Celebrate Spring’s Return to the Fells — Some Highlights from our YouTube Channel

Spring has returned to the Fells, and with it the vibrant green that we all love! There is no better way to appreciate the beauty of the season than to learn more about the plant species that contribute to the vibrancy that is occurring in the forest.

Our YouTube channel, started in spring 2020, was inspired by a desire to continue our programming, even though we couldn’t do it with our usual guided walks.  Spring has come around again, so if you missed them last time, or just want to watch again, explore with some experts in botany, ecology, and natural science. Enjoy!

Our first set of videos is the “Spring Ephemeral” series, featuring BU professor of biology (and prior Friends board member) Dr. Randi Rotjan discussing a few of the interesting plant species that are beginning to bloom in the Fells:

Next, local expert and long-time hike leader Boot Boutwell discusses some of his favorite plants to observe in the spring forests of New England:

Next, Dr. Lucy Zipf, Lecturer at the Wellesley College Environmental Studies Department, explains the strategies of different trees in the forest when it comes time to “leaf out” in spring:

Finally, Claire O’Neill discusses an important aspect of the work her organization Earthwise Aware (EwA) focuses on in the spring months– documenting and certifying new vernal pools in the Fells.

Claire is the founder of EwA, and a Friends of the Fells board member:

If you have an idea for a video topic that you would like to share, or have any interest/experience in videography or video editing and would like to volunteer those skills, please contact us!

We have many more topics of interest to explore on the channel, so check back often for updates!

Image:  2004 (or later): Bob Weggel in front of his rock steps on the Skyline Trail, east of Dike Brook Road

A guest post by Anita Brewer-Siljeholm and Fells Staff

From 2004 until 2009, you may have spied on the Skyline or Reservoir Trail between Money Hill and Gerry Hill a friendly older fellow with a sturdy spade, rock-bar, and large Gardenway cart mining boulders, laying stepping stones, constructing stone staircases, or building causeways, some of which included crushed stone hauled from the Bear Hill parking area. You might have encountered him—and might still—with handsaw and lopping shears attacking invasive species such as bittersweet and rosa multiflora. He’s rarely without a bag for trash, or a pruning shears and folding saw for brushing trail. This is Bob Weggel, a 77-year-old resident of Reading.

Bob and his wife Diane were first introduced to the Middlesex Fells Reservation as volunteers for a Massachusetts Audubon scarlet tanager survey soon after their marriage in 1980. A few decades later, underemployed, Bob began trail work on weeklong Volunteer Vacations for the American Hiking Society. His early trail work in the Fells was as a Trail Adopter for the Appalachian Mountain Club. In March of 2009, Mike Ryan, former Friends director, came across Bob hard at work; soon thereafter, Bob accepted an invitation to join the Friends of the Fells Board, markedly increasing his financial commitment to the organization. In 2013, Bob established the R.J. Weggel Fund for the Friends of the Middlesex Fells Reservation, growing the fund year after year by matching gifts to the summer and winter fundraising appeals.

Bob’s passion for conservation grew from camping for a week or two each summer in Michigan. Michigan’s flatness—and the excitement of the Mt. Everest expeditions of 1952 and 1953—triggered a love of mountains, subsequently nurtured by visits to the Alps when living in eastern France and southwestern Germany as a young boy. Trained in applied mathematics at M.I.T. and Harvard, he worked for the MIT National Magnet Laboratory until 1996, for Brookhaven National laboratory for a half-dozen years, and designs magnets for numerous clients.

One of Bob’s many trail projects: causeway on the Skyline Trail

Bob effuses sheer delight, whether the subject is trail repair, climbing a mountain, designing magnets for electric power from nuclear fusion, or rockwork at his seasonal home on the shore of Casco Bay. “My world is magnet design, mountains and conservation,” he notes. “I’ve been very fortunate, that by diligent work, frugality, and forgoing children (the world is overpopulated already), I’ve been able to accumulate an estate large enough to make a difference to a budget as modest as that of the Friends. Donating to the Fells helps me to feel significant.”

