A Half-Year Report from Friends of Fresh Pond Reservation

The Northern White Oak (Quercus alba) is an outstanding member of the forest community. The massive trunk and limbs of a mature White Oak provide habitat for a variety of birds, mammals, and insects; and the tree produces the best tasting of all the acorns. One seldom finds these acorns on the ground: They have all been consumed as soon as they were ripe.

This spring Chip Norton, Cambridge Watershed Manager, offered to buy the Friends group a tree to plant in memory of our founding member Bonnie Solomon, who died on September 8, 2003. We jumped at the opportunity, and chose a Northern White Oak as a fitting memorial for Bonnie. She was a generous person, full of fun and curiosity, "the glue that held her neighborhood together." You can see the tree we planted if you look up from the Kingsley Park parking lot to the left side of the hill. You can also climb the hill and sit on a nearby stump to enjoy a view of the Pond that we think Bonnie would have found quite pleasing.

When I consider how the Friends group has changed in the past several years, the image of a growing tree comes to mind. Like a young sapling (we are 6 ½ years old), we are branching out in many directions. Our new dimensions in the past two years include a Planning Committee made up of members who have taken on many of the tasks that I used to do, a thriving Fresh Pond Reading Group that will have its seventh meeting in October, a conservation project for which we are planting locally native plant species, field trips to the Upper Cambridge Watershed led by Chip Norton, a Reservation Stewardship program with a fully stocked equipment trailer provided by the Water Department, and more programs led by paid professionals.

We are well rooted on the Reservation, keeping our focus on the natural and social history of the Pond and its surroundings. This year, as of August 1, we have offered 46 programs, including many that are new topics for us: Composting with Worms, Birds of Prey at Fresh Pond, Native Plants for your Garden, Stargazing at Payson Park Reservoir, A Geological History Walk, Investigation of Water Quality at Black's Nook, Kids Take Pix (Nature Photography for Children), and Red-Tailed Hawk! (A Live Animal Program.) Our publicity of monthly tours of the Water Purification Facility continues to bring many people who want to learn how drinking water is produced.

The Water Department and the Friends group are collaborating again this year on the Volunteer Stewardship program. Last year, the program was led by Hannah Wilbur, who left at the end of June to go to graduate school. Her replacement, Emily Tansey, is learning the fine art of invasive weed identification and removal while also learning the rest of her responsibilities as Watershed Management Assistant. We have scheduled three or four weeding sessions every week since mid-May. The Friends group is focusing especially on the Kingsley Park bioswale where we often offer programs. A year ago we "adopted" the bioswale with the goal of controlling a rogue's gallery of invasive weeds that appeared to be on the verge of overtaking the area.

Last spring, Suzanna Black adopted a planted area next to the Pond Road near where the railroad crosses Concord Avenue. We call it "Suzanna's Corner." She and several other volunteers and I spent the summer removing weeds (mostly Garlic Mustard and Mugwort) and pruning the bushes. In January, Vince Falcione, Fresh Pond Reservation Site Supervisor, offered to have the Water Department either purchase or pay for wildflowers for the Friends group to plant on the Reservation, and we immediately thought of Suzanna's Corner. After a period of research, we chose as our goal for this project to establish a native plant community similar to one that might have existed before the colonists arrived. Our plant list includes only species known to be historically native to Middlesex County.

We started our planting this spring with donated wildflowers and ferns, including some that we rescued from a construction site in Newton, and others from the gardens of members and neighbors. Then we purchased shrubs and perennials from Garden in the Woods, and the Water Department purchased (and planted) more shrubs and a tree for us. We created a winding circular path so that people who visit the area will know where to walk. As we continue to weed, to groom, and to enjoy looking at the plants that we are cultivating, we look forward to next year when we hope the area will be ready for us to offer a program featuring these native plants.

During the winter, Vince also offered to have the Water Department's carpenter cut wood for tree swallow nesting boxes to add to the four we already had. We were happy to accept his offer, and asked for four more boxes. To our astonishment, he presented us with wood for thirteen boxes. We assembled four of them during a Friends group program, and the carpenter assembled the rest. We then had a challenge finding locations on the Reservation for all of the new and old boxes. We gave two boxes to Danehy Park, and installed the rest. By the end of the nesting season in mid-July, after we took down most of the boxes, our count was ten Tree Swallow nests and two House Wren nests (all successfully producing fledglings), with only three boxes unused. This is an impressive record! Also, for the first time in three years, Black-capped Chickadees occupied at least two of our four Chickadee boxes.

The Fresh Pond Reading Group is an activity that we offer exclusively for members. Our meetings are preceded by potluck suppers that have been vegetarian feasts. After reading Written in Stone, a book about the geology of Massachusetts by Chet and Maureen Raymo, we went on a field trip to Groton to look at glacial formations. Another members-only event was our first "Movie Night" in April, during which we watched a Nova program called "First Flower." We hope to plan for another movie later in the year.

Overall attendance at our programs this year has been higher than ever. Our new and renewed memberships by mid-July surpassed the numbers from any previous year on the same date. We have more than $3400 in our treasury. We are a thriving community of learners and activists, and we are making a difference at Fresh Pond Reservation.

Participants in 2008

Members of the Planning Committee: Susan Agger, Suzanna Black, Susan Coolidge, Janet Kovner, Susie Robillard, Barbara Strell, Rebecca Ramsay, and Elizabeth Wylde

Members and other folks who have led or co-led programs: Susan Agger, Peter Alden, Claude Benoit, Boot Boutwell, Susan Coolidge, Henrietta Davis, Lance Drane, Bob Gamlin, Nancy Guppy, Natasha Hawke, Janet Kovner, Chris Leahy, Lore and David Levitt, Tim MacDonald, Randi Mail, Larry Millman, Tom Murray, Ed Myskowski , Chip Norton, Herb Pearce, Bob Pine, Squizzle Plekavich, Rebecca Ramsay, Joshua Roth, Jean Rogers, Barbara Strell, Judy Vollmer, Hannah Wilbur, Elizabeth Wylde

Volunteer weeders: Suzanna Black, Janet Burns, Margaret Cain, Carol Collura, Jodi Dowling, Noa Hall, Susan Kaufman, Joan Krizack, Howard Levaux, Rebecca Ramsay, Margie Richardson, Grenelle Scott, Reed Snyder, Barbara Strell, Elizabeth Wylde

Plant Donors, Gardeners and Advisors: Claude Benoit, Suzanna Black, Janet Burns, John Burns, Sophronia Camp, Vince Falcione, Ted Elliman, Bob Gamlin, Don Lubin, Rolf Schilling, Thomas Southworth, Gray Wexelblatt, Betty Wright, Elizabeth Wylde

Folks who have helped us in other ways this year: Chip Norton, Cambridge Watershed Manager; Vince Falcione, Reservation Site Supervisor; Hannah Wilbur and Emily Tansey, Watershed Management Assistants; Sue Bowdridge, Neville Place Activities Director; Paul Castellano, Neville Place Head Chef

Our heartfelt thanks to everyone!

Elizabeth Wylde and Members of the FFPR Planning Committee
August 1, 2008