Wednesday, November 14, 2018

2018: A Wet, Warm Year

MAYNARD, MA: As 2018 draws to a close, there is a sense that this has been a rainy year, with a delayed start to winter weather. True or not? Trend or not?

True. Using Boston weather data, through November 7th there has already been 44 inches of precipitation for the year. That figure counts rain and melted snow. The yearly average is 43.8 inches, so the average was exceeded with nearly two months to go. Closing out the year, long-term data predicted an additional 6.8 inches of precipitation by the end of December. However, by the time you read this, Maynard may have already gotten an additional 2-3 inches of rain, and perhaps a bit of snow. And right now, the extended Thanksgiving weekend is looking to be wet. For those who cannot remember what the whole year was like, March and April were well above average, May through July was drought, then August through now have been well above average.

UPDATE: Through morning of November 18th, Boston reports 47.6 inches of precipitation. Locally, the 2018-2019 winter has had five inches of snow.

Left scale is Assabet River volume in cfs, indicated by the swooping
line. Horizontal lines are also inches of precipitation per month, amounts
indicated by rain drops or snow flakes. Summer is not a low precipitation
season, but because plants take up so much water, the river is low.
This is in stark contrast to the extended drought that had persisted from 2012 through 2017. As for long-term trends – wetter. Massachusetts records dating to before 1900 show that average annual precipitation was in range of 35 to 40 inches gradually but consistently increasing to 45 to 50 inches. There are always exceptional years. Those with long memories can tell about the severe drought of 1964-66. More recently, the flood year of 2010, with 15 inches of rain over late February into mid-March, pushed the year’s total to almost 65 inches. Going forward, it will be interesting to see if 2019 and beyond stay above the long-term average or revert to the recent drought years. Keep in mind that Maynard draws roughly 900,000 gallons per day from its well fields, discharging a similar amount into the Assabet River as processed wastewater, so is extremely important that our aquifers be recharged by adequate rainfall and snowmelt.  

Congregational Church, Maynard, MA, seen in a
snow storm. Click on photos to enlarge.
One not surprising consequence of the trend for wetter years had been more water in the Assabet River. Record keeping by the U.S. Geological Survey dates back to 1942, and shows that river water volume has increased from 160 to 225 cubic feet per second (cfs). As of this column being submitted on November 9th the river was at 709 cfs. This compared to an average of 90 cfs for mid-November. (A cubic foot equates to 7.48 gallons, so 709 cfs equals 19.1 million gallons per hour.) Rainwater and snowmelt run off far, far exceed Maynard's water needs, but the town has no reservoir to retain the surplus water.  

As for freezing temperatures and the white stuff, this year has been warmer than average. From pre-1900 to present the Massachusetts average annual temperature has gone up one degree – from 47.3 to 48.3. Even modest increases in temperature have consequences. Winter has become shorter. One indication is that peak lilac blooming time has shifted from late to early May. Warm air can hold a higher water content than cold air, so storms tend to be more intense, meaning wetter and also windier. Think back to March, when a series of tree-toppling storms crashed our area. Some of the woodland trails still have tree blockages that were too massive for volunteers to manage.  

Long-term averages are less than one inch of snow in November, and 12 inches for December. That’s for Boston. The snowier Worcester expects 18 inches in December. Us, being midway between, might expect 15 inches of snow before the end of 2018. One surprising consequence of warmer and wetter, is that while winter has been becoming shorter, it is also wetter, packing more snow into a shorter season. The winter of 2010-11 set an all-time record, and for Boston, of the ten snowiest winters dating back to 1890, five has been in the last 20 years. This is a good time to make sure the snowblower is winter-ready.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Rail Trail Safety

With the completion of the Assabet River Rail Trail in Maynard and Acton, many people are discovering the joys of not sharing their exercise space with cars and trucks. The downside is that trails - which exclude motor vehicles – still have their own safety concerns. The danger points are two: where the trail crosses roads, and interactions among people using the trail.