To acclimatize for Volunteer Vacations in the Rockies, Bob has climbed all but a dozen of Colorado’s 53 distinct peaks more than 14,000 feet high. Ask him his favorite places in the Fells? “The Skyline and Rock Circuit Trails, of course:  Winthrop Hill, Nanepashemet Hill, Boojum Rock, Pinnacle Hill, White Rock,the Cascades.” For a recent college reunion he wrote, “Who would have imagined that I, such an egghead when at high school, would find such satisfaction in climbing mountains and wrestling boulders into position? It’s that I, once such a dud of an athlete, rejoice in the ability to do so!”

Thank you, Bob!


A guest post by Anita Brewer-Siljeholm

True crime writing has arrived on the doorstep of the Fells. In their absorbing new book, Murder at Breakheart Hill Farm: The Shocking 1900 Case that Gripped Boston’s North Shore, authors Douglas Heath and Alison Simcox, who wrote Images of America: Middlesex Fells and The Lost Mill Village of Middlesex Fells, reconstruct a grisly murder investigation at what is now DCR’s Breakheart Reservation in Saugus.

With impeccable research and endless curiosity, evident on the walks they lead in the Fells for the Friends of the Fells, Heath and Simcox turn to a true crime story that riveted Boston 120 years ago. They discovered the case while researching another Images of America book, Breakheart Reservation, released in 2013. Time and again, people asked about a murder that had occurred more than 100 years earlier, well before the 600-acre reservation became state property in 1934.

On October 8, 1900, the caretaker of a gentlemen’s farm in Saugus called Breakheart Hill Farm, an unpleasant man by the name of George Bailey, disappeared. A few days later, a burlap bag containing his dismembered torso floated to the surface of a pond in Lynn, followed by the remaining body parts in more ghastly bags dredged up by police teams. Before long an arrest was made, followed by a trial in Salem. Throughout the court proceedings, no lurid detail escaped the daily newspapers – or the trial transcript which is now online – providing extraordinary insights for the authors.

“These sources allowed us to tell the story using the actual words of the people involved,” Heath and Simcox say in their Preface. To do this they bend the narrative into well-paced modern crime writing, complete with dialogue, while remaining faithful to the inevitable uncertainties of the lives they depict. As part of the story, they weave a fascinating historical tapestry whose landscape is familiar today but whose inhabitants are no longer known. Readers follow the movements of itinerant tradesmen shifting among jobs, part-time farmers in Saugus selling milk to Lynn, orphans and widows sent to the almshouse, and factory owners able to buy large tracts of nearby land. There are immigrants from the Maritimes hoping to find work in Lynn, while laboring families struggle to survive in the changing shoe industry — all captured by the tabloid press of 1900.

Heath and Simcox have special expertise in uncovering historical photographs. Grainy black and white images of stiff collared men and tight waisted women, unexpectedly caught up in the case, are supplemented by newspaper drawings that illustrate the blow by blow reports published daily to satisfy horrified readers who devoured the papers — the social media of the day. Little has changed; personal photos and heinous plots still intrigue us. Who really was the murderer? Was justice served? That is for readers to decide, ideally with a map at hand to follow the course of this remarkable story not far from the Fells. Recommended winter reading!

Signed copies of Murder at Breakheart Hill Farm, as well as of Heath and Simcox’s prior books about Lake Quannapowitt, Breakheart Reservation, and Middlesex Fells, may be ordered via email (simcoxheath@msn.com) or phone (781-640-7881). The cost is $20 for the first book and $15 for each additional copy, with $3 per volume if postage is needed. The authors will deliver books within 20 miles free of charge. Cash or checks are accepted.

Anita is a Friends of the Fells board member and long time volunteer in the Fells.

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:


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.

The Friends of the Fells YouTube channel continues to be a source for engaging educational content related to the natural history of the Fells.

Over the past months, more members of our community have offered to share their expertise with us to create informative and entertaining videos for you!

