ROZZIE ROAMS: ROSLINDALE WETLANDS URBAN WILD WITH THE WETLANDS TASK FORCE
The Rozzie Roams blog series is guest-written by RVMS Marketing Committee Volunteer Rebecca Perriello. Rebecca will be talking to residents who have a special connection to Roslindale’s green spaces.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing that the Roslindale Wetlands Urban Wild exists. Take a look at a map, and you’ll see a small patch of green nestled in the crook of Weld and Walter Streets. Venture in, and you’ll discover that the Wetlands provides a different kind of landscape—it is wilder and more untamed than the green spaces you usually encounter so close to the city. Though it feels very wild, the Wetlands are maintained and advocated for by a group of local volunteers. In addition to providing a home to many different animal and plant species, the 9.5 acres of forested wetland performs an important ecological role, serving as a catch basin for the area’s stormwater. We talked with a few members of the Wetlands Task Force—Inci Kaya, Riaz Ahmed, Deb Beatty Mel, Jim Taff, and Frank O’Brien—to learn more about this hidden gem.
Rebecca: What makes the Wetlands so special?
Inci: It’s a wild space in the middle of a highly developed city. That’s rare. It’s nature’s buffer to absorb extra water so you have a lower risk of flooding. It’s a haven for nature and wildlife. It’s really a peaceful, quiet walk. You see people there with their dogs; kids throw sticks in the water or try to poke their feet in the ice when it’s frozen in the winter. In the summer it’s pretty tropical and lush. If you’re looking to check out for half an hour—it’s a half-hour-long loop— you can really be in the middle of the city and not hear anything, just the sound of the trees.
Riaz: The fact that it’s a really natural feeling space, not really manicured in any way, except the walking path that volunteers have cared for so nicely. And it is a useful part of the city. It really does so much water control and acts as a sponge to just soak everything up.
I also appreciate that it’s a way kids get to experience something like that, and they have a lot of fun with it. It’s kind of the most fun in the winter when it’s frozen and they can take different paths across the ice. Then in the spring it’s muddy and they play “avoid the lava” games, going from rock to rock. It’s not the type of thing you see really anywhere else. The Arboretum is of course amazing, but it is quite manicured, well taken care of— wonderful for what it is, but this is one of the few opportunities to get into something wild, and it’s something we and probably many other people never knew was here. During the cleanup days we try to clear the area and make the entrances more obvious. It’s more obvious if you know to go there, but you have to know to look for it first.
RP: Could you tell me a little about the history of this space?
Frank: The current wetlands area is a low-point in the local area topography, with water draining from nearby higher elevations.
The natural land before development would have been New England forest with nearby hills and ponds formed by the receding glaciers approximately 18,000 years ago. This post-ice age process accounts for the kettle holes, such as Jamaica Pond and the countless rocks and boulders scattered in the landscape and now made into stone walls and other familiar features of the New England landscape.
Locally, the Roslindale Wetlands are a lowland area at approximately 100 feet above sea level, with the surrounding area rising to slightly higher elevations, such as 170 feet at Weld Hill and 270 at Peters Hill in the Arboretum. Thus, rain falling in the surrounding area will flow downhill to the locally lowest point.
These water patterns have been somewhat changed by the city's street drainage systems, but the Roslindale Wetlands still receives rainwater from surrounding areas by the city's own storm drain infrastructure, much the same as has been true for the past 18,000 years.
RP: How and when did the Task Force come about?
Jim: The Task Force arose circa 2004 out of a meeting of more than 100 neighbors to learn about and discuss the proposed multi-structure, multi-unit condo development at 104-108 Walter Street. People from all around the neighborhood joined in, and many hundreds to a thousand more supported the goals with contributions by signing petitions and calling representatives.
RP: Riaz mentioned cleanups. Could you tell me a bit about the efforts to care for the space?
