2011 Fresh Pond Reservation Stewardship Report
Cambridge Water Department

In 2011 Fresh Pond Reservation had about 55 individual volunteers join us to help out, and we also hosted volunteers from Boston Cares, West Cambridge Youth Center, the Kennedy Longfellow School, BB&N, MIT, Cambridge Police Summer Employment Program, and DPW's Team Green Sense. We started out the year with workshops about Asian longhorned beetles, and while still buried in snow, we had a couple of enthusiastically attended Movie Nights.

To open the growing season, we gathered for a Volunteer Steward Walkabout highlighting the many areas volunteers have been maintaining throughout the Reservation. Many folks also enjoyed the four New England Wild Flower Society walks offered. One walk introduced us to the hundreds of native plants in the Woodland Restoration Project and folks also helped out with pulling garlic mustard down at Black's Nook. One wildflower walk, which was postponed because of rain, had us admiring asters and goldenrods through a veil of feasting mosquitoes at dusk in Lusitania Meadow. And while one walk did take place in the rain, we moved indoors another time and learned about native plant communities with Ted Elliman.

Purple loosestrife monitoring and galerucella beetle release drew an enthusiastic group over at the golf course. This year the Volunteer Stewardship program started offering monthly Weekend Weedouts on Sundays from 1 to 3 pm, which brought in a few new people and helped us get many more weeds out of the ground.

Volunteers also launched the first ever city-wide campaign - the Cambridge Pod Patrol - to address the spread of black swallow-wort. Perhaps the biggest change we made to the program was meeting on Thursday mornings at 10 instead of waiting until 2 in the afternoon for the sun to bear down on us. Here is a month-by-month overview of some of our work:

We officially began this year's meetups on May 2nd, wrestling out a huge clump of garlic mustard along Stream C while a hairy woodpecker offered public comment. Despite an underwhelming Garlic Mustard Weedout on Fresh Pond Day, free samples of garlic mustard pesto at the volunteer table were a big hit. Following Fresh Pond Day, we pulled even more garlic mustard, working clockwise from the railroad tracks at Kingsley Park all the way to the wave bench in the Weir Meadow.

In June we pulled garlic mustard out of the slope across from Black's Nook, and then we pulled up more of it working up the slope to the Butterfly Meadow and also along the perimeter path towards Lusitania Meadow. Although it seemed that Lusitania Meadow itself was in pretty good shape as a result of prior years' efforts, as the mugwort, wild lettuce, and Canada thistle started poking their heads up out of the meadow, we realized we needed to get cracking. We pulled out mountains of bull thistle, which is thornier than Canada thistle, often wearing more than one pair of gloves, only to find out that we should've instead been working on Canada thistle, which seems to be more of an unfriendly neighbor.

For our first July meetup we decided to meet on the Tuesday after July 4th and had a record 12 volunteers cleaning out the garden at Neville Place and pulling mugwort and wild lettuce out of the Butterfly Meadow. Just as we began noticing an alarming amount of black swallow-wort snaking its way along the pond fence, we launched our first ever Cambridge Pod Patrol on a Sunday afternoon in early July. Hot spots included the perimeter fence at Black's Nook, along the plastic fence between Lusitania Meadow and Black's Nook, between Glacken Slope and Little Fresh Pond, and along the fence near the Water Department parking lot. Not counting the pods stuffed in our pockets on daily walks, we ended up spending over 100 hours on black swallow-wort outside the fence and about 50 hours inside the fence.

Turnout was great as well for purple loosestrife monitoring, though we later learned that, since it bloomed late this year, willow herb did look remarkably similar to purple loosestrife. I later returned with several volunteers to re-count our sampling plots and it turned out that there was actually measurably less purple loosestrife in our sampling area, though we did discover it squatting in Lusitania Meadow.

I should also mention here under the heading "July" that this year the Native Woodland Restoration Project in "The Corner" looked beautiful. Our three noble gardeners triumphed mightily through last year's flood, drought, and ravenous bunnies, and even began restoring the woodland adjacent to the original plot by clearing the understory of buckthorn and bittersweet, and planting native saplings.

In August we mostly lurked about in Lusitania Meadow battling mugwort and ragweed, Canada thistle, purple loosestrife, and clipping burdock flowers. We also continued to pull black swallow-wort pods and tried out a "cut and cover" technique for eliminating mugwort along the berm near the bicycle path. When we ran out of newspaper, we used about 500 copies of leftover Fresh Pond Day programs, and then covered them up with wood chips. It didn't really work. Many volunteers also pitched in to help change out pollen slides for a two-week ragweed pollen study in Kingsley Park.

