Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Assabet River Rail Trail - October 2017

Think 4.6 miles. That is the round trip distance for Maynard's portion of the nearly complete Assabet River Rail Trail. Round trip in this instance means go to any part of the the Trail, walk either north or south to Maynard's border, reverse directions, go to the other border, then return to your starting place. Voila! 4.6 miles.

The Maynard footbridge over the Assabet River, being lowered into place
by a crane, February 2017. Open for traffic in late May 2017.
And here is a word tour of what you will see, using the west end of the bridge over the Assabet as a starting and ending place. Next to the west end is a stone post carved with "MILE 1.25 MAYNARD"  These stones appear every quarter mile. Heading west, you are starting from Tobin Park. The boarded up white building you soon pass on the left was the site of Maynard's train station. Passenger service stopped in 1958 and the station was torn down in 1960. 

The Trail parallels Main Street to Sudbury Street, where it does a left/right jog to continue on High Street, behind the gas station. At the corner before the left turn there are benches and a stand that will soon display on of the two historic plaques about Maynard, in this instance the mill's history.

The stretch next to High Street is the site of Maynard's major train accident - a derailment of passenger cars on Easter Sunday, 1911. There were a few injuries, but none serous, and no deaths. The trail emerges from a wood-bordered stretch to cross Route 117. Look both ways! Once across, it parallels the canal that conveys water from the Assabet River to the mill pond. By creating the canal, the original, water-powered mill could be at a distance from the dam, providing for a larger vertical drop as water passed through the waterwheel (later, a turbine), and thus more power.
At the Maynard/Stow border
This section before Ice House Landing provides a glimpse on the right to remnants of a concrete foundation of what was once the J.R. Bent Ice House, burned to the ground in 1922. Ice was brought in from the river and shipped out via train. Ice House Landing has a parking lot and a kayak launch dock.

The paved trail continues to the Maynard:Stow border, at White Pond Road, which provides access to the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. Be aware that the forested Refuge had been farm and pasture up to when the land was taken from the owners during World War II for munitions storage. The entire forest is less than 80 years old.

Back at the starting point of this tour – the bridge – and now going north toward Acton, there are unfinished stretches. The bit before Summer Street should be completed this fall. At Concord Road the trail is at a complete stop. The plan is for it to continue behind the auto shop/motorcycle shop building, but there is a fenced section with a soil pollution problem that needs to be remediated before construction can begin. Current status is that the Environmental Protection Agency has not yet completed its assessment and recommendation. Until that is done the Massachusetts Department of Transportation cannot provide the construction company with a plan. All this will take into next spring, perhaps summer. What trail users can do now is proceed north on Acton Street, taking that to where it crosses the trail just before ending at Route 27. There had been a shorter connection, by sidewalking around Artisan Automotive and Duncan’s Beemers, but this involved cutting across private property to rejoin the trail. The property owner has recently posted NO TRESPASSING signs.
Signs of a work in progress.

North of the Acton Street hook-up, look for mileage markers. The last Maynard marker is 2.25 miles. About 100 yards past that is the first Acton marker: 0.00 miles. This one is at the Maynard:Acton border. Turning around here and returning to your starting point makes Maynard’s round-trip distance 4.6 miles. Trail users can also continue into Acton, with a great view of wetlands to the west. The Acton trail is still under construction, but when completed, it will cross a boardwalk over wetlands, cross a bridge over Fort Pond Brook, and terminate at Maple Street, Acton, near the train station.

Landscaping is also a work in progress. Tree and shrub planting has been completed, but in the spring there may be a need to replace some of the plantings that did not survive. The Town of Maynard will have to decide what level of maintenance is needed, and also whether to install amenities such as benches and trash receptacles that were not part of the original project.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Carbone Park

Site of bridge-to-be
Click on photos to enlarge
On September 23rd, Boy Scout Troop #130 – 23 strong – showed up at Carbone Park, Maynard, to give it a makeover. Troop members removed trash, repainted the sign, cleared the woodland trail and replaced one of the bridges that cross the modest, muddy stream which transverses the park.

Completed  ten foot long bridge
The day-long (pizza interrupted) event was organized and managed by Evan Jacobson as his Eagle Scout project. To earn the Eagle Scout rank, the highest advancement rank in Scouting, a Boy Scout must fulfill requirements in the areas of leadership, service, and outdoor skills. Although many options are available to demonstrate proficiency in these areas, a number of specific skills are required to advance through the ranks of Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life, and Eagle. The top three ranks require community service projects. Approximately five percent of Boy Scouts reach Eagle Scout.