JT: Cleanups were spring and fall yearly for many years. After the joint City–resident hacking out of large, impenetrable stretches of brambles, the removal of multiple dumpsters-worth of tires, large metal and wood pieces, and other bulk dumpings, plantings of dozens of native trees and shrubs, and the construction of the perimeter trail, cleanups and other work days have been randomly scheduled, as needed. The average is still probably one per year or one and a half sessions every two years. Paul Sutton, from the City of Boston’s Urban Wilds Initiative, often sets up and carries these out with the assistance of the Task Force and other professional groups or youth volunteers.
RP: What sort of wildlife can you see here?
Deb: The bird life in the wetlands is remarkable, and it has been cited as a "hotspot" for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's app, eBird. I'm not a very skilled bird watcher, but I can hear the songs of several species that I have come to recognize (cardinals, gray catbirds, and redwing blackbirds mainly) as well as woodpeckers. The hawks are impressive when they make their appearance.
JT: In addition to the birds Deb mentioned, there are also owls, orioles, migrating warblers, and wild turkeys. The usual small mammals include raccoons, squirrels, feral cats, possums, foxes, voles, and other field rodents. Somewhat more exotic creatures include deer, coyotes (now more common), and fisher cats. We used to have pheasants and salamanders. There is also a diverse scattering of wildflowers and naturalized garden perennials.
RP: Does the Task Force coordinate its efforts with any other groups?
IK: We reached out to Mass Audubon to see what kind of support they could give us. Assessing the soil and the plants, and giving us some kind of evaluation.
FO: The Wetlands could benefit from their expertise on such issues as non-native and invasive plant removal, habitat restoration, and public trail improvements. Based on this, the City and Wetlands Task Force have been working with them to define an initial project. The project would include a site inspection, mapping and natural resource inventory, priority action lists, and recommended next steps. The final work program has not been decided on, but we are hopeful that it will be underway before long and completed by the end of 2018.
RP: What are the benefits of coming to a space like the Wetlands?
IK: I think it quiets your mind, therefore it calms your body. When you notice your surroundings, your mind is calmed and cleansed. That carries over to a calm and clean body. This is a big backyard for anyone. You can walk around and notice different things. Our kids and the other kids that go there all seem to enjoy it year round. It always impresses me how much you know you might not want to go out on a 10 degree day, but they enjoy being out there.
RA: It’s definitely a peaceful place. That’s what I notice when I walk through it by myself. It helps me relax. It makes me feel not so much like I’m right in the middle of the city. To have something that wild in our neighborhood is very special.
RP: What do you like most about Roslindale? What is your favorite business in the square?
RA: I really love that it has a real town square. I love the little shops. I love that within a one-minute walk you have the Boston Cheese Cellar and Solera, with friendly people working there. And the market, along with the more old-school places like Tony’s, of course.
The walkability is great, and Roslindale really has a neighborhood feeling to it. On weekends I’ll walk down with the kids, because the square can be a destination in itself on a Saturday morning. I liked when Birch Street was closed to traffic and there were activities there and then there’s the Farmers Market itself. We’re looking forward to Distraction Brewing, and although I was sad to see Redd’s go, I’m excited to see whatever fills that space next.
RP: How do you think we can encourage people to spend more time in Roslindale’s green spaces?
IK and RA: People could start by checking out websites to get a sense of these green spaces and what is being done to protect them. But more importantly we would encourage them to get out and visit the Arboretum in different seasons to note how the landscape changes from summer to winter, and how thoughtfully the trees are pruned and cared for. For a wilder experience, I would encourage them to come out for a nature walk in the Wetlands and Allandale Woods Urban Wild. There are probably other lovely hidden gems that we have yet to discover ourselves.
We have to say that Roslindale residents value green spaces very much. Their sentiments are audible in neighborhood conversations, some of which are vibrant Facebook groups where they express genuine concern over how development can impact green spaces, exchange ideas about planting native plants and curtailing invasive species, and share the bounty of their vegetable gardens with neighbors regularly.