Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Having Walked Every Road...

Having walked every road in Maynard, I can report from personal observation a range that stretches from imaginary though abandoned, unpaved, unaccepted, in poor repair, all the way to really new (with or without new sidewalks). Likewise, street name signs range from non-existent to really old, to just old, to newish - but still not up to code.  

As a side note, of the 25 street names most commonly found across all 351 towns and cities of Massachusetts, Maynard matches for 18, including the top five (Maple, Park, Pine, Pleasant, Oak) and three of the next five: Elm, Main and Lincoln but not Highland or Cross (although Mill Street was Cross Street back in 1887). At least one street name - Guyer Road - is unique to Maynard.

According to a recent survey of all roads in Maynard by Beta Group, a consulting company, the totals came to 41.32 miles of accepted roads, 14.57 miles of unaccepted roads and 0.40 miles of state-owned roads, for a total of 56.29 miles. I believe this total does not include private roads nor roads that were abandoned, examples of the latter being roads that existed in land taken by the U.S. Army in World War II, currently incorporated into the Assebet River Wildlife Refuge.

Reasons for the survey were to evaluate whether unaccepted roads - currently not maintained by the Town - could be brought up to code and accepted, and to develop a three year plan for road and sidewalk repair and resurfacing. It is also important that the MA Department of Transportation concur with the Town on number of miles of accepted roads, as that dictates state funding aid for road repair.  

A problem with using a map of Maynard to research roads is there is no single, completely correct, map of Maynard. The last commercially printed atlas of Middlesex County, one town per page, showing all streets in each town, was published in 2003. That one included streets that existed only on paper - the never-built 42nd Street among them - and obviously did not include streets built since then, such as Karlee Drive or Keene Avenue.

E-maps, although continually being updated, do not always agree with reality or each other. In real life Maynard has a Latta Lane, off Waltham Street, but neither Google Map or Mapquest think it exists. Meanwhile, both show Puffer Road but only Mapquest names it (it's abandoned).   
Street sign in compliance with almost all of the regulations
(should be upper and lower case in Highway Gothic)
And now, to move our focus from an obscure to an abstruse topic, none of the street name signs in Maynard comply with current state regulations. State code calls for street signs to be adequately reflective and with lettering in upper and lower case Highway Gothic typeface. On major streets the lettering to be six inches for the capital letters and 4.5 inches for the rest. Side streets can use lettering 2/3 those sizes. All signs to have rounded corners, white borders, white lettering and green background. Inclusion of a town seal is optional. As Maynard's signs - even the newest - use all capital letters, every one must in time be replaced. [2018: a few signs converted to upper and lower case lettering.]   

Street name for Route 27, up
by Christmas Motors
Some replaced sooner than others. All street name signs are required to meet minimum reflexivity standards by the end of 2018. Roughly half of Maynard's street signs are relatively new, bear the Town Seal, have six inch all upper case lettering in Clearview typeface and are adequately reflective. The other half are not in compliance, as they are a mix of faded, smaller, sharp-cornered, lacking white borders, and in a handful of locations sport black lettering on a white background - a style dating back 40 years. Another handful of streets lack any sign whatsoever. Example: Shore Avenue.

Big oops! After years of research a federal recommendation was made in 2004 to switch from Highway Gothic typeface to Clearview - supposedly easier to read.  And then, in February 2016, the federal government rescinded its order, reverting to Highway Gothic. Turns out the original comparison research was flawed, in that it had compared brand new signs in Clearview with existing signs in Highway Gothic. The legibility difference was due to fade, not font. For some types of signs Clearview is actually harder to read at night.


Named streets with no signs (updated January 2018)Fifth Street, Florida Court, Heights Terrace, Shore Avenue (only sign is in Stow), Sudbury Road (only sign is in Acton), Tower Road (dirt road to water tanks), White Pond Road (only sign is in Stow).

Old street sign: black letters on white background
Private roads to condominium and apartment complexesApple Ridge, Assabet Place, Deer Path, Hemlock Lane, Marble Farm Road (has a Town sign), Oak Ridge (has a Town sign), Stonebridge Narrows and Summerhill Glen.

Named and on some maps, 
but do not exist42nd Street, 12th Street, Bluff Avenue, Fourth Street, Greenhalge Street, Harvard Road, Jeffery Drive, King's Lane, Lenox Avenue, Lowe Road, Noble Park, Oldfield Way,  Puffer Road (abandoned).... And a proposed development that never made it to a map: a 1934 plan shows the south side of Summer Hill, to be accessed off Summer Hill Road, to be divided into some 60+ lots on proposed streets Arbor Way, Border Road, Governors Avenue, Pleasant View Road and Rural Avenue, Came to naught. Land is now a combination of Conservation land and Municipal land.

White signs with black letters (as of March 2016): Boeske Avenue, Dartmouth Court, Guyer Road, Reo Road and Winthrop Avenue.

