Thursday, August 25, 2016

New Singletrack Trail in Acton

Viewed from the Maynard side, this stone marker, just east of
the outlet from the wastewater facility, has an "A" on the west
side and a "S" on the east side. The latter is not "M" for
Maynard because the stone was set when the land west of
Acton was still part of Stow, before Maynard created in 1871.
Hat and gloves resting on top of stone.
Acton volunteers have been working this summer to create new singletrack trail suitable for hiking and off-road bicycling. Access is from Old High Street, which is off High Street when driving south, toward Route 62. Old High Street is a dead end. Toward the end, on the right, there is an area to park on the grass. Do not park on the road itself. The future intent is to bring in gravel to make this an all-seasons parking area, perhaps complete with an entry sign and map display.

Walking stick advised, and boots/shoes that you do not mind getting muddy. As always, check clothing periodically for deer ticks. The new trail is not suitable for inexperienced off-road cyclists.

Route: Length of the new section is 0.5 miles. Currently marked with yellow ribbons, to be replaced with paint blazes on trees. At the end - at the Acton/Maynard border (where it crosses the outflow from the Maynard wastewater treatment facility) - it connects to two existing trail networks:

1) Going straight enters Maynard, which has two exits, on Concord Street and on Colbert Ave. Both exits have signs reading ASSABET RIVER WALK. Distance to either exit is 0.7 miles. OK for off-road riding to the place where the trail divides, and to the end of the right fork (Concord Street exit). From here it is possible to return to the starting point on roads: East on Concord Street, which becomes Parker in Acton, Right onto Adams, Right onto High Street and finally right onto Old High Street. Total distance 2.4 miles. The left fork of the Maynard trail crosses a wooden bridge. Farther on, it gets progressively harder to ride because of roots and rocks. Parts very wet after heavy rains and during spring thaw.

2) Making a sharp right turn at the border enters a network of singletrack in Acton, much of it marked with white paint blazes, that has exits to Pine Hill Road in Maynard and Parker and Adam Streets, Acton.

Branches and log sections laid across muddy stretches = corduroy trail
Conditions on new trail: The first 40 yards of the trail is crisscrossed by lots of roots, but that stops once into the trees. Modest ups and downs. There is poison ivy in spots, but to the sides. It is possible to walk the trail without brushing against any greenery or having to duck under branches. About 1/4 mile in there is a creek crossing that in the future may have a bridge, but is now an awkward ford on foot and much harder if trying to cross carrying a bike. Toward the end there is a gradual climb skirting the edge of a hill.

The new trail goes through sections of wetland. For the present there was an attempt to make this walkable by laying sections of branches and logs across the trail (called corduroy trail). These sections can still be squishy and slick, especially in wet weather, so expect to get shoes wet. There is one section of corduroy before the creek and several after. The intent is to replace these with ground-resting boardwalk across the wet sections. There are also places where long pieces of black plastic are half-buried near or along the trail. This plastic was installed to reduce erosion while the Acton wastewater treatment plant was under construction. Left behind, and now half-buried.Future work may involve removing this plastic.

Powdermill Dam on the Assabet River, Acton, MA. Click on photo to enlarge.
Harking back to the parking on Old High Street, it is a short walk to the end of the road, which stops at what used to be a bridge over the Assabet River. The body of water to the right is called Ripple Pond. It is created by the dam, which was built in the 1800s to supply water power to the gunpowder mill. A short walk to the left provides a glimpse of the water cascading over the top of the dam. The brick and concrete structure houses a turbine used to generate electricity whenever the water flow is adequate (not this summer!).

Well into the 1970s this body of water was extremely foul smelling and algae plagued. It still can develop surface growth of algae and duckweed in times of low river flow, but not nearly as bad smelling. The problem was that Maynard's wastewater treatment plant has its outflow to this part of the river. Federal and State regulations now call for a much reduced outflow of phosphorus and nitrogen, and prohibit the outflow of sludge, so the eutrophication of Ripple Pond has been partially reversed. The body of water now supports fish and other water and wetlands species. A wooden structure in the river, visible looking upstream, was built with the hope that ospreys would use it for a nest site. Ospreys do live in the area, but have not yet taken advantage of the platform.  

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Maynard's High Schools 1871-2016

The school that opened for the 2013-14 school year replaced the building next door that had served as Maynard's High School for 49 years. The high school before that one had served for 48 years. The next to last school had a troubled gestation. In 1961 the town vote was against building a new high school. This was short-sighted, as the existing school had an official maximum capacity of 350 students (already exceeded), no library and a too-small gym. One year later the vote went the other way, in favor of spending up to $1.7 million dollars to go forward. 

