Volunteering Update: Let’s Get Out and Scout!

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

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

Our Trail Adopters are not afraid to jump in and get their hands dirty, literally and figuratively.  They work with organic matter.  It is physical, sensory, and stimulating work.

In that sense, we found it a bit ironic that we have several dozen of these dedicated volunteers who have partnered effectively, for several years in some cases, but who had never worked together face-to-face.  Folks have submitted work reports, emailed and texted one another, and in some cases they felt like friends, but had not yet met.  Their work is back-to-basics, but their communication was largely electronic.

We took steps to change that on Saturday, June 24, with the first major Trail Adopter Workshop.  Over two thirds of the Adopters were able to make it, which is a pretty good turnout for an early summer weekend.  We’d like to thank them for their eagerness to come out and learn more about best practices for park maintenance, share ideas and join teams, and network.  Extra thanks to our local DCR (Department of Conservation and Recreation) staff for helping to plan and lead. DCR Park Supervisor Gillian Badwan says, “Meeting with the Trail Adopters and Friends of the Fells volunteer team was incredibly energizing.  We were totally reinvigorated knowing that this group of motivated, excited people who have great ideas for the park, and, even better, are willing to help implement these projects exists in our community!”

Trail Adopter Coordinator and board member Jeff Buxbaum says, “I loved being able to personally meet the adopters who I only knew by e-mail and phone.  Their energy was infectious, and they had a shared desire to preserve the Fells for all to enjoy.  I’m looking forward to ways to move forward with some action teams to improve trail blazes, create pollinator gardens, build bog bridges, tackle invasive species, and create eye-catching signs to motivate people to preserve the Fells.”

In addition to working independently to care for the trails, and now hopefully partnering more effectively in areas where it makes sense to do so, this crew also includes leaders who often help DCR organize and plan service initiatives: thanks to REI, LiveLikeBecca, and SCA (Student Conservation Association), Park Serve Day participants, and multiple scout and school groups for all your hard work already this year!

Thanks, LiveLikeBecca!

You may have heard that we now have one hundred percent of trails adopted. This is because most of the adopters are part of a team that care for small sections of the Fells rather than an individual trail.  But each of the teams has room to add more volunteers, to make sure we get to all the trails as frequently as we can.  So we’re still looking for many more people to help out.  And even though we call them “teams”, for the most part, volunteers work on their own, whenever they can.

Are you inspired to be a Trail Adopter?  Sign up here. If you’re intrigued by the work but want to try out one-day projects first before committing reach out to Volunteer Coordinator Lindsay here or at lindsay@friendsofthefells.org.  We hope to see you out there!

Additional thanks to Starbucks, Food Link, and Monique S. for providing refreshments.



By Jeff Buxbaum

All Trails Will be Adopted in 2017

We currently have 36 trail adopters, some of whom represent groups (e.g., Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, churches), and virtually all of the trails in the Fells are now adopted.  The remaining trails are short, and scattered here and there throughout the Fells.

A few of the more recent adopters have been agreeable (rather, excited!) to adopt a small area of the Fells, rather than a single trail.  And in informal conversations with some adopters, I find that many of us feel we have a strong connection with ALL the trails, and pick up trash and clear branches even when not on our own adopted trail.  This inspired an idea to migrate the Trail Adopter program to one where:

  • We divide the Fells into subregions.
  • Each subregion would have several adopters.  The adopters could choose to work on their own, or, if there was interest, to collaborate as a team.  The team would make sure all the trails were being covered.
  • People or groups that currently have individual trails and want to keep that focus, can do so.

The benefit of this approach is that we will instantly have one hundred percent of the trails in the Fells adopted, with no gaps at all.

I’ll be developing the new system in the coming weeks, including reassigning existing adopters to regions. In the meantime, if you’d like to volunteer to join one of the adoption teams, go to Trail Adopter page, and fill out the application.

Many thanks to the current adopter team, and I look forward to more of you joining us!

