Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Boy Scouts of Maynard: Trail Work

Through decades, Maynard's Boy Scout Troop #130 has conducted numerous Eagle Scout Service Projects to improve outdoor recreational opportunities in Maynard. These include creating and improving the town's Summer Hill and Assabet River Walk Trails, work at the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge and on the Assabet River Rail Trail, and clearing the Marble Farm historic site.

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: Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life, and Eagle. Scouts must pass specific tests that are organized by requirements and merit badges. The top three ranks require community service projects. Approximately five percent of Boy Scouts reach Eagle Scout.

Jason installing plaque on fence post
(Click on any photo to enlarge)
On April 4, 2009, Maynard Boy Scout Troop 130 spent the better part of a damp spring day cutting down trees and clearing brush from the Marble Farm site, next to Rockland Avenue, and erecting a post and chain fence bordering two sides of the foundation. This was an Eagle Scout project by Jason Schomacker. A plaque on one of the fence posts shows a photo of the house, with barns and other outbuildings seen in the background.

The Marble family had moved to this site circa 1710. Their descendants (Marble, then Whitney, then Parmenter) owned it through 1924, when the house was destroyed by fire. The site has the potential for being an interesting addition to Maynard’s history, but without periodic maintenance it gets rapidly overgrown.

Boy Scouts on completed bridge. Jakob Dickson at left end.
This year, on September 19, 2015, the Troop spent a warm fall morning under the aegis of Eagle Scout candidate Jakob Dickson, carrying lumber a quarter mile into the woods and then building a bridge over a creek. Funding was provided by the Town of Maynard, courtesy of the Conservation Commission. All the pressure-treated lumber was pre-cut and delivered to the trail head by Butler Lumber. The finished bridge spans sixteen feet and is 3.5 feet wide. The two beams are each three 2x8 by 16 foot long, nailed together.

The Assabet River Walk Trail has signed entrances from the cul-de-sac at the end of Colbert Avenue and on Concord Street. From Colbert, the Trail can be very wet, and is also too root-ridden, root-riven and root-rampant to be managed on an off-road bicycle. From Concord Street the first half of the trail is walkable and rideable, then progressively wilder after the bridge crossing. Just before the bridge there is an option to head farther east. This alternative route leads to good views of the Assabet River. The river here is still water (not moving) because it is backed up behind a dam next to Route 62, in Acton. All parts of trial are marked with white blazed painted on trees.

New bridge viewed approaching from north side
Not in the newspaper article: The land is shown on town maps as town land, designated either Lemoine Land or Colbert Hill. There was a Fred Lemoine who served in World War I and an Edward Lemoine listed as donating to the Collection at St. Bridget's Church, November 1907. One end of the Trail is to Colbert Avenue, named for Eugene Colbert's family who lived nearby on Glendale Street starting around 1879. His son Daniel Colbert identified as a founding member of the Twilight Club (1904) a social organization that had a cottage on Lake Boon. But there are no Historical Society details on why these two names are associated with this plot of land. There are remnants of stone walls and drainage ditches crossed by the Trail, suggesting this was pasture.

Recent wildlife sightings in the area include several deer and a rafter of turkeys. (Venery, the proper naming of animal groups, declares that turkeys in plural are a rafter in the same way that geese grouped are a gaggle if on the ground but a skein if aflight.)  The River Walk also introduces visitors to native and invasive plant species. Natives includes numerous beech trees, identified by smooth grey bark, and also poison ivy. Invasives include Japanese knotweed at the Colbert end, Japanese barberry at the Concord end, garlic mustard, burning bush, multiflora rose and Oriental bittersweet throughout. These dominate the forest understory because they are all plants deer disdain to eat.     
Whitetail fawn with spots

Anyone interested in learning more about Troop #130's activities should visit This website provides a description and history of the Troop, including past Eagle Scout projects. The Troop is chartered with the Boy Scouts of America and sponsored by the Union Congregational Church. Scouting in Maynard dates back to 1927. Going forward, there were years with no troop, one troop or two troops (#1 and #30). The two merged at the close of 1984 to form Troop #130, which continues to this day.

