Helping hands needed for Olmsted Woods rescue

March 2, 2007
By

JOHN RUCH

PONDSIDE—Armies of volunteers are being sought for a campaign to save the Olmsted Park Woodlands starting in the spring.

Without the rescue, the woods will be gone within 50 years, replaced by invasive vines and shrubs, according to the Emerald Necklace Conservancy (ENC). ENC is conducting the rescue in partnership with the City of Boston and the town of Brookline.

“If we’re not trained as foresters or ecologists, we don’t know they’re endangered, but they are,” said ENC’s Don Eunson of the woods at a rescue plan meeting Tuesday night.

About 40 people attended the meeting at the Curley House, but many more volunteers will be needed. The work for any one volunteer will be fairly easy and require only small time commitments, said Christine Poff, executive director of the Franklin Park Coalition, who is leading a similar volunteer effort in that park.

Olmsted Park runs along the Jamaicaway on the Boston-Brookline border. It is also bordered by Perkins and Chestnut streets and Pond Avenue. It includes Leverett, Willow and Ward’s ponds. The park contains about 24 acres of woods.

As the ENC announced last summer, the woods are threatened by highly acidic soil, a plethora of invasive species and too many paths stomped through the greenery. The existing large trees are aging with very few young trees to replace them, said forester Brian Urquhart, adding that limited diversity—the large trees are mostly oaks—is also a problem.

The ENC had not finalized its forest management plan by the time of the meeting. Budget estimates and even specific techniques are still in flux. But the group has a $50,000 Tiffany Foundation grant to get work started, and it knows the basic first steps.

For volunteers, that means working on the soil and attacking invasives.

Volunteers will be asked to spread limestone and fertilizer throughout the woodlands, and to uproot invasives with a special prybar-like tool.

“It’s really fun work,” Poff said, adding that it’s easy to learn to identify the invasive plants. She said the battle against global warming is a good pitch to volunteers. “We can save trees right here in our own back yard,” she said.

The ENC has divided the park into six management zones, one of which will be targeted as the first demonstration project, a mixture of experiment and publicity. Eunson said the demonstration area may be Hawthorn Hill, a wooded area across the footpath from Daisy Field along Willow Pond Road.

Other work will be done by city workers or professional contractors. That includes pruning and removing some trees. Of about 880 large trees identified in the park, 92 are slated to be cut down for safety and legal liability reasons, because they’re in bad shape and stand within 40 feet of a walking path.

Professionals would also use herbicide on one, and only one, of the park’s invasive species—the tenacious Japanese knotweed, which sprouts again if uprooted or cut down. The herbicide is injected directly into the plants with a needle-tipped squeeze gun. Some meeting attendees expressed concern over the herbicide being retained in the soil or water. Eunson assured the group that herbicide would be used advisedly and as directed.

Some of the footpaths—most unofficial—crisscrossing the park will be permanently closed. The granite steps that lead from the Perkins/Jamaicaway corner to Ward’s Pond are targeted for repair. They’re also being swallowed by invasive multiflora rose.

The former Kelly Rink site, a 1-acre meadow on the Jamaicaway at Willow Pond Road, drew attention last year as a possible new addition to the woodlands. Eunson told the Gazette that the meadow indeed wants to turn into a forest.

But, he said, “We’re going to artificially keep it a meadow,” adding that ENC workers have actually pulled woody plants from the site. He noted that keeping the site a meadow—an unusual landscape type in New England—is part of the Emerald Necklace Master Plan’s recommendations.

The park’s wildlife didn’t get much attention at the meeting, but it has been studied. Jeff Taylor, a wildlife consultant from the Massachusetts Audubon Society, said he found that large numbers of earthworms are probably adding to the forest’s soil problems. But, he added, “I found an alien earthworm predator”—a flatworm, native to Indonesia, that eats earthworms.

The Olmsted Park Woodlands rescue coincides with the similar effort in Franklin Park and recent discussion about an Arborway woodland. [See related story.] Eunson said the rescue plan may serve as a model for future work in other parts of the Emerald Necklace, including a strip of woods alongs Francis Parkman Drive.

The rough timeline for the immediate rescue plan is three to five years of soil, tree and invasive species work, and 10 to 15 years of intensive maintenance, Eunson said. The ENC has already started some minor invasive species removal by itself, he told the Gazette.

For information about volunteering or to comment on the management plan, contact Eunson at deunson@emeraldnecklace.org or via mail at ENC, 2 Brookline Place, Brookline, MA 02445.