STOP sign for trail users and trail crossing signs for vehicle
drivers. Route 27 and Acton Street intersection.
Manyard, and also Hudson, differ from Acton and Marlborough – the other two places where the Assabet River Rail Trail exists – because of the many street crossings. In Acton, the 1.25 miles of trail crosses no streets. In Maynard, the 2.25 miles of trail crosses nine streets. Approaching these intersections on the trail there are large, white words “STOP AHEAD” painted on the trial itself and trail-size red-and-white STOP signs. These accomplish nothing if people on the trail do not actually stop. Often, bicyclists and runners approach the intersections, look as best they can in the direction of oncoming vehicle traffic, and then proceed without having come to a complete stop. This is especially dangerous at the Route 27 and Acton Street intersection, as the vehicles heading south on Route 27 barely slow down to make the right turn onto Acton Street. Bushes and small trees have been cleared about 40 yards back from the intersection to provide improved sight lines for trail users and drivers. Trail users are advised to come to a full stop and activate the strobe light system, which exists at this and four other locations in Maynard.     

The Assabet River Rail Trail, like many other rail trails, has posted Guidelines for Sharing the Path. Key point for all users: “KEEP TO THE RIGHT except to pass.” Key points for pedestrians: don’t walk more than two abreast, look before changing direction, and keep you dog on a leash (maximum 6 feet). Key points for bicyclists: bicyclists must yield to pedestrians, pass on the left and only when safe, maximum speed 15 MPH and give an audible warning before passing. The same guidelines should apply to any wheeled means of transportation, be it rollerblades, skateboards or scooters. Guideline signs are posted at the Acton end and Ice House Landing, in Maynard.

Trail users should understand that the most common type of accident is when pedestrians are approached from behind by people on faster moving wheeled vehicles, mostly meaning bicycles. The pedestrians – or their children, or their dogs – may veer from walking a straight line at the same time as being passed. The riders’ contribution to these accidents is not warning those about to be passed, either by ringing a bell or by loudly saying “On your left.” Even an audible may not suffice if the pedestrian is listening to music via earbuds. Or is a child. Or is a dog.

Rail Trail guidelines. Click on image to enlarge.
From one website: “Preventing these collisions can be a headache for authorities. In general, many bicycle/pedestrian accidents take place at crossings, junctions or on pavement - spots on the road or trail where things get congested. These situations can be tricky. If you are a pedestrian walking lawfully on the sidewalk and a bicyclist hit you due to their reckless nature, you can file a claim for your injuries. On the other hand, if a pedestrian is distracted and causes a law-abiding bicyclist to crash, the bicyclist could file a claim against the pedestrian.”

Usage of recreational trails by people on electric motor assist bicycles and scooters is a special case regulated by state law. While some states allow e-bikes on protected trails, Massachusetts presently does not. The exact wording of the law “…but shall be excluded from off-street recreational bicycle paths.” Even when being operated on roads, e-bike and e-scooter operators must have a Massachusetts driver’s license or learner’s permit, wear a helmet, and not exceed speeds over 25 mph.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Trail of Flowers - Planting daffodils

Trail of Flowers volunteers digging out an area 70 feet long, four feet 
wide and six inches deep for the daffodil planting. That's a lot of dirt!
On Saturday, October 20, 2018, under a rain-threatening sky, sixteen volunteers put in a morning of digging and digging and digging at the Marble Farm historic site in order to plant an estimated 900 daffodil bulbs. This was the inaugural effort of a program to turn the Assabet River Rail Trail [] into a Trail of Flowers. In the following week hundreds more daffodils to be planted at various locations along the trail, bringing the total to 1,600 bulbs.

The idea is that each fall, thousands of flowering bulbs will be planted at locations adjacent to the trail, so that in the spring, there will be weeks of flowers. Daffodils were chosen for this site because its location at the north border of Maynard, puts it square where deer would eat any planted tulips. More central to town there will also be tulip planting, and perhaps mixes of smaller bulbs such as snowdrops and crocuses. People who's backyards border the trail will be asked to plant bulbs, flowering annuals and perennials at the back of their properties.