Here are just a few examples of the new content now available:

First, local expert and long-time hike leader Boot Boutwell discusses some of his favorite native plants:

More from Boot can be seen in the ‘From the Fells with Boot Boutwell‘ playlist.


Next, Claire O’Neill discusses her organization Earthwise Aware (EwA), and the work it does in the Fells.

Claire is the founder of EWA, and a Friends of the Fells board member and chair of the Nature/Conservation Committee:

More from Claire and EwA can be found at the ‘Found in the Fells with EwA‘ playlist.


Boston University Ph.D. candidate Lucy Zipf explains the strategies of different trees in the forest when it comes time to “leaf out” in spring:


And Tufts professor Colin Orians discusses how the Eastern Hemlock manages to survive despite attacks by the hemlock woolly adelgid and other insect species:

Many additional videos are available now on our channel, with more in the queue! To see all our videos, or to subscribe to our channel, click on the YouTube icon below.

Special thanks to Board President Jeff Buxbaum for his continued curation of the YouTube page.

If you have an idea for video topic that you would like to share, or have any interest/experience in videography or video editing and would like to volunteer those skills, please contact us!

Since the announcement of our ‘My Fells’ community expression project last month, several members of the Fells family have shared their inspiring words, pictures, and videos with us.  In doing so, they have provided us with a way to “share our shared love for the Fells” with all of you, as well!

We are very appreciative of all the submissions that have been shared with us so far!  If you would like to share a ‘My Fells’ submission with us, here’s how:

Tell us how YOU experience the Fells!

In one minute or less, using whatever media you like, share your own version of My Fells with us.  Use photos, video, poetry, prose.  Post it to your choice of a YouTube or Vimeo account, Facebook page, blog, website, online photo album, Google Drive or Dropbox folder and send us a link.

Send your submission to myfells@fells.org.


Here is the first collection of our My Fells submissions.  We hope that you will take as much inspiration from them as we do:


First, we have two video submission from our own Board President, Jeff Buxbaum of Medford.  The first video was Jeff’s original inspiration for the project, created in 2015:


And here, another, more recent video submission created by Jeff:


Next, Lewis Dalven and Shelly Schou from Arlington shared their thoughts on the Fells in prose form:

I discovered the Middlesex Fells during this time of the pandemic.  It has served as a refuge and sanctuary on many mornings that I have been taking morning walks there.  I grew up in the middle of NH and was spoiled being around beauty so much of my life. I have been in the Boston area for the past 9 years and had not yet found the beauty like I discovered at the Fells. The discovery came at a much needed time.

— Shelley Schou

Since the CV pandemic began, my twice weekly visits to the Fells have been my main source of exercise, commune with nature time, and have helped to keep me balanced and hopeful.  Fellow visitors…families with kids, walkers, runners, and bikers alike, have shown consideration, good cheer, and courtesy without fail.  The greening of the foliage, the songs of birds and frogs, sounds of running streams all help to put worry at a remove.  Our Fells are a treasure always, and especially now.

— Lewis Dalven

Next, we have a series of black and white photographs of the Fells shared with us by Joel Moses:
[Click on the thumbnails to enlarge]
These photographs are a just a small sample of his collection that he has amassed from across the Middlesex Fells over the past several years.

And last, here is another video submission by long time Friends member Bob Ghika.  This video also features Friends of the Fells volunteer, botanist, and hike leader Walter Kittredge leading a group on the trails near Bear Hill.  Also taking part in the video are former Fells Executive Director Mike Ryan and Dr. Bryan Hamlin, both longtime board members and Fells experts.
Bob’s video was created nearly a decade ago (give or take), and is well over our one-minute threshold, but we felt it entirely appropriate to include here with these submissions:
[Click the picture below to open the video in a new tab.  Note: the link brings you to an external site.]
Bear Hill by Bob G.

Bear Hill by Bob G.

For more videos like this one, visit our new YouTube channel, where new content is being added weekly!