FRANKLIN PARK—The Long Crouch Woods section of Franklin Park is in the midst of a major makeover that will help the Franklin Park Coalition (FPC) and the Boston Parks Department determine best practices for saving the park’s endangered tree canopy.
As warmer seasons approach, the FPC is looking for volunteers to help clear out invasive species, enrich the soil, plant new trees and help restore the section of the park’s cross country track running through Long Crouch, FPC Executive Director Christine Poff said.
A little over a year ago, the FPC came out with a draft version of its Woodlands Management Plan. The plan raised concerns that the encroachment of invasive plant species and heavy human use have hindered the growth of an understory of new trees to replace the trees originally planted in the park 125 years ago.
Without action, “most of the large trees that define the park’s woodlands will be gone within 30 years,” the plan states.
The work the FPC and the Parks Department are doing covers 13 acres, about half of the Long Crouch section in the northwest corner of the 500-acre park. The coalition is styling it as a “demonstration project” to help the FPC and the Parks Department determine how best to undertake a broader restoration effort in the future, Poff said. The information gathered will help the coalition and the Parks Department draft a final version of the restoration plan.
“What we are doing is trying to improve all the different steps,” she said. Conditions in the Long Crouch section mean that “all the different components of the management plan can be tried in a fairly contained area,” she said.
Over the winter, the Parks Department completed large-tree work—mostly pruning dead limbs from the woodland’s canopy, Poff said. Now that the vehicles and machinery necessary for those efforts are finished rumbling through the woods, the coalition is set to determine how to make new trees grow.
“We are hoping it will be a real test,” Poff said.
Among other things, the FPC hopes to determine how much soil remediation will be needed. It will use different soil maintenance strategies in different patches, for example. “Agronomists say it’s hugely important. Some forestry experts think it’s not that important,” she said.
The coalition will also be testing out planting strategies that have proven successful in other parks. A similar coalition working in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, N.Y. has been successful in planting certain species of “whips”—very young saplings that are easy for volunteers to handle and plant. In Prospect Park there has been a 70 percent success rate with whips with no watering, Poff said.
Clearing invasive species is another major task that volunteers will be able to help with, she said.
Glossy buckthorn is particularly prevalent in the Long Crouch area. Clearing it will be immediately beneficial for birds and humans as well as native vegetation in the woodlands. A plant native to Europe, “glossy buckthorn’s berries are tantalizing for birds, but they have no nutritional value for native birds. They are like Doritos for kids,” Poff said.
The dense cover the invasives provide has also attracted the wrong kind of park patron, Poff said.
“There is a public safety perception of the park as a dangerous place,” she said. Clearing out dense undergrowth will improve sightlines so people can find their way around more easily and remove possible havens for wrongdoers, she said.
In November, FPC staffer Lanae Handy told the Gazette the area around one landmark in the Long Crouch area, the Bear Dens, had already been cleared of dense invasives, removing one hiding place that had been popular for drug users.
The dens were built in 1912 as part of the original Franklin Park Zoo. They housed bears until the late 1950s.
Poff said she hopes cleaning up the site will make it more popular with park users engaged in more wholesome recreational pursuits.
“If changing the density of the woodlands could change public behavior, that would be great,” she said.
Thinking about how to improve park users’ experiences opens up another set of questions the FPC hopes to answer as it moves toward developing a final draft of its management plan, Poff said.
For example, she said, it remains to be determined how densely the park’s borders should be planted. Frederick Law Olmsted, who originally designed the park, was in favor of dense borders because they create the impression of a deep forest, she said.
A dense border, Poff said, can also help guard against wind-borne invasives taking root in the park.
“But we want sightlines…so I’m not sure how dense we want it,” she said.
In addition to woodland maintenance, Handy is heading up an ad hoc team focusing on restoring the cross-country running course in the Long Crouch Woods.
The course slopes steeply in Long Crouch, and has cobblestone gutters to divert rainwater, but, “They are filled with dirt, and grass is growing so the water is not being diverted,” Handy said.
The group she is heading includes a youth crew that will be working on cleaning up the trail this summer.
Other trail users, including alumni from area colleges and representatives from track and field organizations, will be looking at ways to fund-raise to do more substantial maintenance and possibly reroute the track away from its current steep grade, she said.
Poff said the FPC will host three work days at the park in April and May, and is looking at the possibility of forming work crews made up of people willing to commit one weekend day a month to woodlands restoration work.
For more information about volunteering, contact the FPC at 908-4002.