Acton and Concord have begun to install signs in upper and lower case lettering. Interestingly, in the South Acton Historic District, the signs have a black background instead of green. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Black Squirrels in Masschusetts

Eastern gray squirrel (internet downloaded photo)
There are 285 species of squirrels in the world, ranging in size from African pygmy squirrel to Alpine marmot - a ground dweller about twice the size of its American marmot relative, the woodchuck. The extended family includes about 45 species of flying squirrels and 15 species of marmots.   

Eastern Massachuetts is host to five species, in size from smallest to largest: eastern chipmunk, southern flying squirrel, red squirrel, gray squirrel and woodchuck. Each of these occupies an overlapping ecological niche, so they co-exist without competing too much for habitat or food. Two hibernate (chipmunk, woodchuck), while the other three get by on a combination of cached food and what can be found in winter - nuts and seeds, but also leaf buds at the tips of branches.

North American red squirrels are 1/2 to 2/3 the size
of gray squirrels (internet downloaded photo)
Over-wintering gray squirrels create insulated nests either by making a leaf ball in the fork of a tree (the structure is called a drey) or inside a hollow tree trunk. Or inside an attic, which for them is squirrel heaven - warm, dry, safe from predators, and if they get bored, there may be electric wires to gnaw on. Each year, thousands of building fires are attributed to squirrels, rats or mice gnawing on wiring. Anyone suspecting they have a squirrel problem should contact a professional pest control company without delay.      

The eastern gray squirrel species comes in three color variations: gray, black and in-between, the last from getting genes from one gray and one black parent. Black is more common in the deep woods of northern U.S. and Canada, while the gray coloration prevails in less wild territory. The thinking is that color helps squirrels avoid predation by eagles, hawks and owls - black better in the shadows of deep forest while gray preferred in terrain with more daylight.
Woodchuck. Although they are ground and underground
dwellers, can also climb trees. Click on photos to enlarge

Individuals do not appear to show a mating preference based on color. Yet there are examples of black replacing gray in suburban areas. There is speculation that in addition to the camouflage benefit, black squirrels displace gray squirrels because of more aggressive behavior, or because genes adjacent to the color genes code for a more effective immune system, or because dark hair helps capture more heat from winter sunlight, thus helping with survival. None of these theories have been proven or disproven.         

The gray of a gray squirrel is actually a mix of colors. Each hair follicle starts hair growth, continues for a set period, then stops. After a while the hair detaches and the follicle starts again. The process is ongoing all year, but there are bursts of hair growth in the fall, to create a warmer winter fur, and again in the spring when the winter coat is shed. Each hair starts growing as white (without melanin color). Stomach hairs stay white. As face, back and leg hairs continue to grow, most of the follicles will change to producing a brown/orange tone or else black. The combined effect is a gray coat, but with brown/orange tones more evident on face and tail. A mutation in the DNA that codes for control of hair color causes all hair to start as black and stay black, resulting in all-black squirrels.
Black variant of eastern gray squirrel (internet downloaded photo)

Gray squirrels are predominant in most of Massachusetts. However, Westfield, MA, a bit west of Springfield, was the site of a deliberate introduction of black squirrels about sixty years ago. The founder population of less than a dozen proved to be successful, as part of central Massachusetts as far away as Amherst now have a sizable black squirrel populations. Sightings are rarer farther east, but there are many confirmed sightings in Stow and in Maynard (the latter, most recently behind buildings on Railroad Street).

Other mammal species have black variants. The South and Central American jaguar has a yellowish/brown coat with dark blotches, but about five percent have a near-black melanism and are known as black panthers. (Interestingly, the North American cougar, also at times referred to as a panther, does not have a melanistic variant.) North American gray wolves also exhibit melanism.

For both predators, the darker color is linked to better hunting success from better camouflage. Dark wolves are more common is deep forest and less common in tundra or broken forest habitat. While wolves do not (presently) inhabit Massachusetts, it's nice to be able to see a black squirrel in Stow or Maynard and be reminded of the larger world.

And if one was living in India, might perchance spot a
Malabar giant squirrel - weight about four pounds, nose
to tip of tail exceeding three feet. (internet photo)
 Squirrels are omnivores. In addition to nuts, seeds, leaf and flower buds, squirrels also eat insects, bird eggs, baby birds, etc. Winter storage of food - primarily nuts and bulbs - is by scattered hoarding. This means each item buried individually, but within the territory of the squirrel. Recovery is by remembering the general area and then using sense of smell to decide where to dig. In contrast, chipmunks do cache hoarding, with large amounts of seeds stored in one place. Squirrels will dig up and rebury small flowering bulbs such as crocus and snowdrop, but usually do not dig deep enough to get to tulips and daffodils. American gray squirrels are an invasive species in England, Ireland and parts of continental Europe - displacing the native red squirrels through a combination of competition for food and introduction of squirrelpox virus.

P.S.  'Gray' is the preferred spelling in the U.S. while 'grey' is preferred in Europe.