David Mark, founder of Trail of
Flowers, stands next to a daffodil
sculpture he created for the planting
event. It will reappear at flowering
 time. The house foundation is beyond
 the stone wall.
In time, plantings may extend to Acton (and even to the south part of the trail, in Hudson and Marlborough). The trail will become a springtime destination for trail walkers, runners and bicyclists from other towns, perhaps including a stop at one of Maynard's cafes.

A giant daffodil: To spice up the planting event, a giant daffodil sculpture was created from a Christmas tree stand, fence post, six pieces of plywood painted yellow and a plastic flower pot painted orange. The sculpture will put in appearances at future events - in time perhaps to be joined by a giant tulip.

Marble Farm: For those who are not familiar with the recently completed section of the Assabet River Rail Trail that crosses Maynard and extends north into Acton, it passes a location across Route 27 from Christmas Motors that was settled by the Marble family circa 1705. There is a plaque at the site with description and photos. Briefly, the family lived at the site, in the same house, for more than 200 years (the house burned in 1924). What remains is impressive stone walls and the stone foundation of the house. The latter is too overgrown at the moment to get more than a glimpse of, but if the entire site was cleared, made safe, and maintained, it could become an addition to Maynard's 'pocket parks,' joining Carbone and Tobin Parks as small greenspace gems.     

Group photo before the digging started. Click on photos
to enlarge. Before this project started the grassy area
where people are standing was overgrown with Oriental
bittersweet, blackberry and sumac. 
Spring Flower Walk: Flowers are expected to be blooming from late March into early May. In April there will be an organized flower-viewing rail trail walk from downtown Maynard to the site. The walk will pass by the intersection of Summer, Maple and Brooks Streets, which includes Maplebrook Park, a garden maintained by Maynard Community Gardeners dating back to 1995. 

The launch of this project was made possible by generous donations from Maynard Community Gardeners and the Assabet River Rail Trail organization. The Town of Maynard approved this use of the Marble Farm site, which is town-owned land. Thanks to all who made this possible. Think spring!

Mysterious iron ring, now painted orange

Archeological finds: While digging out the bulb bed were limited to a few glass fragments, a few colonial or post-colonial pottery shards and one half-pint, clear-glass bottle with seams down both sides (meaning machine-made rather than blown), with no brand or maker marks in the glass. Anchored into the ground in the middle of the flat area now planted with grass is this mysterious iron ring, which is about four inches across. Previous finds from the foundation include beer bottles and a horse shoe. Non-archeological finds include Bud Lite beer cans and nips bottles. Bricks from the two collapsed chimneys, remnants of the 1924 fire that destroyed the house, were used to create the base of the bricked path that now connects the Rail Trail to the historical site lawn where the daffodils were planted. (Bricks from a chimney teardown elsewhere were used for the surface of that path.)

Progress: As of 10/27, 1300 planted, 700 to go. Numbers not always in accord in this and the volunteers needed columns because original order was for 2,000 daffodils, shipper sent 1,600 in time for planting on 10/20 and the rest were cancelled. But then the shipper sent the remaining 400. Not charged for and not required to return. Hence, 2,000. More holes to dig. 

As of 11/10, 1850 planted, 250 to go. Turns out the supplier over-fills the bags, so '100' is often 110-120 bulbs per bag. Subtracting discards (damaged or fungus-rotted), and best estimate for total is 2,100. Locations: Marble Farm site, behind Cumberland Farms gas station, intersection of Summer, Maple and Brooks streets, and a few surprise spots. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Gleasondale, MA, aka Rock Bottom

The definition of “rock bottom’ is of being the very lowest. The phrase is often used nowadays to describe someone deep into drug, alcohol or gambling addiction as “hitting rock bottom” before attempting a recovery. The historical origin, however, appears to be more of mining term, meaning the layer of solid rock that exists beneath soil, clay, glacial till and alluvial deposits. Thus, "rock bottom" started out as a simple synonym for "bedrock" in the mid-1800's, mostly in the context of mining. Once a miner or driller hit rock bottom, the quest for water, gold or whatever was over. Later it carried over to ‘rock bottom’ prices on items offered for sale.