The project was way overdue. Projections based on the Baby Boom were that the high school population would swell to 600 in ten years. And in truth, it hit 644 in 1971. Junior high school students were already on split sessions due to overcrowding and the elementary schools were averaging 30 to 35 students per classroom. The new school relieved overcrowding across the entire school system.

MAYNARD HIGH SCHOOL sign destroyed along with the building in 2013.
The Class of 1965 was the first class to graduate from the school building that met its demise in 2013. Joseph Mullin was the class president of 124 graduating students. The class motto was "Non est vivere est valere vita," which translates as "Not merely to exist, but to amount to something in life."

As for the newest iteration of Maynard High School - the sixth to serve that function since the town was incorporated in 1871 - construction broke ground in 2011. Classes began with the 2013-14 school year even though the building and landscape were still works in progress.

Enrollment at Maynard High School ebbed from that 1970s peak of more than six hundred to numbers in the low three hundreds for the last ten years, resulting in graduating classes of about 70 students. There has been a recent uptick in enrollment, but still small compared to our neighbors. Acton-Boxborough graduates 450-500 each year. Nashoba (serving Stow, Bolton and Lancaster) graduates about half that number. To the south, Lincoln-Sudbury sees off about 400 each year, while eastward, Concord-Carlisle says good-by to approximately 325 seniors. What all ten towns share in common is that the great majority of their graduates go on to further education.

One bit of history many current residents are unaware of is that Alumni Field became the school's sports site long before the high school moved to the south side of town. In 1928, while Maynard High School was still at the Summer Street location, the town transferred the land that had been the Town Poor Farm meadow to the School department. The football team started using the new playing field for the 1928 season. Within a handful of years Alumni Field gained a cinder track around the playing field, bleachers, hockey rink, field house and tennis courts.

   As for a list of all the high schools:
       Nason Street          1871-1877
       Acton Street           1877-1892
       Nason Street          1892-1916
       Summer Street       1916-1964
       MHS                      1964-2013
       MHS                      2013-

At the time of the incorporation of Maynard in 1871, the new town was served by ten teachers working in four small school buildings. Salaries were in the range of $9-15/week. The small school building at Nason Street became the first high school, with a total enrollment of 35 students. Six years later a new high school was built on Acton Street (site currently occupied by Jarmo's Auto Repair). Then back to the Nason Street site, and then Summer Street before decamping to the south side of town.

The third high school served from 1892-1916. This was a newly built wooden, 12-room schoolhouse at the current site of the Maynard Public Library. The school suffered a minor fire on September 12, 1916, then burned completely on September 20th. Both fires were thought to be arson. 

Maynard's new high school (1916). Click on photos to enlarge.
The fourth high school started out as part of the building currently occupied by ArtSpace. Construction was completed in time for the start of the 1916-17 school year. The school was nameless until 1932, when "Maynard High School" was approved at a Town Meeting vote. A timeline compiled by Ralph Sheridan and David Griffin for the Maynard Historical Society noted, among these many facts, that football was reestablished as a school team for the fall of 1917, after a 12 year hiatus. The team lost the first game by 59-0.

The Bridge on the River Assabet

Preparing the bridge for removal, August 11, 2016. Notice
orange lifesaver ring in this and last photo. OSHA
regulations require this when working near water, even though
in this instance the river is less than one foot deep.
Click on any photo to enlarge.
Spoiler alert: The climax of the 1957 movie "The Bridge on the River Kwai" occurs when the British officer in charge of the prisoners who built the bridge for the Japanese Army, deeply conflicted, also mortally wounded, falls on the detonator wired to the explosives that destroy the bridge. What happened in Maynard August 11th was not nearly so dire - no World War II, no explosives - but a bridge did end its life. A large crane brought in by D'Allessandro Corporation lifted the bridge from its stone foundation and gently lowered it onto a truck. Once the cables were in place the entire operation took less than ten minutes.

The wooden bridge, forty feet long, six feet wide, had been installed in 1989 as part of the creation of John J. Tobin Riverfront Park. The site was where the railroad bridge had been removed in 1980. Many residents of Maynard remember walking that bridge over the river - no railings and a twenty foot drop.

Cables in place to lift bridge.
Tobin was a long-time resident of Maynard. He was a Board of Public Works member for over 30 years, and also active at times on the town's Finance Committee, School Building Committee and the Board of Appeals. He was so active in town that people referred to him as "Mr. Maynard."

