Sunday, April 28, 2024

Trail of Flowers planting April 2024

ABRHS senior students ready to plant quince bushes.
Quince flowers on older stems, so it will be 3-4 years
before these are impressively large and colorful.
On April 26, 2024, seven students from Acton Boxborough Regional High School. as part of Senior Community Service Day, volunteered to do a morning's worth of planting flowering quince shrubs along the Assabet River Rail Trail, as part of the Trail of Flowers ( program. 

The site selected fronts a low wall, roughly 250 yards from Acton's ARRT trailhead. The wall is a remnant of a factory that had been on that site circa 1892-1920s. The factory was originally operating as a manufacture of Morocca leather - a supple leather made from goat hides, dyed, and used in the manufacture of gloves, purses, wallets and book covers. The factory was sited adjacent to a railroad spur that started operating in 1850 to service mills in what bacame the Town of Maynard in 1871, later extended to provide freight and passenger service to Stow, Hudson and Marlborough. Power at the leather factory (1892-1902) was provided by a coal-fired steam engine. The railroad brought in raw hides and coal, and shipped out finished leather for further manufacture elsewhere. Water from the adjacent Fort Pond Brook was probably used for the steam engine and the leather-dyeing process. When it was operating, the leather factory was the largest employer in Acton.

Garden supply catalog photo of a mature quince plant
The students planted fifteen "Double Take" Scarlet quince shrubs pictured, spaced four feet apart. When mature, these plants will be 4-5 feet tall and equally wide, creating a hedge-like row 60 feet long. This variety is described as thornless and without fruit, drought-resistant and not browsed by deer, so after being watered through the first season by TOF volunteers, should prove to be relatively low maintenance. Flowering quince (Chaenomeles) is native to Southeast Asia. Flowers appear in late April and early May, and are present for about a month. The flowers are considered pollinator friendly for a variety of pollinating insect species. We will have to see what shows up as these plants mature. 

Trail of Flowers was started in the fall of 2018 as a volunteer organization under the umprella of Assabet River Rail Trail Inc (ARRT). TOF volunteers plant and maintain flowering bulbs, shrubs and trees in the four communities that have paved trail: Acton, Maynard, Hudson and Marlborough. The planned route of the Trail - 12.4 miles - has a four-mile gap in the center, in Stow and part of Hudson, that may be paved in the future. The crtitical issue is that part of the route in Stow is private property, and the owners are not interested in selling ot providing a pass-through. 

Weigela are also pollinator friendly
As of spring 2024, Trail of Flowers has raised more than $10,000 (and spent most of that) from individual and corporate donations, plus grants and gifts from community Cultural Councils and garden clubs. The gaqrden clubs also donate unsold plants from their annual plant sales. Funding is acknowledged on the TOF website.

This was the second time that Acton-Boxborough students participated in a Trail of Flowers planting. In April 2023, eight students helped plant forsythia, weigela, vibernum and winterberry at the Sylvia Street site, which has a small parking area and an access ramp down to the Trail. The site gets good sunlight. The forsythia bloomed in April/May and the weigela are expected to max-bloom in late May to early June. 

The variety planted is known as "Sonic Bloom" pink, with an expected mature height of 4-5 feet and width of 4-5 feet. These have a major blooming period in late May, with modest reblooming expected throughout the summer. In addition to the ones planted at Sylvia Street, Acton, three were added at the Marble Farm site in the fall of 2023.These are expected to have first blooming spring 2024. 

Monday, April 22, 2024

Assabet River Rail Trail 2024

Ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the completion 
of the Acton and Maynard portion of ARRT
 The north end of the Assabet River Rail Trail (ARRT) encompassing Acton and Maynard, is approaching its four-year anniversary, as a ribbon-cutting ceremony had been held on August 10, 2018. That represented the end of two years of construction, as the ground-breaking ceremony had been in Maynard, July 2016. The south end, spanning Marlborough and part of Hudson, had been completed more than ten years earlier. The gap in the middle, Stow and part of Hudson, may be years away (or never). In the interim it is possible to do two miles west from the Maynard/Stow border on a privately owned dirt road, to Sudbury Road in Stow, then two miles on roads – Sudbury Road and Route 62 – to reconnect with the south section of the trail, in Hudson. From there, it is 5.8 miles of paved trail to the Marlborough trailhead.

