case the courts made very narrow decisions. In no case could we perceive a predictable outcome. It’s clear to me that the courts have no appetite to make law.
- The fact is Article 97 is a two-paragraph statement that—legally speaking—is very vague, subject to a wide variety of interpretations.
- Creative lawyers can get their way with Article 97.
In 1973 Robert Quinn, Attorney General of Massachusetts, saw the legal problems in Article 97 and addressed some of them in a letter to the then Speaker of the House, David M. Bartley. For instance, does Article 97 protect public land acquired before 1972? Or what do the words “natural resources” mean? Or the word “park”? Or the words “prior public use”? The list goes on, but you get the gist. Still, no action was taken by the legislature to codify Article 97.
In 1998, the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs issued a policy to deal with the vagaries of Article 97, but it doesn’t have the benefit of clearly stated statutes. Only the legislature can do that. Since 2004 the Public Lands Preservation Act (PLPA) has been put before the Legislature to solve many of the issues of Article 97, and every year since—15 years—it has not passed.
- In 1957, as Flynn Rink was being built, Olga Huckins, who privately owned a bird sanctuary in Duxbury, wrote a letter to Rachel Carson. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts had just sprayed her sanctuary with DDT.
- In 1962 Silent Spring was published. That year president Kennedy read Silent Spring and he created the Science Advisory Committee to study the misuse of pesticides.
- The second wave of conservationism was born.
- In 1963 Clean Air Act passed
- In 1964 Wilderness Preservation Act passed
- In 1966 Endangered Species Act passed as well as National Historic Preservation Act
- In 1967 Environmental Defense Fund was formed
- In 1968 Grand Canyon dams proposal was defeated
- In 1969 Greenpeace was formed
- In 1970 EPA was established
- In 1972 DDT was banned and Article 97 was amended to Massachusetts Constitution.
We have lost ground—literally—since, and the Fells—what we are here tonight celebrating—is more imperiled now than it was 60 years ago!
We might be the third wave of conservationists. The issues are large enough with climate change ferociously banging on our back door. Stocks of the iconic cod have collapsed. Mega-fires are destroying larger and larger areas of forests, and invasive species are on the march.
To Massachusetts, we need to pass bills like Public Lands Preservation Act, Senator Jehlen’s bill for an invasive species fund, or an Act Relative to Forest Protection, and we need to fund DCR adequately so they can do the job! As a Commonwealth, we need to stand up and show our love and respect for this planet—it’s all we have in common.
Now it is my pleasure to present Commissioner Leo Roy. He’s a man whose conservationist credentials run very deep. But even a Commissioner will tell you it’s not easy to run a Department that represents both Conservation and Recreation. Those two activities—while not as molecularly separate as water and oil—do not always mix harmoniously. The request to use DCR land to build a hockey rink put this Commissioner over a barrel. After all, 42 times before DCR had allowed the construction of hockey rinks on their land. It is my pleasure to introduce the man who broke with that tradition. Commissioner Leo Roy!
DCR Commissioner Roy then spoke eloquently about the Middlesex Fells Reservation, and then came the highlight of the evening — awarding Medford Girl Scout Brownie Troop #72103 a special prize for being the top #trashtag team on DCR Park Serve Day in the Fells — tickets to the Boston Harbor Islands. Event organizer and DCR Middlesex Fells Reservation Supervisor Gillian Lay organized the cleanup event and nominated the troop for the award. Part of the Girl Scout Law is to “use resources wisely” and to “make the world a better place,” which this undertaking represented. The Friends of the Fells also gave the troop a copy of the book The Curious Naturalist: A Handbook of Crafts, Games, Activities, and Ideas for Teaching Children about the Magical World of Nature.
If we truly are to be considered the next wave of conservationists, then we need to engage the minds of our youth in the outdoors. The Friends of the Fells and its membership can rightfully be proud of our legacy of Babes in the Woods, Hike ‘n’ Seek, and our summer Youth Programs in the Fells, all of which are raising the next generation of environmental stewards. We look to each and every one of you to find ways to act and to support these future environmental leaders as they grow in knowledge and appreciation of our shared earth.
All photos except featured image credited to David Mussina. Featured image by Debbie Steiner Hayes.
Additional image from 90mm pollinator meadow by Laura Costello – see also “When a Community Comes Together – 90mm Updates” blog