His death in 1986 was a catalyst for the town's government to choose some means of remembering his contributions. Tobin Park encompasses greenspace on either side of the bridge site. This is one of the few places in town where it is possible to walk right down to the riverbank. Barefoot wading is not recommended, however, as while literally hundreds of pounds of broken glass, pottery shards and rusted metal have been removed, much remains.

Up, up and away! If you weren't there at 8:45 AM, you missed it.
The bridge removal and replacement process had originally been scheduled to begin in October and finish by March 2017. D'Allessandro Corporation, the construction company with the contract for the entire project, decided to accelerate the process in order to take advantage of summer's low water level in the Assabet River. The intent now is to have the replacement bridge in place by early December. In the interim, people have to detour fifty yards south to Main Street, cross the river on the Main Street Bridge, then return fifty yards north to the original route. No big deal.

The current view from Main Street bridge includes what looks like very large white bags. These create a cofferdam, which provides for a dry workspace in an area that would otherwise be under water. Each bag holds approximately one ton of sand or gravel, and is lowered into place by a crane. Once the new abutments are in place, a prefabricated new bridge, 62 long and 16 feet wide, will be installed and the cofferdam removed. Why so wide? The intent is to provide for six foot lanes in both directions (standard for new rail trail construction), plus allow two more feet to the railings, space for people to pause to look at the river.

Bridge loaded onto D'Allessandro truck.
The bridge is not the only part of the construction project being accelerated. Through August and September the remaining stumps will be cleared and railroad ties removed, followed by trucking in hundreds upon hundreds  of tons of stone to create a base for the asphalt. The center of town will see more curb, sidewalk and path construction. Parking lots will be reconfigured and telephone poles moved. The intention is to complete as much as possible before winter puts a halt to construction.

Cofferdams on both sides of the Assabet River are in place
to keep the base of the walls dry while work is going on.
Work has also been sped up in Acton. Under the original plan all paving, end to end, was to be completed by late 2017, with fence, bench and extensive landscaping (new trees!) scheduled for early 2018.  Although no formal change has been announced for completion date, this could all be done in 2017.

A revised Construction Schedule was shared after this column was submitted to the newspaper. Although much is sped up, completion of the Maynard footbridge is still shown as occurring in spring 2017. We will see. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

In Memory of Daniel Mark (1984-2009)

Daniel Mark dressed up for a family event
August marks the seventh anniversary of our son’s death. Most people don’t think of epilepsy as a potentially lethal disease. It is. Daniel’s epilepsy was part of his life from an early age. In spite of his epilepsy and his other disabilities, his attitude about life was “I want it all.” His goal was to live his life with as much independence and joy as possible. He was proud to work at a horse stable and a supermarket. He was happy to meet every person he ever met. Daniel lived in Maynard from 2000 to 2008. Then, at age 24 years, he moved to a supported-living house in a near by town, but continued to visit Maynard often. 

Eight things Daniel liked to do in Maynard:

  1. Walk around. Maynard is one of the few walk-around towns in the area. Where else do you have more than 40 restaurants, stores and shops within walking distance?
  2. Summer concerts in the park. A place to meet friends and listen to the town band work through a Disney medley.
  3. Erikson’s Ice Cream. Serving ice cream in Maynard since 1937.
  4. Friday night football. Whether you have kids at the high school or not, it’s not the worst way to spend an evening. Sometimes the opposing team has more cheerleaders than Maynard has team members. And still, often enough, Maynard wins.
  5. Volunteer to clean up the river. Because where else can you walk around in ankle deep mud dragging out tires with a bunch of friends?
  6. See a movie. Maynard has a movie theater. Acton does not. Stow does not. Sudbury does not. Concord does not.
  7. Dine at a Maynard restaurant. Oft times Daniel knew wait staff from his high school days. If the food was good he would say “No offense Dad, but this tastes better than your cooking.” If it was very good, he’d say “I can’t stop eating this!”
  8. Drinking with friends. Daniel could not drive, but he did have a state photo ID so he could travel by air. And, as he figured out, if he ran into buddies from his high school days while walking around downtown, they could go to a local bar and he could use his “drinking license” to order a non-alcoholic (because of his meds) beer.
Quiet moment at the barn job arranged by Minute Man ARC:  The ARC
mission statement: "Improving the lives of children and adults
with disabilities through therapeutic services, employment,
recreation, housing and community involvement."
 Epilepsy affects one in a hundred people, and impacts the lives of their families and friends. It is our fondest hope that cures may be found - better drugs, better surgery - so that other families will not experience the loss that we sustained. In memory of Daniel, make a point of enjoying life in Maynard.