Gleasondale Dam, Stow, MA. This is one of six historic dams
on the Assabet River, none of which are currently providing
any function. The Powdermill Dam in Acton may be restored
 to generate electricity. Click on any photo to enlarge.
For the years 1815-1898 the hamlet sprawled across south Stow and northeast Hudson was initially called, then named, Rock Bottom. The story goes that in 1815 – or thereabouts – the Randall family sold land, mills (saw mill and corn mill) and water rights to businessmen intent on constructing a factory on the site. When the men who were digging the foundation for the factory hit bedrock, Joel Cranston, one of the owners, called out that they had reached rock bottom. Apparently, the owners were so taken with the phrase that in 1815 they incorporated their nascent business as the Rock Bottom Cotton and Woolen Factory. In time, the name carried over to the community, to the point that it had a Rock Bottom Post Office, and on an 1888 map of Massachusetts, the Rocky Bottom train station.

Prior to this infusion of the Industrial Revolution, early owners of the land surrounding the river were the Whitman family, with a dam and mills built by Ebenezer Graves. Whitmans and Graves are buried in the Stow Lower Village Cemetery. The river gained a bridge in 1769. The land and mills were sold to Timothy Gibson in 1770, a few years later sold by him to Abraham Randall. The area was known as Randall Mills from 1776 to 1815. Of note, these early mills were on the east side of the Assabet River, and the dam was about 80 feet downstream from the location of the currently existing dam. On Abraham’s death the property went to his sons, who in turn sold to Joel Cranston. His business partners included Silas Jewell, Silas Felton and Elijah Hale. The business failed during the Recession of 1829, ownership ending up with a Benjamin Poor, who was responsible for having a new dam circa 1830 and a factory building constructed.

Gleasondale mill, original brick building at back right, with belfrey.
Extension on right and building to left were later additions.
Hard times persisted. In 1849 the mill was purchased by Benjamin W. Gleason and Samuel Dale. They expanded operations, and replaced the waterwheel with a more efficient turbine. Then, disaster stuck! On May 9, 1852 the entire mill burned to the ground. It was replaced by a brick factory building, 125 feet long, 50 feet wide, and five stories high, completed in 1854. A description from a 2011 Massachusetts Historical Commission Inventory report: “The structure’s granite lintels, slate shingles, and gabled roof, capped by a distinct belfry at its northern end, are reminiscent of the Greek Revival style popular in the early era of mill architecture.” The dam was replaced by what is the current dam in 1883.

Ownership and management continued into a second generation of Gleasons and Dales while the name transformed from B.W. Gleason & Co., to Dale Bros & Co., to B.W. Gleason’s Sons, and finally settled down to being Gleasondale Mills in 1898, acknowledged by a name-change for the post office. With this went the end of Rock Bottom and the beginning of Gleasondale, which name persists to this day, although the hamlet no longer has a post office or a train station to call its own. As a remnant namesake, the road into the mill building shows up on Google maps as Rockbottom Road.

An anecdote: On March 31, 1911, Phineas Feather, former superintendent of the Gleasondale Mills, attempted to murder Alfred Gleason, mill owner. At the mill headquarters he confronted Gleason over money he felt due him, then drew a revolver from his pocket. Mill superintendent Charles E. Roberts was shot through the chest, and although severely wounded, disarmed Feather, and with Gleason’s help wrestled him to the floor. Robert J. Bevis and others ran into the office to help subdue Feather. During the struggle Bevis and Feather were both shot, in the hand and arm, respectively, by a second gun Feather drew from another pocket. Feather was arrested. All survived their injuries. Feather was remanded to the Bridgewater Hospital for the Criminally Insane, an institution under supervision of the wonderfully named Massachusetts State Board of Health, Charity and Lunacy. He was released in 1915.