Jeff Buxbaum

FoF Trail Adopter Coordinator

In the spring of 2014, the Friends of the Fells launched an updated Fell Trail Adopter Program.  Two dozen interested volunteers attended an information session and ultimately 17 individuals and groups applied to adopt a Middlesex Fells trail in 2014.

Throughout the year, over 15 miles of trails and paths through the Fells were actively maintained by trail adopters.  I could see the impact of their work when scouting trails to plan community service events like National Public Lands Day.  Areas that have often required cleanup efforts were found in a pristine state.  Several trails have been easier to navigate thanks to volunteer efforts to clear brush from the trails and signs.  While hiking or running during hurricane season, I would often encounter downed trees or branches one week, only to find the trail clear and passable the following week.

The efforts of individual Trail Adopters complemented the ongoing efforts of DCR to maintain the Reservation.  Park Ranger Mike Nelson noted that “It’s great to have extra eyes and a fresh perspective out there to let us know what problems exist so we can address them.”  DCR staff have cut away fallen trees reported by trail adopters, and also re-blazed a confusing section of the Cross-Fells Trail based on input from the adopters.

Several local groups have joined the effort.  Melrose Boy Scout Troop 615 (pictured), a Girl Scout troop from Winchester, employees and volunteers from Zoo New England, students from Medford High School working with Eagle Eye Institute, and the Young Members of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Boston chapter all participated in the Trail Adopter program this year.

Thank you to all of our Trail Adopters who have worked to make this program a great success!

Looking forward, DCR has approved the program to continue in 2015 and I have already received reports from Trail Adopters working in the Fells this January.  With 79 miles of trails and paths running through the Fells, there is room for many more to join the program this year.  The Friends of the Fells Trail Adopter Handbook will tell you all you need to know about adopting a trail.  To get involved, see the Fells Trail Adopter Program page.

As I slip into the woods on the Virginia Wood Trail the sound of morning traffic on Pond Street quickly fades away. The quiet forest envelops me with rustling leaves and birds calling. I’ve adopted this trail through the Friends Adopt-a-Trail program, but in some ways I feel like it’s adopted me. The lure of the forest is hard to resist, and these early morning forays before work stay with me all day. Of course there’s lots to do, branches to trim back, logs to cut, trash to pick up, but the work is light and fun, and it’s rewarding to help keep the trail clear for others to enjoy. And there’s lots to enjoy in Virginia Wood, between the waterfall at the dam, and all the interesting stories at each station of the Spot Pond Brook Historic Trail.

Mapleleaf Viburnum

Mapleleaf Viburnum

Along the way I notice the changing of the seasons, Indian cucumber leaves turning crimson (photo at top), yellow zigzag goldenrods, and the purple berries of the mapleleaf viburnum. The air is brisk and moist along Spot Pond Brook, the water spilling over a log making a quiet gurgling sound joined by the murmer of crickets, and soft buzzing of bumblebees, working their way through blue asters. Winter brings the first crunch of snow underfoot, white edging on the cracks in rock outcrops, and clear thin ice along the edges of the brook.

Heartleaf Aster

Heartleaf Aster

Some animal sightings are common, like frogs and snakes, while others are more fleeting. One morning I saw a flock of birds noisily chase a red-tail hawk up and down the brook, flying right overhead. Another time a mink slunk right by me running up a tree trunk to quickly cross a jumbled rock talus slope. Deer tracks in the mud of a vernal pool attested to where they ate the tops off of one of their favorite foods, the orange-flowered jewelweed.
It’s always hard to leave the forest and get back into my car to finish the morning commute to work, but I do so with a sense of satisfaction at the work accomplished, and with a serenity that will carry me through the day. I’m often reminded of where I was by finding a leaf in my hair, or burs on my clothes, which always brings a smile to my face. Over time these early morning walks have brought a deeper appreciation of the gift to us all that the Tudor family made in honor of their daughter Virginia.