Sign the Mass Conservation Voters Petition and Advocate for the Fells

Making sure that DCR has adequate resources to carry out its conservation mission for the Fells is at the top of our list when it comes to our advocacy efforts. As we’ve alerted you to before, this Special Commission is investigating many aspects of DCR’s operations, and it’s important that this Commission hear from you.

Some of you spoke up at the Special Commission’s virtual meeting last week–thank you!  You can read a summary of this past meeting prepared by Mass Conservation Voters here.

Signing on to Massachusetts Conservation Voters’ petition is an easy way to speak for the Fells — the Friends of the Fells is in general agreement with MCV’s position. You can also send in your own comment by emailing ma-dcr-commission@donahue.umass.edu.

Please note that all comments must be submitted by Tuesday, June 8th, when the public comments period will close!

 

In the meantime, the Friends of the Fells Advocacy Committee is developing a detailed response that addresses specific issues of concern for the Fells — we’ll share that with you when it is complete.

 

Dear Friends,

The Friends of the Fells (FOF) is excited to announce a significant expansion of our conservation work with the establishment of the Sustainable Fells Campaign

The Campaign includes FOF-led conservation initiatives, partnership building through a new Fells Alliance, and enhanced engagement with state legislators with a new Fells Caucus. We look forward to inviting you to join us in these efforts as projects get underway in the coming months. 

This campaign is the result of two concurrent efforts.  

First, I spent hundreds of hours meeting with members, volunteers, partner organizations, and elected officials to ask them a simple question: How do we balance our enjoyment of the Fells with efforts to protect its natural resources? I also read your advice from our 4,000-supporter survey last fall. 

At the same time, Friends of the Fells volunteers got to wondering how well DCR has been carrying out the “conservation” element of its portfolio, versus the “recreation” element in the Fells. We discovered that DCR’s decimated budget hasn’t been able to accomplish much. But, we did find that as recreation opportunities have expanded in the Fells, the natural resources of the Fells have unfortunately not been taken care of very well.

As we considered the advice we received and recognized the lack of care of nature in the Fells, it became crystal clear that we urgently need to increase our capacity to meet the needs of the Fells — to protect its biodiversity, enhance the health of its natural resources, and promote sustainable enjoyment of the forest. 

The Sustainable Fells Campaign is our answer to that call.

Here’s a brief summary of the Campaign. A more detailed description of the Campaign can be found here

photo by Jeff Buxbaum

Sustainable Fells Campaign – At a Glance

Friends of the Fells has developed three multi-year Conservation Initiatives:

  • Our Reduce Rogue Trails for People and Wildlife initiative will identify illegal trails in sensitive habitat areas and develop and implement plans to close, and keep closed, these trails. 
  • Our Invasive Species Management initiative will identify priority habitat impacted by invasive plant species, develop management plans to control the invasive plant populations, and bring habitats back to health.
  • Our Social Messaging for a Sustainable Fells initiative seeks to reform a “culture of non-compliance” in the Fells with a new culture of care and community stewardship through an innovative communications strategy rooted in behavior change communication and marketing models. 

The Fells Alliance is a network of organizations that share a common understanding of the value the Fells brings to the region and commit to working together to protect, preserve, and enhance the Fells as an invaluable and irreplaceable biological and recreational asset. 

The Fells Caucus engages elected officials whose districts fall within the influence area of the Fells, briefs officials on current Fells issues, and explores opportunities for advancing Fells priorities through legislative action. 

If the Sustainable Fells Campaign is to be successful, we’ll need to expand our capacity on a number of fronts. 

As a grassroots organization, volunteers play an essential role in implementing our work. We’ll need more financial support from our members so we can build a stronger volunteer program to support our volunteers and cultivate volunteer leaders able to help guide these initiatives.  

And, we’ll also need to develop funding relationships with foundations, government agencies, and others to sustain these multi-year initiatives. This work is already underway.

We look forward to your continued input and support of our work. Together we will achieve a better future for the Fells, and in the years to come, we’ll enjoy a deeper sense of joy and satisfaction in our time in the Fells, knowing we have made it a better space for people and nature. 

 

Best,

Chris Redfern
Executive Director

Photo Credit:  Jeff Buxbaum

 

Late last year, we reached out to more than 4,000 Fells enthusiasts to gather feedback via an online survey. We asked you to share with us what you think we should be working on and how we can improve in our efforts to protect and enjoy the Fells. 

We were thrilled to receive feedback from more than 500 Fells supporters, and appreciate the thoughtful responses to our questions. 

Now, we’re using the survey responses, as well as input from interviews with members, donors, volunteers, elected officials, and partners, to plan Friends of the Fells programs and initiatives for 2021 and beyond in a Strategic Plan to be released this spring.

We’re eager to complete our planning and share it with you soon. In the meantime, I’d like to share with you some of the key takeaways from the survey.

Your Top Priorities

When we asked you what our priorities should be, the three most popular were:

  • Engage communities in hands-on stewardship activities in the Fells;
  • Work with DCR to improve compliance with the rules intended to protect natural resources and improve visitor experiences in the Fells;
  • Engage people in under-resourced and diverse communities to increase their knowledge of and comfort in using the Fells.

Expand Volunteerism

A very modest percent of our survey respondents volunteer with us. Only 13% volunteer annually or more often, which means we need to get busy cultivating more volunteer leaders and enhance our efforts to recruit, support, and celebrate volunteers who want to help. 

Embrace Diversity

We are not a diverse community. Survey respondents are mostly white (90%), and mostly over the age of 30 (94%). It’s clear that we need to focus more of our attention on diversity, equity, and inclusion so our organization is more reflective of and supports the diverse communities that can benefit from what the Fells has to offer. Our Strategic Plan will have more to say on this topic. 

