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:
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
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.
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
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!
On February 1, we held our annual Volunteer and Donor Appreciation Party at the American Fresh Brewhouse on Assembly Row in Somerville. An estimated 50 or so guests joined us for a well-deserved night of food, drink, and fun.
Gathering everyone together improves connections, facilitates future collaborations, and builds friendships. Every year we’re impressed by the energy, the interest, and the genuine love for the Fells and the organization that we see at these get-togethers. Whether you’ve been involved for a few weeks or a few decades (and each year there are always a handful of people from both contingents) we’re ever-thankful for your efforts and we love getting a chance to touch base–and relax–on a night that is all about fun and gratitude.
In addition to our valuable volunteers, we’d like to thank our sponsors at American Fresh Brewhouse, as well as individuals and businesses who donated prizes for the free raffles, including Trailsigns, Marathon Sports, and Natural Food Exchange.
This Spring, the Friends of the Fells revamped Trail Adopter Program was approved by DCR. As of this writing, 15 volunteers have already adopted trail segments of 1-2 miles each throughout the reservation. Adopters commit to visit their adopted trails at least three times per year, to ensure that the treadway and any drainage structures are clear, that signage and blazes are clearly visible, and to remove trash that may accumulate along the trail. More motivated and experienced trail adopters may approach DCR with specific projects to improve their trails, close illegal trails or remove invasive plants.
Anyone interested in adopting a Fells trail or path should review the Fells Trail Adopter Handbook for a more detailed description of the program and is requirements. The Appendix to the handbook contains the application form and liability waiver form which are all you need to get started. The forms may be submitted via email or in hardcopy form via the US Mail until we get the online versions up and running. Thanks to DCR for your support of this program and a hearty thanks to all of our new adopters. See you on the trails!