This was just the latest of several Eagle Scout projects that have benefited Maynard’s trails and conservation land. In 2015, Scouts constructed a sixteen foot long bridge for the Assabet River Trail, accessible from Concord Road and Colbert Avenue. Other past efforts improved ability to walk on the future route of the Assabet River Rail Trail, and also clearing the historic Marble Farm site on the north side of Maynard.

Carbone Park is very much a “pocket park.” Located at the corner of Summer and Florida Streets, it is approximately 70 x 100 yards. The front third facing Florida Street is a grassy area with five benches. The back two-thirds are wooded and hilly, with a dirt trail that crosses two short bridges over a muddy stream.  The woodland is dominated by maple trees plus a sprinkling of beeches, oaks, and a few dying elm trees. The stream is a remnant of a longer creek that once started farther to the north and bisected the land where the ArtSpace building now stands.

Carbone Park: Art installation by Catherine Evans (2015). 
Trees at the entrance to the trail sport colorful plastic fringes. This is an art installation “Thistle” by ArtSpace-based artist Catherine Evans. This example of public art is supported by the Maynard Cultural Council. In early spring the park is a good place to spy emerging skunk cabbage – first the alien-looking spathes, followed by the unfurling of green leaves. Farther up the trail there are examples of glacial erratics – rounded boulders left behind by glaciers. One large boulder is spotted with lichen. The park has a bit of an invasive species problem. The Scouts cut a goodly amount of burning bush, which was dominating the undergrowth. The woodland closest to the grassed area has some Japanese barberry, Oriental bittersweet and multiflora rose. Toward the northeast border there is some poison ivy, but this is a native hazard, not a foreign one. 

Carbone Park sign. Size ~ 1.4 acres.
Carbone Park was named after Walter E. Carbone, a life-long resident of Maynard, and according to the Maynard High School yearbook from 1927, “Boy who has done most for the class.” The town’s Conservation Commission was founded in 1967. Walter, who had served on the Planning Board 1951-1959, was one of the original appointees to ConsCom and remained a member until his death in 1993. The park was so-named in 1987 to honor Walter’s twenty years service. However, the town did not get around to erecting a sign until 2005. Twelve years later the sign was showing its age, so the Scouts included repainting the sign as part of their makeover.

Walter is not the only Carbone who triggers memories in long-time residents. Edith, his wife, served Maynard as librarian from 1953 to 1972. She was in this position in 1962 when the library got its own building (now the police station). For many, many years, Uncle Pete Carbone’s Twin Tree CafĂ© prospered on Powder Mill Road. It was well known regionally for Italian-American food, with seafood a specialty. Pete was actually Vito A. ‘Pete’ Carbone. He and Walter were not related. Anyway, in 1965 the business was sold to Pete’s chef, John Alphonse, Sr., in time going to John Alphonse, Jr., always named Alphonse’s Powder Mill Restaurant. Today, the building is home to the Maynard Elks, Lodge #1568. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Maynard, Stow and Instagram

Posted at #maynardelifeoutdoors and #assabetriverrailtrail 
To cut to the chase, there are Instagram postings for #maynardlifeoutdoors (created by yours truly), #maynardma, #assabetriver, #stow ma #assabetriverrailtrail, and #lakeboon (and #lakeboone). For those not deeply into social media – a.k.a. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and so on, Instagram in its most basic form allows people to share pictures and videos to computers and mobile phones. The business with hashtags (#) means that if a person searches Instagram on that term, they can see all postings that people have posted with that term. This can be futile. A photo of a dog, with the hashtag #dog, becomes part of a list of 155 million dog photos. Hashtag #parrot yields more than two million photos. But hashtag #deadparrot yields only a thousand or so photos, some relating to the dead parrot sketch from the Monty Python television show.

Garter snake, posted to #maynardlifeoutdoors
Hashtag #maynardlifeoutdoors (again, me) currently has about 25 images and 10 followers. Hint: you can follow. Photos hashtagged there are also hashtagged to #assabetriver or #assabetriverrailtrail if appropriate.   

Followers: If you, as an Instagram user, decide to ‘Follow’ someone, that means anytime you go to Instagram you can check on the people you are following to see their most recent postings, then optionally ‘Like’ those postings, and/or leave a comment. (The creator of the account has the power to delete comments.) Current estimates are that Instagram has about 700 million registered users, with perhaps half that number visiting the site frequently. More than 50 billion images have been uploaded.  

Instagram especially appeals to people in the images business, examples including painting, drawing, costumes, tattoos, photography… It becomes an aspect of marketing their businesses, much as company websites complement brochures. Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 (making the founders very rich), so people are able to post content to both sites simultaneously.