In September we dusted off our weed wrenches and started pulling trees out of the meadows - mostly cottonwoods, green ash, white mulberry, and buckthorn, hoping to keep the encroaching forest at bay. We had a handful of new people show up to help in September, though I think the mosquitoes chased away a few of them.

By October we moved back in front of the Water Department parking lot and worked on cutting down black swallow-wort and bittersweet on the pond side of the fence. Since it was too rocky to dig, we hoped that by cutting the vines down we might weaken them a bit, though I fear anything short of digging up entire root systems may only be encouraging them. Well, it was worth a try. As we ran out of daylight, we ended the month, and Monday night meetups, with Halloween seed collecting, popcorn, and a special screening of The Lorax in the Water Department lunchroom.

Our Thursday crew made it all the way through November and into the first week of December before our fingers and toes started to get frosty. In addition to planting seeds in the swale behind the dog beach at Little Fresh Pond and in a patch of ground ivy in Lusitania Meadow, we worked on pulling out buckthorn and bittersweet along the path between the Woodland Restoration Project and Lusitania Meadow and discovered that by working together, we were indeed a formidable force. We left mountains of brush for the chipper and a huge sense of accomplishment.

Random Comments
I need to mention here that, in addition to 685 Volunteer Steward hours, there were probably another 225 hours dedicated to the Woodland Restoration Project and the woods next to it, as well as the excellent work the Friends group did in the Kingsley Bioswale.

Although we had a tough time jumpstarting the Specimen Tree Inventory due to an untimely illness, rain, and then more rain, I look forward to getting this effort started in the spring. By identifying, cataloguing, and geocoding the big and unique trees throughout the Reservation, we will be able to gather data to compare with information collected in 1996 to see how our trees are doing and also be on the lookout for Asian longhorned beetles. I've begun to work with mapping GPS points and hope to be able to include photos and tree information on an interactive map that anyone can view online. Looking ahead to future projects, I look forward to helping Andy Hrycyna document how Black's Nook supports nesting and migratory birds, helping out with ongoing work restoring the woodland between "The Corner" and Lusitania Meadow, and I still walk past Little Fresh Pond and envision a floating island, installed, monitored, and maintained by volunteers, and finding painted turtles resting among irises and cattails.

There are many challenges ahead, and efforts will need to be renewed for several years, but I believe we made a serious dent in the effort to stem the tide of four plants in particular: mugwort, garlic mustard, black swallow-wort, and buckthorn. I believe our continued efforts in Lusitania Meadow will further our goals of stabilizing this sensitive wetland, which is an important habitat to many, including warblers, bats, hawks, grasshoppers, and dragonflies. I realized how unique it is when I brought children out there to find grasshoppers and watched them climb on the big stump and hide among the willows. We do need a comprehensive plan to reduce the spread of Asian bittersweet throughout the Reservation, which is killing many trees, especially between Little Fresh Pond and Black's Nook. Additionally, I believe we'll need a better understanding of site conditions for specific areas if we are to be sure we're supporting plants that are best adapted to these high-disturbance areas and will require minimal maintenance.Also, looking ahead, I'd like to work with the New England Wild Flower Society to draft a five-year Invasive Species Management Plan that outlines specific volunteer projects and ways to ensure we're making optimal use of our time together.

Summer 2011 brought the usual extreme heat and mosquitoes, but also sweet pepperbush blossoms in the Woodland Restoration Project, New York ironweed in the Weir Meadow, yellow-rumped warblers in Lusitania, and hooded mergansers at Black's Nook. Fall brought sudden darkness to our evening sessions, but also many new avian visitors and sunsets on Fresh Pond. Working alongside woolly bear caterpillars and grasshoppers, canvasbacks and ring-necked ducks, red-tailed hawks, nuthatches and woodpeckers, we ended this year's steward sessions sloshing through the mud in Black's Nook pulling up buckthorn stump sprouts with enormous roots, while Canada geese swam by to critique our work. Many thanks to the fantastic volunteers who gave their time, muscle power, expertise, ideas, and enthusiasm to help sustain these beautiful and rich habitats for all visitors and inhabitants of Fresh Pond Reservation.

Deb Albenberg
Watershed Management Assistant
Cambridge Water Department
December 27, 2011