Build Community

One key theme ran through many of your comments. There’s a hunger to be part of a community of people who share an appreciation for the Fells and come together to enjoy and protect it. To me, this may be the most important advice of all, since building a stronger Fells community will result in a more impactful Friends of the Fells, and thus better protection and care for it. 

Over the coming months, I look forward to a brighter, “pandemic-recovery” future where we invite more diversity into our organization, meet up in the Fells, and work side by side to make it a better place for nature and people to thrive. I hope to see you there!

 

Chris Redfern
Executive Director
Friends of the Middlesex Fells Reservation

The increased popularity of the Middlesex Fells these past months has also brought more attention to the park from regional news outlets.  Here are some of the recent news articles about the Fells, and the Friends of the Fells.

In August, the Boston Globe opinion page featured a column by Joan Wickersham reflecting on the creation of the Fells– ‘A voyage of discovery about home:’

We decide to go for a drive. It’s aimless, like so much in this uneasy summer of the pandemic. We drive through Somerville, Medford, Malden.

And suddenly the road stops being suburban and starts looking like something you would find in Maine. Deep woods, lakes, no houses. It goes on for miles. We are in the Middlesex Fells.

Later in the month, the Globe printed a response from our own Jeff Buxbaum and Chris Redfern, titled ‘The vital public good of public lands:’

…As COVID-19 spurs historic visitation at the Middlesex Fells and other nature refuges in the region, we must protect the long-term investments in these nature spaces more than ever, as impacts to trails and fragile ecosystems take a toll.

DigBoston writer Caitlin Faulds writes about the state of Massachusetts parks and how the pandemic has impacted park upkeep and volunteer projects, and features an interview with Friends volunteer coordinator Jesse MacDonald:

BOOTS ON THE GROUND: STATE PARKS STRUGGLE TO KEEP UP WITH PANDEMIC CROWDS

Due to COVID-19 and strict health guidelines, MacDonald said Friends of the Fells have had to cancel all volunteer trail care events, which typically address some of these issues, while DCR itself is struggling to run with a “skeleton crew.”

Last, we are happy to share that the Friends of the Fells has been awarded two grants through the Tufts University Community Relations program:

In May, the Friends was one of the local organizations to be awarded a grant through the Tufts Community Grants program.

Thirty-four local organizations in Tufts’ four host communities have been awarded $28,000 in grants from the Tufts Community Grants (TCG) program. The grants, which are fully funded by donations from Tufts University faculty and staff, are awarded each year to community-based charitable organizations in Boston, Grafton, Medford and Somerville.

These funds have been allocated towards the purchase of graffiti removal equipment and supplies which will be used this fall.

And in August, the Friends of the Fells was a recipient of a $1,000 COVID-19 emergency response grant, awarded to local nonprofits “in an effort to help its neighbors impacted by COVID-19.”

“During these trying times, it’s more important than ever for us to support our neighbors and the non-profits that do such important work in our home communities,” said Rocco DiRico, director of the Office of Government and Community Relations at Tufts. “We always strive to be the best neighbor that we can be, so we’re pleased to be able to provide this essential support to local organizations that are assisting local residents with the challenges they face as a result of the pandemic.”

These funds were utilized by the Friends’ 2020 Fells Forest Camp program to directly defray the expenses for essential purchases of safety and sanitizing equipment, personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning services, and other COVID-prevention plans that were necessary to hold this summer’s programming safely.

A Message from Your Executive Director:
Opportunities to get involved and make a difference with Friends of the Fells

Greetings, and Happy New Year!

In the first four months acting as your Executive Director, I’ve been impressed by the vibrant community of dedicated volunteers who generously give their time to care for our Fells forest. Why not consider joining other like-minded people who share your love for the forest and volunteer with the Friends in 2020?

Opportunities abound for involvement. If you’re an avid hiker in the Fells, you might consider becoming a Trail Adopter to help us maintain over 100 miles of trails in the Fells. If you enjoy young children and are enthusiastic sharing nature with them, you might consider learning more about our Babes in the Woods program (which brings young families on hikes just about every Tuesday morning of the year), and joining the volunteer team leading these hikes.

If you have a passion for improving habitat and saving trees from invasive plants (think Oriental Bittersweet), consider visiting our Stewardship Committee and learning more about our plans for on-the-ground efforts this coming spring. Or, if you like digging into local politics or tracking environmental legislation at the statehouse, you might be a good fit for our new Advocacy Committee, tasked with cultivating relationships with decision makers, advancing the Friends’ policy positions, and sniffing out and combating external threats to the Fells (e.g. our recent work to protect the 90mm site).

We’re also developing a new Conservation & Science Committee. Initial focus areas will include ecology, citizen-science research, biodiversity, and the effects of climate change on the Fells.

Finally, we’re also on the lookout for volunteers to help fulfill some unique “skill” volunteer positions in many additional areas, including finance, fundraising, social media, and more.

A list of upcoming committee meetings is provided below. Please consider attending an upcoming meeting to learn more about how volunteering for the Friends can be put into your action plan for 2020.

 January Board Meeting:  Tuesday, January 14th, 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM

(**Board meetings are schedule for the second Tuesday of every month)

Stewardship Committee:  Wednesday, January 15, 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM

Advocacy Committee:  Wednesday, January 22nd, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Conservation & Science Committee:  Thursday, February 6th, 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM

(This meeting is a conference call.  Please contact us to find out how to participate.)

Development Committee:  TBD; last week of January

NOTE: All Friends of the Fells committee and board meetings are held at the Beebe Estate unless otherwise noted, located at 235 West Foster Street in Melrose.

For more information on volunteering, contact us at friends@fells.org!

Stay warm out there,

Chris Redfern