Here are two sides of a small stone, painted, and left in a public place as part of the Maynard Rocks public display. Hundreds of children - and artists - have placed these about town for others to find, photograph, move to new locations, perhaps even to keep (discouraged). Maynard Rocks has a Facebook page, and also, as of mid-September, an Instagram address: #maynardrocks

Locally, there are hundreds of images posted to #maynardma, #assabetriver and #lakeboon. One of the problems is that people tend to be liberal with their attachment of hashtags to their photos, so a search on #maynardma will yield not only images of things in Maynard, but scores upon scores of photos of people you do not know, who either live in Maynard, or just happened to be visiting Maynard when a photo was taken, or post photos of women’s hair (styled in Maynard?), or are of a performer name Conrad Maynard.

For reasons unclear to my neophyte understanding of Instagram, a search on #stow ma with a space between "stow" and "ma" is needed to get to the collection of 1,257 postings at #stowma. The order of appearance appears to be a handful of the most popular postings, followed by recent postings. For Stow, whoever has been posting is a big fan of photographs of flowers, and of tomatoes (!?).

Instagram has a downside. For teens especially, social media platforms are a measure of popularity. There is pressure to post really good photos of oneself, to the point that some people resort to professional make-up and hair preparation. A dearth of followers, and/or negative comments, can be disheartening. A survey conducted in England in 2017 reported that Instagram rated highest among social media platforms for teen problems with bullying, body image, anxiety, depression and loneliness.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Historic Hurricanes Massachusetts

Hurricane Irma, east of Puerto Rico, Sept 5, 2017
If any remnants of Hurricane Irma reach eastern Massachusetts, all we are likely to see are rainy days. But there are historical records of much, much stronger storms having a direct, catastrophic impact locally.

1635: The Great Colonial Hurricane made landfall at Narragansett Bay in late August as a fast-moving Category 3 hurricane. It crossed directly over the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Historians consider this "… probably the most intense hurricane in New England history.”

1938: The practice of naming Atlantic hurricanes with women’s names did not begin until 1947; or retiring names of major storms after 1955, or having men’s names rather than only women’s starting in 1979. Thus, the storm of 1938 came be known as the Great New England Hurricane, also the Long Island Express. Mistakes in interpreting weather data had led to a prediction that this storm would dissipate to gale force before making landfall. Instead, on September 21, 1938, it reached Long Island with hurricane force winds and a significant storm surge. More than 600 people died – mostly in Rhode Island. The oldest residents of Maynard and Stow remember vast numbers of trees being blown down, blocking streets and damaging buildings.   

The 1938 hurricane downed trees and telephone poles on Maple Street,
Maynard, MA. (courtesy Maynard Historical Society)  
1954: A double-header! Hurricane Carol also crossed the east end of Long Island, reaching landfall as a Category 2 storm. In Boston, high winds destroyed the steeple of the Old North Church. Hurricane Edna crossed Cape Cod as a Category 2 storm just ten days after Carol had tracked a bit farther west. Locally, rainfall of 5 to 10 inches on ground already saturated by the passage of Carol flooded basements and rivers. Combined, the storms destroyed much of the peach and apple crops just weeks before harvest time. 

1955: Hurricane Diane waltzed ashore in the Carolinas, wandered across New Jersey and southern New York, before heading eastward across much of Massachusetts. By this time it was weak wind-wise, but very, very wet. Much of southern Massachusetts, from its border with New York to the ocean, experienced flooding. Half of Worcester was under water. Locally, an estimated 15 inches of rain fell in four days. The Assabet River crested at 8.93 feet, the highest it had been since 1927 and the highest since. (The flood of 2010 crested at 7.1 feet.) Main Street flooded, as did the first floor of the mill building closest to the river. No bridges were lost.   

1991: Hurricane Bob!!! This storm of August skirted the coast before making landfall at Newport, Rhode Island as a Category 2 hurricane. Forecasting was good, so Rhode Island and Connecticut were able to declare of emergency before the storm hit. The storm crossed eastern Massachusetts fast and relatively dry, so most of the damage was due to high winds and storm surge along the coast. Provincetown reported sustained winds exceeding 100 miles per hour. Locally, downed trees and minor damage to buildings. The name “Bob” was permanently retired, joining Diane, Edna and Carol as other New England hurricane names we will never hear anew.