Today, the mill buildings stand as host to small businesses that at one time or another have included printing, engraving, woodworking, furniture refinishing, product warehousing and antiques storage. The dam exists, but serves no function. Various studies to revitalize the mill complex have come to naught.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Volunteers Really Needed (Maynard, MA)

Marble Farm historic site, October 2018. Daffodil
planting will be in front of the far stone wall.
A repeat of last week’s column. Volunteer responses have been weak, so if you or anyone you know wants to be involved in these efforts to improve Maynard’s outdoor spaces, now is the time. One key change – the bulb planning weekend has been shifted to October 20-21.

So once again: Can you handle a brush saw? Know which end of a shovel goes into the ground? Not afraid of the outdoors? Then there are two – yes, two – volunteer opportunities waiting for you this fall: Trailkeepers and Trail of Flowers (TOF).

Maynard has miles of woodland trails on town land that are is need of maintenance. Without constant work, these trails are reverting to impassable woods. The town’s website Open Space and Trails Map shows a trail that has done exactly that, as a short trail into Blue Jay Woods, off the west side of Blue Jay Way, no longer exists. Miles of trail in, around and across Rockland Woods, Durant Pond, Silver Hill, Summer Hill, Assabet River Walk, Carbone Park, Ice House Landing, The School Woods and Glenwood Cemetery could suffer the same fate.

Repaired brick path leading onto the
Marble Farm historic site. Area
immediately behind cleared and
planted with grass and daffodils.
Kaitlin Young, the recently hired Conservation Agent, serving the Conservation Commission, hopes to resurrect the idea of a volunteers’ group to maintain existing trails and perhaps create new ones. The proposed name is Trailkeepers. The thinking is to recruit volunteers, have an organizational meeting in October, and plan to send out work groups in November and through winter. The idea behind the timing is that once frosts are occurring that should be the end of deer tick risk. Volunteers would be expected to clear brush that is encroaching on trails, cut-and-remove small trees that are blocking trails, repaint blaze marks on trees, and so on. Organizational meeting tentatively set for Wednesday, October 17, to be followed by trail work after frosts end the deer tick risk and before serious snow. 

As to “Trail of Flowers,” now that the Assabet River Rail Trail is paved in Acton and Maynard, a proposal has been made to embellish the trail with extensive plantings of spring-blooming bulbs. The proposer is David Mark (me). Briefly, donations have been made to pay for the purchase of bulbs. In November, volunteers will be asked to commit to showing up for day or two, tentatively mornings of October 20 and 21, to plant bulbs. It will be BYOS, as in bring-your-own-shovel. If this gets off to a good start this fall, with an impressive blooming next March and April, the project will become an annual effort.

A couple of hundred daffodils were planted at the Marble Farm site in 2009.
This is a photo of the blooming, spring 2010. Without maintenance, the area
became overgrown with Oriental bittersweet. Click on photo to enlarge.
For this kick-off year the plan is to plant 1500 daffodils at the Marble Farm historic site, which is at Maynard’s north end of the trail, across from Christmas Motors. In addition, flyers will be delivered to the homes of people who are trail abutters, suggesting they plant bulbs and other flowers on the trailsides of their own properties. Bulbs will be provided to them. For future years, other sites in Maynard (and possibly in Acton) will be mass-planted with bulbs and other perennial flowers.

Each spring there will be an organized flower-viewing trail walk, with suggestions to wear flower-themed clothing (Hawaiian shirts, anyone?). And a flower poster to promote the event and list sponsors. And a website. The 2019 walk will start at the footbridge over the Assabet River, pass by Tulip Corner (intersection of Summer, Maple and Brooks Streets), then proceed north on the Rail Trail to Marble Farm.   

On Saturday, October 20, volunteers planted approximately 900 daffodils at the Marble Farm site. Remaining bulbs to be planted elsewhere along the Trail.