Friday, December 29, 2017

Review of Meadowlands Initiative in 2017; Events for your 2018 Calendar

The Charles River Meadowlands Initiative looks back on a busy 2017 and forward to a promising new year. During the course of the year we met several times as a group to discuss plans and opportunities. The First Universalist Society of Franklin was a generous host and Sue Bencuya and Paul Sager provided coordination and opened the premises for us. We have continued to receive guidance from the Metacomet Land Trust and active participation from Metacomet Treasurer Susan Speers.

We also had a chance to provide written input and suggestions to the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in its periodic review of its Master Plan for the Charles River Natural Valley Storage Area, the land holdings of which are the focus of our efforts in Bellingham, Franklin, and Medway. Significantly, this document outlines the tripartite mission of the Corps relative to the CRNVSA – namely flood control, conservation, and recreation. During a public hearing held in Millis on April 19 by the USACE, a large contingent of Meadowlands people participated – offering comments and suggestions and strongly emphasizing the expectation that the Corps will do more in the future to support the recreation aspect of its mission through helping to develop access points, launching sites, etc.

We presume that concerns expressed at the hearing have been acknowledged and recognized in the document. At this writing, the finalized Master Plan is working its way through the USACE as it awaits final approval. When that occurs, we expect that the local Corps officials will be able to meet again and, in particular, will respond to a pending meeting request to discuss the Meadowlands, made by the Town of Franklin.

At the request of a Meadowlands participant from Bellingham we also shared the "message" about the desirability of preserving the lands surrounding the CRNVSA holdings as the town prepared to approve the economic development of a large land parcel. While we were pleased to have this opportunity, in fact the town had been working with the developer of the site along High Street in Bellingham, to reserve a buffer area close to the Charles for walking trails and to minimize disturbance to the land. This now appears to be "baked in" to the process – a real boon for a beautiful and now more accessible area.

State Representative Jeff Roy is continuing to monitor the fate of the earmark he proposed and passed along with Rep. Kevin Kuros and former Rep. John V. Fernandes on behalf of the Initiative. As is often the case with state spending, authorized funds are used subject to the discretion of the administration; so, whether this money will eventually turn into action at the relevant state agency is still anybody's guess.

In October, the Initiative held an ambitious walk – and slog – between Oak Street Extension in Franklin and White Ave in Franklin. The event attracted about 20 local residents. Although there is a narrow margin of dry Federal land, we initially opted for the wetter route to avoid brambles and private property. However, the route eventually emerged into beautiful upland fields and tall stands of evergreens rarely visited by people. Two Franklin town council candidates attended the event. The event showed that the long-term possibility of connecting multiple points along the eastern side of Mine Brook, though the route nearest Oak Street Extension will clearly require more engineering. [We have also been reminded by the Franklin Conservation Agent that ConCom restrictions will loom large.]

Finally, in December, we provided a short document – requested earlier in the year by the Franklin Town Administrator -- describing the most achievable near-term actions that the town could take to enhance access to the Meadowlands via town land. These suggestions included working closely with the developer of the Montage condominiums on Pond Street to link their planned trails to existing marked trails in town lands extending to White Avenue. At present, the developer is committed to providing a small public parking lot with access to a loop trail around the property and a spur directly to Mine Brook to permit launching small watercraft. [NOTE: Parallel discussions with the Town Planner have this action under study – with plans to get a town GPS team on site early in 2018 to make the proposal more concrete and specific.] Potential key additions to town lands were also outlined as well as a suggestion that signage be provided at trail heads and that the town investigate the feasibility of adding downstream access to Mine Brook. Lastly, we suggested a "second look" at a canoe launch to the Charles River proposed many years ago from Plain Street and put off due to site conditions. With the removal of the dam upstream of this location (Pearl St. Bellingham), the site may have new relevance.

Review of Meadowlands Initiative in 2017
Review of Meadowlands Initiative in 2017
Looking ahead to 2018 we hope to continue meeting periodically as needed for planning purposes but the year will be kicked off on Feb. 2 (Groundhog Day and World Wetlands Day) with an information session for the general public at the Franklin Public Library from 3-6 pm. We are also "sponsoring" a related activity in the Children's Room – a reading of "Ms. G's Shadowy Road to Fame" (a fictionalized treatment of the story of our official State Groundhog!) with Town Councilor Melanie Hamblen as volunteer reader.

On April 22 (Earth Day), we will lead a walk into the Franklin section of the Meadowlands – time and location to be announced.

Other suggestions for 2018 are welcome. Please send them along!


Alan Earls​

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