An explanation of ‘storm surge’: coastal flooding can be severe during hurricanes (and also northeasters). Storms are centers of low air pressure, meaning less weight of air on the water, causing water level to rise underneath storms, which have low barometric pressure. Of much greater importance, the push of wind across long distances of water for prolonged periods of time not only generates large waves, but pushes water. When this reaches shore at times of high tide, the water can be five, ten, fifteen, even twenty feet above normal high tide. The Galveston, Texas hurricane of 1900 pushed a storm surge of 10 to 15 feet across a city that was mostly 10 feet above sea level, flattening the city and resulting in a loss of an estimated 10,000 lives, making it the deadliest natural disaster to every strike the United States. The Texas flooding from Hurricane Harvey was from rain, whereas the coastal flooding from Hurricane Irma was mostly storm surge (as when Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey and New York).

One oddity - a storm tracking north along a west coast, much as Irma tracked north along the west side of Florida, will initially push water away from the shore, as wind direction on the north side of the storm is east to west. After the eye passes, the winds on the south side of the storm blow west to east, pushing all the water back.

All Irma delivered to eastern Massachusetts was scattered showers. Jose blessed Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and the outer Cape with gale force winds and inches of rain, but much less west of Boston. Maria is too far away to guess what it will bring to New England.  

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Consider the Muskrat

Caltech mascot is a beaver
MIT mascot is a beaver. Officially,
"Tim the Beaver"
Consider the muskrat. A muskrat can be thought of as a low-rent version of a beaver – they toil but do not build, their tails make no signature slap upon the waters when startled, trapped, their fur is worth less, and no college (and only one high school – Algonac, MI) ever selected the muskrat as its mascot; this versus the beaver mascots for MIT, Caltech, Babson College, Oregon State University, University of Maine at Farmington, and others. For more than 125 years there was a Beaver College, originally located in the town of Beaver, PA, but later relocated across the state to near Philadelphia; from 1907 to 1972 it was Beaver College for Women, then co-ed, meaning that it was also Beaver College for men, but finally undertaking a name change in 2001 to Arcadia University. (Past graduates were able to get replacement diplomas with the new name.)  

Muskrats (about three pounds) are rarely far from water. (Internet download)
Enough with run-on sentences. The muskrat is small. Adults weight about three pounds (compared to 30 or more for a beaver). The muskrat is short-lived. Average lifespan in the wild is 3-4 years. The muskrat is prolific. Females reach sexual maturity at one year, and can have 2-3 litters per year, 6-8 kits per litter. The muskrat is omnivorous. While the roots and stems of aquatic plants are a diet mainstay, muskrats will eat insects, crayfish and dead fish. In turn, the muskrat is food for many predators, falling prey to mink, coyote, fox and raccoons on land, owls descending from the air, lastly snapping turtles, otters and large fish in the water.   

Muskrat swimming.  When startled, they can
dive, and stay under water several minutes.
Muskrats are covered with short, thick fur brown or black in color, with the belly a bit lighter. The fur has two layers, which helps protect them from the cold water. The tail is hairless, rat-like in appearance, and used for swimming. The tail drags on the ground when walking on land, and so leaves a distinctive trail when walking on mud or snow.

Muskrats spend much of their time in the water, typically the shallow water of marshlands, streams and small ponds. Muskrats will reside at beaver ponds, and may even move into an abandoned beaver lodge. Otherwise, muskrats create modest-sized mounds of soft vegetation (not sticks or branches) near the shore, with a living chamber inside and an underwater entrance, or else burrow into river banks and live in these tunnels. The combination of less vegetation (eaten or for habitat) and shoreline burrowing contributes to erosion and flood risk.    

A muskrat "push-up", in this instance using stems from marsh plants,
provides some shelter from weather and predators, but is not nearly
as large or as sturdy as a beaver family's branches and mud abode.
Muskrats are indigenous to North America. Because many people in many countries thought it would be a good idea, muskrats are an invasive species across much of northern Europe, across much of Siberia, and also in parts of South America. The animals were imported either for fur farms, and then escaped, or were released to the wild with the idea that local trappers would have one more species to trap. The consequences are the same ecological impacts seen in North America – erosion and flood risk – made worse by the absence of mink, the primary predator. (Mink is also an invasive species in parts of Europe, but that is another story.)   

In Massachusetts, shooting muskrats is against the law, but a license can be obtained for trapping. The season opens on November 1st and closes at the end of February. Muskrat fur does not have the same cachet as mink, but there is some demand for muskrat pelts, especially from Korea and China. Prices at auction are about $3-4/pelt. Wild mink brings about $10-12/pelt. Farmed mink, a larger animal with a higher quality fur, brings $50-80/pelt. The official winter hat of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is made with muskrat fur.