Girl Scouts also have an active presence in Maynard, as part of Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts. Earlier this year Rachel Hahn earned her Girl Scout Gold Award - the highest level, requiring 80 hours of toward a community service project - for creating a website, informational brochure and events about autism inclusion resources. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Sidewalks of Maynard

According to the Town of Maynard, MA, population 10,000, the town maintains roughly 50 miles roads and 30 miles of sidewalks. The latter includes wide sidewalks on both sides of streets in the downtown district, 3-5 foot wide sidewalks on both or only one side of some of the other roads, and no sidewalks on less traveled roads.

The first mention of sidewalks is in an Annual Report from 1880 as a comment that $150 was spent on labor and gravel. Back then an unskilled laborer was paid about $1.25 per day. Subsequent reports had budgets covering highways, bridges and sidewalks that gradually increased from $1,000 per year to $2,500 per year. The report for 1893 mentioned concrete sidewalk for Nason Street, but most years described sidewalk expenditures as for labor and crushed stone. Starting with 1902 there were budget breakouts just for sidewalk work: $500 per year for the early years, increasing to $2,000 to $2,500 per year by 1925.  

Without a curb, a grassy strip was needed to separate the
sidewalk from the street. This has different names in
different parts of the country: parkway, citygrass, tree lawn
(if wide enough to include trees), etc. The city owns it
but the homeowner is responsible for upkeep.
As noted, sidewalk materials in the early years were typically gravel, crushed stone, stone dust or cinders. Roads were often of the same composition, so to distinguish road from sidewalk there was either curbstone or a grassy strip separating one from the other. Road surface science progressed from macadam to tarmac to tarvia, to present-day asphalt or concrete. The town's 1921 report mentioned that streets were graded and oiled, bridges replanked, and sidewalks repaired with cinders, gravel and stone dust. Same year, sidewalks were upgraded to asphalt on Walnut, Thompson, Nason and Summer Streets.

The primary purpose of sidewalks is to provide pedestrians with a safe means of getting from one place to another. Today, that means not sharing space with cars, but circa 1900, Maynard had nearly one horse for every ten people, so sidewalks kept people away from horse-drawn wagons. One reason etiquette called for a man to walk on the street side of a woman was to protect her clothing from horse manure spattered by passing vehicles.

Sidewalks have other purposes - places to meet people one knows and see people one does not, to peer into store windows, sit at cafes, for children to jump rope or learn to ride a bicycle, and just to be outdoors when indoors is too crowded or confining. A double plus for Maynard is that sidewalks actually go somewhere (downtown), and by walking, residents avoid the need to find parking and get exercise, too!

Texting while walking creates problems. People are more likely to walk into traffic when distracted. Even when away from street corners, texting-distracted walkers are 10-25 percent slower than people trying to get somewhere, and more likely to drift to one side or the other. Some urban sites are putting padding on light posts and telephone poles.          

Back to Maynard: In parts of town sidewalk replacements are overdue to the point that people consider it safer to walk in the street. This year saw new or rebuilt sidewalks and curbing on portions of Concord, Thompson, Parker and Acton Streets. Next year will see beginning of paving of the Assabet River Rail Trail, which in effect will be a wide sidewalk and bicycle and skateboard path bisecting the town.

The mystery of bumpy yellow (sometimes orange)
metal plates at street crossings is solved.
 A note about sidewalk upgrades: The American Disabilities Act of 1990 requires that when sidewalks meet streets there be no curb, and instead a ramp that will accommodate a wheelchair. However, for blind and severely visually impaired people, the lack of a curb took away the cue for a street crossing. The solution was to install a bright-colored steel plate with bumps, so as to provide a visual and tactile signal.

With sidewalks come responsibilities. The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that property owners are responsible for keeping all sidewalks along their property clear of snow and ice. For an apartment building, that means the landlord. The Town clears snow in business districts and along major streets. Additionally, all building owners are obligated to remove plants, tree branches, construction materials or debris that infringe on sidewalks from either side, and maintain clearance to a height of eight feet.

The grassy strip between street and sidewalk is also a place to pile snow
Maynard residents are to refrain from parking on sidewalks, including parking in their own driveway so as to block the sidewalk. From the town by-laws: "This can create a dangerous situation when people, particularly children or parents with baby carriages, are forced into the street to get around an illegally parked vehicle. There is a $15 fine for parking on the sidewalk and it will be strictly enforced."

Another town regulation, more often in abeyance than observed, is that every building shall have displayed a street number at least four inches in height, visible from street, and be of a contrasting color to the surface to which it is applied - either the building or a roadside mailbox. If the latter, on both sides.