In the early 1970’s, the Boston Redevelopment Authority published an inventory of unprotected green spaces, wetlands, woodlands and rock outcrops entitled “Boston Urban Wilds, A Natural Area Conservation Program.” Among the larger and more significant ones was the 24 acre Bussey Brook Meadow.

John Blackwell

John Blackwell

In 1996, the Arboretum Park Conservancy (APC), which had been legally spun off by the Boston Natural Areas Network, persuaded Harvard to afford the unappreciated property the protection of the indenture, thus averting the threat that the MBTA would take it for a bus garage. Through the hard work of John Blackwell, the APC raised the funds to build a 2000 foot long footpath with welcoming ornamental gates across Washington Street from Forest Hills T station and another opposite the Arboretum’s original gate on South Street where the Weld farmhouse stood.

Bussey Brook Meadow in the fall

Bussey Brook Meadow in the fall

In 2002, Mayor Thomas Menino celebrated the Grand Opening of the Bussey Brook Meadow and the Blackwell Path.

The continuing purpose of the Footpath is to provide a pleasant walk through the urban wild to the South Street Gate for users of public transportation. Drawings by former APC Board member Anne Schmalz illustrate the seasonal progression of plants in the meadow. The drawings change throughout the year and are mounted on permanent frames donated by the APC.

In 2011, Ned Friedman, director of the Arboretum and evolutionary biologist, spearheaded a new program to expand knowledge of invasive species and engage the public as they walk through the park. Peter del Tredici summarizes the program as follows, “One of the main difficulties facing researchers who study urban ecology is finding vegetated sites that will remain open and undisturbed over a long enough time period for observations to become ecologically meaningful. It is the intention of the Arboretum that the Bussey Brook Meadow become a site where long-term ecological research can happen without unanticipated disruptions that would compromise the integrity of future data. Bussey Brook Meadow will be allowed to develop as a site where scientists from the Arboretum and from surrounding universities can monitor long-term changes in the structure and function of an unmanaged, spontaneous urban ecosystem.”

The Ecology of an Urban Wild

Posted by on Dec 20, 2014 in History | Comments Off on The Ecology of an Urban Wild

Peter Del Tredici, Senior Research Scientist, summarizes current research conducted in the meadow in his article, “The Ecology of an Urban Wild: Monitoring Spontaneous Plants in Bussey Brook Meadow”, published in the Fall/Winter 2011-2012 issue of The Arnold Arboretum’s publication Silva.

A walk down the Blackwell Footpath in the Arboretum’s Bussey Brook Meadow presents visitors with opportunities to observe a spontaneous wildflower meadow, a flourishing wetland, and a diversity of both native and introduced plants and animals. A report published by the City of Boston Environment Department in 2000 included the Bussey Brook Meadow in its inventory of the city’s significant “urban wilds”—areas not maintained to a proscribed horticultural standard and lacking amenities other than unpaved pathways. Unlike many of the locations included on the list, the 24 acres that make up Bussey Brook Meadow are an ideal site for research, because it is protected through the Arboretum’s indenture and not subject to loss from future development.

As interest in the subject of “urban ecology” has blossomed over the past twenty years, ecologists have found that traditional concepts of natural systems ecology do not adequately describe the complex interactions that characterize urban environments. Recognizing the need for more information and new conceptual approaches, the National Science Foundation established two Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites in 1999 specifically devoted to the study of urban ecosystems. Over the past ten years, studies at sites in Phoenix and Baltimore have generated abundant data about the ecological functioning of modern cities. The initial success of these projects has highlighted the need for more sites where urban ecology can be studied over time.

In 1996, the Arboretum Park Conservancy partnered with the Arboretum to preserve this landscape, which was assembled from parcels of land that formerly belonged to the MBTA, the City of Boston, and Harvard University. Under the current management regimen, the meadow will serve as a site where Arboretum scientists and visiting scholars can document long-term changes in plant succession and measure ecosystem functions including vegetation structure, wildlife abundance, phenology, and biogeochemical cycling. In addition, the Arboretum will continue to maintain the Blackwell Path which crosses the parcel as a pedestrian link from the Forest Hills subway station to the historic landscape.

In the past year alone, Bussey Brook Meadow has spurred four separate studies by researchers from Tufts and Boston Universities, and has been used by students from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Harvard Medical School, and Brandeis University. The Arboretum has also become a participatory member of two ULTRA (Urban Long-Term Research Area) exploratory projects funded by the National Science Foundation and USDA Forest Service. One is coordinated by the Geography Department of Boston University, while the second is a multi-institutional endeavor coordinated from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

As such, Bussey Brook Meadow becomes a permanent site for monitoring spontaneous urban ecology that can only become more valuable over time.

John Blackwell honored at Emerald Necklace Conservancy 15th Anniversary

Posted by on Dec 24, 2013 in History | Comments Off on John Blackwell honored at Emerald Necklace Conservancy 15th Anniversary

May 14, 2013, Eugenie Beal accepted the Olmsted Award of Excellence presented posthumously to John Blackwell for his work in making the Bussey Brook Meadow part of the Arnold Arboretum.

The Puddingstone Wall Project

Posted by on Dec 14, 2013 in History | Comments Off on The Puddingstone Wall Project

The Arboretum Park Conservancy works with the Arnold Arboretum and the Boston Parks Department to improve the safety and appearance of the historic puddingstone wall which separates the Bussey Brook Meadow from South Street. In 2007 the APC received a Small Changes Grant from the City of Boston to restore 700 feet of the wall from the new South Street Gate to the Asticou/Martinwood neighborhood. The grant was matched by donations from the APC, the Arnold Arboretum, and the Arnold Arboretum Committee, a neighborhood group.

Below are images of the work being done by Your Space Landscape and Construction, Inc., of Burlington, MA, in March 2008. With the cooperation of the Arnold Arboretum the APC is currently pursuing further grant possibilities to continue the restoration of the wall.