A recent walk on the Acton/Maynard portion, 3.4 miles in length, found the asphalt in almost entirely excellent condition – no surprise. There is one crack developing about 50 yards west of Florida Road and a series of small cracks about 50 yards east of Ice House Landing which may in time need preventive maintenance, i.e., crack filling. Paved trails typically last for 15-20 years before repaving needs to be considered. Given that the south end was completed in 2005, those towns may be coming up on some seriously expensive maintenance.

Questionnaires sent to trail managers by the Rails-to-Trails conservancy in 1996, 2005 and again in 2015 led to reports on how trails are being maintained and what organizations are paying for that work. Per those reports, the cost of maintaining an asphalt-paved trail averaged $1,971 per mile per year. This encompassed work done by town employees and a value put on volunteer labor. Collectively, the 2015 report tallied this as about 13.5 hours of labor per trail mile per year. The Assabet River Rail Trail organization, incorporated in 1995, had provided volunteer efforts involving trail clearing to create a walkable path before the paving began. Volunteer work continues on the paved trail.     

The nature of work – town-paid and volunteered – includes litter removal, repairing vandalism and removing trash dumping (old car tires, etc.), mowing plant growth bordering trails and combating invasive plant species. Trees fall on trails, or else are standing dead trees threatening to do so. Drainage ditches bordering trails need to be kept clear of plant debris or else their function is compromised. Some towns will operate leaf blowers in the fall, and snow plowing in winter. Maynard and Acton have decided to not clear snow. Towns may choose to plow trail parking lots, thus providing parking for people who want to ski, snowshoe or hike in winter. There are also information kiosks, benches, signage and in Maynard a couple of trash receptacles, all of which also require maintenance.

 The 2015 report also noted, surprisingly, that 60% of the returned questionnaires did not confirm a written maintenance plan. While personal injury lawsuits are very rare, the report went on to suggest that towns should have a process to regularly inspect trails, correct unsafe conditions, and keep records. Signage of rules and regulations and hours of operation need to be posted at trailheads and other access locations. Not everyone is aware that ARRT’s signs include “Maximum Speed: 15 mph” and “Give an audible warning before passing,” but the signs are there. Guidelines for what organized volunteer groups can and cannot do need to be established, for example using herbicides or power tools.

As for what was observed during a recent Acton/Maynard walk-through, there was remarkably little litter along the trail, with the exception of downtown Maynard, and only a few instances of graffiti. Acton’s kiosks were empty or near-empty of content. Both towns’ Department of Public Works mow the trail’s shoulders. In both towns, there are dozens of standing dead trees that in time may fall on the trail. ARRT volunteers have replaced wooden railings that were broken by fallen trees or large branches. Dozens of the hundreds of trees that were planted as part of the trail landscaping in 2017-18 have died, and were removed by volunteers. Looking forward, consideration should be given to combating invasive plant species such as Oriental bittersweet, Japanese knotweed, garlic mustard, and purple loosestrife, the last beginning to appear in the wetter sections of drainage ditches.

Sign set up at Marble Farm site when daffodils are in bloom
Trail of Flowers (, a volunteer organization, operating under ARRT’s auspices, has since its inception in the fall of 2018 been planting flowering bulbs, shrubs and trees along the Assabet River Rail Trail, mostly in Acton and Maynard, but expanding to Hudson and Marlborough. As of early 2024, TOF has raised and spent more than $10,000. Students from Acton-Boxborough Regional High School have participated in annual planting events as part of Senior Student Community Service Day. Maynard Community Gardeners contribute unsold plants from the group’s annual plant sale. Maynard Scout Troop 130 will be conducting a planting event this summer as a Scout’s Eagle Scout project.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Concord MA Prison to Close in 2024

Aerial view of MCI-prison, Route 2 rotary in front
Massachusetts officials are closing the men’s prison in Concord because of a decline in the number of men imprisoned in the state*, a long-term trend ongoing from a peak in 2012. For the ten-year span 2014-2023, the male prison population size fell by 42% to a total of 5,660. The decrease was much larger than the 25% decrease nationwide. One reason for the downward trend in MA is a 1/3 decrease in the number of released prisoners reincarcerated within three years of their release, i.e., fewer violation of parole or arrests for new crimes.

