Preserving valuable and sensitive habitats in the Fells – A request to DCR
In a bid to better protect ecologically sensitive habitats and rare and endangered species, the Friends of the Fells has asked the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to designate portions of the Middlesex Fells as patch reserves.
“The Fells is home to a remarkable diversity of life, including many unique and uncommon plant communities, dozens of vernal pools, and rare species that depend on these patches of habitat,” said Chris Redfern, Friends of the Fells Executive Director. “Establishing patch reserves to protect these sensitive resources is our best chance to ensure their survival.”
Patch Reserves are defined landscape areas that require special management practices for biodiversity conservation. Patch reserves reduce the potential for habitat fragmentation and degradation and increase ecological resilience by improving connectivity among habitats (for example, protecting the upland habitats of vernal pools for invertebrates and amphibians). These reserves could also reduce recreational impacts through management actions such as installation of educational signage, adding boardwalks, and rerouting and/or removing trails as needed.
An opportunity to request the establishment of patch reserves in the Fells came about when DCR requested public comment on a 10-year review of their Landscape Designation Management Guidelines. Friends of the Fells submitted extensive comments, founded on more than a decade of field research by Fells advocates. Our advocates’ comprehensive understanding and documentation of the presence and location of sensitive habitats and rare and endangered species make the Middlesex Fells a particularly suitable and attractive park unit at which to pilot a new patch reserve designation.
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!
Keeping up with the physical changes that occur in the Fells is a daunting task! With over 100 miles of trails and more than 2,200 acres of space to monitor, the task of identifying issues, hazards, and maintenance needs is a constant challenge at the best of times! And limited staff and time (for both the Friends and DCR) means that we rely nearly completely on the efforts of our volunteers and Trail Adopters to accomplish these scouting duties.
While the scouting need of the Fells is always a major undertaking, the inclement weather of the past few weeks has made this a critical need for our community to take on right away. Trail damage and erosion, downed trees, limbs, or other blockages, missing trail markers and signs, or any dangerous/ potentially dangerous situations new to the forest need to be identified and reported in order for us and DCR to add these issues to our “to-do lists” as soon as possible! In just a few weeks, winter weather will set in and many of these issues cannot be addressed until the spring.
How can you help?
Scouting in the Fells is easy: take a hike, and report back to us what you see and where! There are two easy ways to report a scouting trip to us:
One of the most important details to include in a report of a trail issue is an accurate location for us to reference. The most accurate location marker to use is the closest DCR “trail intersection marker” or markers, like this one:
Every trail intersection in the Fells has been assigned a 3-digit label (“E4-5” in the example above), and can be referenced on the DCR Fells map, found online here. [Important note: these intersection markers are not currently included on any of the printed Friends of the Fells maps.]
GPS coordinates, trail names, and location relative to a trailhead or fire gate can also be very useful details to record and share, too.
In addition to trail and tree damage that is a current priority, scouts are always on the lookout for regular issues like:
new invasive plant growth
household waste or yard waste dumping
rogue trails and habitat fragmentation
unauthorized construction, damage, or misuse of the park
Trail scouting is a great way to get involved with our work, whether as someone new to the Fells and to outdoor volunteering, or a seasoned outdoor enthusiast with a keep eye for the forest!
In addition to our scouting needs, we are seeking the following volunteer assistance:
Seeking volunteer leaders to advance our communications and fundraising efforts
We’re looking for a communications professional to work directly with our staff to champion and help lead our communications work, including developing a strategic communications plan to better leverage our communications channels (email, social media, and new website presence) to engage our supporters, inspire volunteerism, and promote our programs and activities. If you have professional experience in communications and would like to learn more about this opportunity, contact Chris Redfern at email@example.com.
If you’re a nonprofit fundraiser who loves the Fells and would like to help us grow in our ability to meet our mission, we’d love to hear from you. We’re looking for a development professional who can help us develop relationships with the regional philanthropic community and identify strategies to fund initiatives in our Action Plan. To learn more about this opportunity, contact Chris Redfern at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last month, in honor of both Earth Day 2021 and the return of group stewardship opportunities in the Fells, the Friends of the Fells hosted a series of volunteer-oriented events throughout the park. Between Wednesday April 21st and Sunday April 26th individuals from 3 clubs and from across the community participated in one of six group events that were held in the Fells.
Volunteers joined in activities like trash cleanups, trail maintenance and repair, invasive plant clearing and meadow restoration, and solving some drainage and flooding issues by cleaning, repairing, and redirecting culverts and drainpipe outlets.
The Winchester HS Fells Club ready for work!
We would especially like to highlight the efforts of 3 organizations for their work this week: Girl Scouts Junior Troop 62732 of Medford, the “Otters” of the BPSA 92nd Mystic Scout Troop (www.92mystic.org), and the Winchester High School Fells Club!
Below is a gallery of the great work accomplished during Earth Week 2021:
Thank you to all the volunteers that participated in this year’s Earth Week events! Your efforts helped make this a successful week of stewardship for the Fells!
Missed out Earth Week volunteer opportunities? Not to worry– we will be adding many more group volunteer events in 2021, so keep an eye on our Program and Events Calendar for updates.
The Friends of the Fells welcomes volunteers of all ages and experience levels! Interested in volunteering, or have a service project to propose? Fill out our volunteer questionnaire:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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