This is the point in a column where readers might expect a request to donate to a specific health related charity. But the truth is we all have dealt with, or are dealing with, or will deal with disease and death in our own families. There is lots of advice on how to deal with grief, but it always boils down to: Get help. Take care of yourself. Take care of others. So, get help, take care of yourself, and support the charity that is right for you.

Our family toast, before our evening meal, is "To family and friends, with us and gone."

Monday, August 8, 2016

Assabet River - Low Water During Drought

This is a rewrite of a 2010 column, written during a milder drought summer than this one.

A river with next to no water excites the river viewer far less than high water – no sandbags, no roads impassable, no sense of invasion. Plus, understanding cause for high water is as simple as “rain runs off,” while comprehending the causes of low water leads to my-eyes-glaze-over nuances about groundwater, wastewater, evaporation, evapotranspiration, aquifers, etc. And yet, and yet, there are things to know as the Assabet River slows to a trickle.

First the facts: the peak of the 2010 flood saw 2,500 cubic feet per second (cfs) rushing through downtown Maynard. That’s 18,700 gallons a second, 1.1 million per minute, 67 million per hour, or 1,616 million gallons of water per day. For comparison, Maynard’s water usage is just under one million gallons per day, drawn from Town wells, most of which gets put into the river as cleaned wastewater. August 2016 finds the river at times under 10 cfs. This in comparison to U.S. Geological Survey records which show an August median of 40 cfs. Record lows for this time of year are under 5 cfs.

Low water on the Assabet River is not normally due to less rain during the summer months, but this year the drought is definitely is a contributing factor. Decades of record keeping show this area as averaging close to four inches of precipitation every month. This year, June, July, and so far August, have been under one inch per month. 

Ben Smith Dam (Maynard, MA) with a trickle of water over the top.
The Assabet River is low in summer because more of summer rain goes to replenishing local groundwater without ever reaching the rivers and streams that make up the river's watershed. Green plants take up water, and via evapotranspiration release that moisture into the air. A single large tree can release several hundred gallons of water per day, an acre of grass far more. An eighteen hole golf course might irrigate 500,000 gallons per day, with much of that lost from the local watershed to evaporation and evapotranspiration.

Low water reveals trash. Downstream of the Elks building there are still scores of old car tires visible in the river despite the Organization for the Assabet, Concord and Sudbury Rivers (OARS) having conducted annual clean-ups that removed literally hundreds of tires from just that section. Clearly, once upon a time someone in the tire business thought dumping in the river meant “away.” Tobin Park shoreline is littered with broken glass. Clean up glass, rake a bit, more glass. Rake more, more glass. It’s glass all the way down. Post-flood finds back in 2010 were an unbroken “Hans Eriksen” pint sized milk or cream bottle, circa 1940’s and a glass, 6.5 ounce Coca-Cola bottle, with “LOWELL  L  MASS” on the bottom, date unknown. This year’s OAR clean-up, scheduled for September 17, is posted at Volunteers welcome.

Greyish line is river volume; raindrops and snowflakes symbolize
precipitation per month in inches, so all close to 4"/month except for Feb.
Low water reveals fish. Maynard’s section of the Assabet is home to white suckers, golden shiners and various types of sunfish. Late morning to early afternoon are good times for fish sightings from the Main Street bridge or the footbridge. Spotting fish from above can be difficult. One trick is to scan the bottom for a moving shadow, then look above the shadow for the fish. Great Blue Herons stalk these shallows for fish, frogs, crayfish and the occasional duckling. Snapping turtles lurk on the river bottom.

Back in the day when mills operated on water power some rivers were shut off nights and Sundays. These no-flow times allowed mill ponds to refill with water to power the next work shift. With multiple mills operated on the Assabet and its tributaries there had to be cooperation among the mill operators so that everyone had water when they needed it.

A not-so-secret secret about the Assabet River is that by mid-summer much of the water flowing through Maynard is cleaned water that was discharged by three upstream wastewater treatment plants. When the river is this low, upstream discharge contributes more than half the flow you see. According to the treatment plants, the water being put in is cleaner than the river it is being put into. Maynard’s cleaned discharge is added to the river just before it enters Acton.

Low water can end quickly. In August 1955 Hurricane Diane brought torrential rain to eastern Massachusetts. Within 48 hours of the storm's arrival the Assabet River went from 1.1 feet to 8.96 feet at the gauge upstream of the Waltham Street bridge. Volume went from 20 cubic feet per second to 4,500 cfs. Main Street near the Main Street bridge, and surrounding buildings, were flooded.