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!

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
  • graffiti
  • 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!

If you have any questions, or to learn more about scouting in the Fells, contact maddie.morgan@fells.org.

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 chris.redfern@fells.org

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 chris.redfern@fells.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:

 

 

Interested in arranging a group service event in the Fells?  Contact Jesse at Jesse.Macdonald@fells.org.

 

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

A guest post by Anita Brewer-Siljeholm

Did you visit the Fells in 2020 to flee the confinements of Covid-19? If so, you likely saw more people, pets and cars than ever before, and you might have wondered how Nature is holding up in the reservation.  

A major citizen science research program has begun to collect the data to answer this question and others. Partnering with the Friends of the Fells, Earthwise Aware (EwA) naturalists and citizen scientists have just completed their second full year of field work in the Fells. The result is summarized in several wonderful digital reports now available online. 

For a colorful summary of the year’s work, see the 2020 EwA Conservation Highlights. For a deeper dive, see the full 2020 EwA Conservation Report here. Vernal pools are a special focus of EwA research in the Fells, so a 2020 EwA Vernal Pool Report describes EwA research to successfully document a number of overlooked vernal pools, which is the first step toward better protection for these exceptional habitats. 

Historically, having a place to study natural history in a rugged and varied landscape so close to Boston was one reason why citizens in the late 1800’s argued to set aside the woodland. They recognized too that a growing urban population badly needed the tranquility of Nature, with its deep woods, secluded ponds and stony hilltops, just as people today seek the Fells. Fortunately for us, their 25-year campaign succeeded in protecting from development the woods they loved.

2020 was a busy year for citizen science research! Despite pandemic-related constraints, EwA naturalists and volunteers logged over 1,100 hours at multiple research sites. These covered individual trees and patches including red maple, oak, American chestnut, sassafras and witch hazel species; flowering plants such as Indian cucumber; shrubs such as sweet pepperbush; and vernal pools. 

EwA citizen scientists return throughout the year to monitor phenological changes, arthropod activity, bird movements, plant communities and general biodiversity. The goal is to document, photograph, record and upload data to the National Phenology Network and other local and national studies. EwA uses online data platforms including Nature’s Notebook, Caterpillars Count, iNaturalist, and Massachusetts-specific databases. 

Earthwise Aware also launched a new research project in 2020: to document bio-pollution in the Fells, aka dog poop! Whether bagged or not, dog poop has contaminants that can harm wildlife. By creating maps through photo records of dog poop left in the Fells, EwA assembles data that will help assess the effects of this contamination. That data is updated monthly and publicly accessible in Google Map. By late December over 1,200 visual records of abandoned dog feces had been submitted! Anyone can do this – just be sure your smart phone’s photo app is GPS-enabled. Click here to find out how to submit your photos. 

In 2020, EwA also piloted a study to document habitat fragmentation in the Fells. This study will map the vast network of “rogue trails” which are often shortcuts through the woods. They are usually made by hikers and bikers going off trail, and the problem is that these unmarked trails damage sensitive habitat and reduce the amount of undisturbed forest floor that wildlife needs to survive in the Fells. These maps will guide conservation work in the reservation.

Citizens scientists have fun. In their spare time, on weekends or after hours, they learn to recognize and record the cycles of nature across the Fells, and share their own knowledge with their team. EwA helps people learn how to enter the woods as guests, with a clear ethic to not disturb nature while taking a very close look. For instance, an egg mass specimen in a vernal pool is photographed underwater, rather than lifting it out from the water column as researchers typically do.   

Earthwise Aware is a non-profit group started in 2018 by Claire O’Neill, a former high tech data whiz and naturalist who saw the loss of biodiversity as the greatest planetary threat. Starting locally, she has focused on developing a growing band of volunteer citizen scientists and interns who collaborate on research and reporting. In 2019, Claire joined the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Fells. 

To learn more about becoming a volunteer citizen scientist, click here. To join naturalists on their monthly public walks in the Fells, click here. You may be astonished at what you learn to see.  

A recent analysis of management actions over the past decade by Friends of the Fells indicates that while recreational amenities have been advanced, unfortunately the natural resources of the Fells have been largely neglected. A Briefing Book issued by the Friends in late 2020 outlines the Friends’ initiative to focus on conservation in the Fells in light of its obvious attraction as a wonderful destination for tens of thousands of visitors.
Photos provided by Claire O’Neil, EwA President