The Woodland Restoration Projects
The “Habitat” and the “Corner”
at Fresh Pond Reservation
People who walk regularly at Fresh Pond Reservation are probably familiar with the sight of a large red wagon, either being pulled along the Perimeter Road, or sitting near one of the Reservation’s meadows or wooded areas where volunteer stewards are working. The wagon carries tools, supplies, and other equipment used by the volunteers as they remove invasive weeds that negatively impact the native vegetation on the Reservation.
On Tuesday mornings during the growing season, the wagon can be found near the gate to a fenced area about 1/3 mile north of the Cambridge Water Purification Facility. The area is called the Woodland Habitat Restoration Project, and the equipment in the wagon is used by volunteer stewards who gather each week to spend the day working in these woods. Since 2011, the volunteers and Water Department staff have worked together to remove non-native plants and re-introduce native species into this seriously degraded woodland. Our goal for the Woodland Habitat Restoration Project, which we nicknamed “The Habitat,” is to create a safe refuge for the Reservation’s native plants and animals in healthy woodland and meadow habitats. A smaller adjacent area, The Woodland Restoration Project, nicknamed “The Corner,” was established by volunteers in 2006 as a model to show people how native plants can be used in home gardens to create conditions that welcome native birds and other animals. A sign on the gate to the Corner invites visitors to walk the circular path and to spend a quiet moment sitting on the wooden bench.
Our typical Tuesday jobs include digging and pulling weeds, planting newly acquired plants, dividing and transplanting already present species, making and installing poultry netting cages to protect the plants from rabbits and other herbivores, hauling water for irrigation, spreading mulch around plants and on bare ground, pruning trees and shrubs, maintaining paths, and repairing fences. Occasionally we spend time removing fallen limbs or even entire downed trees. Every year in the fall we add additional caging to protect plants from damage by rabbits foraging on top of deep snow. Spring tasks include removing those additional protections and cutting down the dead stems from last year’s perennials. The day’s work often includes hard physical labor, but the pleasure of being in this special place in the company of other dedicated stewards more than compensates for tired muscles.
The Habitat looks very different than it did prior to 2011. Before we began working in the area, the forest was dominated by a dense understory of invasive common and glossy buckthorns, small tree species with heavy foliage that allows very little light to reach the ground. We spent most of 2011 pulling out and cutting down the buckthorns, then removing a rogue’s gallery of other weeds such as garlic mustard, oriental bittersweet, and Japanese knotweed. By 2012 we were able to begin planting native species.
Additional buckthorn removal has been the specialty of our volunteer, Richard Bosel, for the past several years. Last year he cleared a large new area of the Habitat where we soon began transplanting trees, shrubs and perennials, and scattering aster and goldenrod seeds. This year Fresh Pond Ranger Tim Puopolo has helped by bringing in groups of volunteers from local businesses for daylong buckthorn eradication events. Buckthorns produce an enormous annual crop of berries that are eaten by birds, which distribute the highly viable seeds far and wide. As areas deeper in the woods are freed from these weed trees, we will observe a reduction in the number of seedlings that currently germinate by the thousands.
Most of the canopy trees in these woods are green ash (Fraxinus pensylvanica.) They are beginning to decline with age and disease, and we are replacing them with a variety of native species that support animal life: oaks, hickories, maples, gums, birches and pines. Many of the saplings we planted 8 years ago now are 15 to 20 feet tall – the beginning of a new woodland. We also are building up the shrub layer with clethras, linderas, viburnums, filberts, blueberries, laurels, azaleas, roses, chokeberries, witch hazels, and dogwoods. The perennial layer now includes more than 130 species of wildflowers, grasses and ferns, most of them introduced as part of this project.
Our primary mission has been to increase plant diversity by introducing native plant species that were likely to have grown in local habitats similar to this one before the colonial era. As in past years, our plantings in 2018 included purchased trees, shrubs, grasses, ferns and wildflowers; perennials grown by volunteers from seeds either purchased or collected from the Reservation; species already spreading in the Habitat that we divided and transplanted; and plants donated by volunteers.
The 8 regular stewards and several groups of one-time volunteers spent more than 960 hours this year working on behalf of the Restoration Projects. At the beginning of the project we identified 31 native species and 13 non-natives. Our species list now totals 211, only 9 of which are non-native weeds that we are still working to eliminate.
(See attached 2018 Species List.)
2018 Volunteer Stewards: Suzanna Black, Richard Bosel, Pamela Hart, Betsy Meyer, Chris Powers, Rebecca Ramsay, Elizabeth Wylde, Candace Young
Volunteer Groups from Local Businesses:
May 1: 16 volunteers from Quick Base in Cambridge worked for a total of 32 hours.
July 17: 23 staff members from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study worked for a total of
August 14: 11 volunteers from SmartLink worked for a total of 33 hours.
Total Number of Volunteer Hours Worked in 2018: 960
Thanks for the Support of Water Department Staff: Vince Falcione, Dave Kaplan, Brian Mulrenan, Tim Puopolo, and Jean Rogers. Also, the arborists who pruned our trees and the landscapers who dug holes for us.
January 14, 2019
Some New Species Added in 2018