As mentioned in the title, one consequence of the downward trend is the decision to close MCI-Concord, the oldest currently operative prison in the state. The 350-400 men held there and some of the staff will be transferred to other medium-security facilities. According to Governor Healey, closing the facility will save $16 million dollars per year in operating expenses and avoid spending close to $200 million dollars on deferred maintenance and needed improvements to the facility. The closure, scheduled for summer 2024, follows the closing of the Cedar Junction/Walpole facility the year before.

Prisoners' advocates praised the move and said they hope some of the savings will be put back into programming, especially to help those incarcerated transition to life after prison. "The time is now to reduce our carceral footprint and invest in rehabilitation, re-entry, and community-based support systems," said Jesse White, policy director at Prisoners' Legal Services of Massachusetts.

Not entirely surprisingly, the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union voiced opposition to the planned closure. Its stated reason was that transferring prisoners in large numbers will increase the risk of violence and other disruptive behavior at the new locations, placing officers’ safety at risk. Unspoken was a concern that consolidation of prisons would include staff layoffs, as had occurred with the previously year’s closure of Walpole.

As for the history of MCI-Concord, the original building at Concord opened in 1878 as the New State Prison, with Mexican War veteran General Chamberlain as its warden. Prior to that, state prisoners were housed at the Charlestown State Prison, which had become operative in 1803.  Massachusetts reversed itself in 1884, returning state prisoners to Charlestown and converting Concord to the “Massachusetts Reformatory" where young, male, first-time offenders would be held for their sentence but potentially released early to supervised parole. Around 1980 the reformatory designation was dropped and Concord became a medium security facility.

One of the inmates at Massachusetts Reformatory was Malcolm Little – 1947 and part of 1948 – in his early 20s at the time, who shortly afterwards converted to the Nation of Islam and took the name Malcolm X.

As for the future of MCI-Concord, the approximately 50 acres will be made available for development. The state will be meeting with community and other stakeholders about what will be done with the site. Concord officials are in a strategy stage. From The Concord Bridge, an independent newspaper started after the Gatehouse-owned Concord Journal ceased publication, “Housing? Commercial development? Municipal buildings? Are there historical preservation concerns? And what about doing something with that harrowing Route 2 rotary?”

At the state level, the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance will facilitate the sale, lease or transfer of the property, a process that is expected to take years. Issues include how the prison’s wastewater treatment facility might serve the town’s future needs. Select Board members have pointed out that Concord already has several sizeable housing projects in the development pipeline, including affordable housing, so the prison site – close to Route 2 – might be a better opportunity for business development. The Board voted unanimously to set up a local advisory committee “that will bring together some of the expertise that we have in town and kind of flesh out what [Concord wants] to see there.”

Concord is also host to a minimum-security facility on the north side of Route 2A - the Northeastern Correctional Center – which houses 175-200 men. It will remain open for the foreseeable future. NCC encompasses 300 acres of farmland and provides inmates with work opportunities prior to being released from prison. NCC work opportunities include the Fife and Drum Restaurant, which is open to the public for lunch, Tuesday-Friday. Meal cost is $3.21.

Maynard lock-up behind what is now
the Paper Store building (emply)
Maynard has its own history of a lock-up. The position of constable was created at the first town meeting. Shortly thereafter the Selectmen authorized construction of a brick lock-up, 14 x 14 feet, behind what is now No. 2 Railroad Street. In April 1894 a two-cell lock-up, again brick, was built behind the Nason Street fire station. Photos in the collection of the Maynard Historical Society show it as a one-story building with a chimney for a coal-burning stove. This was in use until 1934, then closed when the police offices more to a building on the west side of Town Hall (later the town library, currently the police station again). The Nason Street lock-up remained unoccupied until demolished in 1984 for construction of the Paper Store building (currently empty) that replaced the fire station. The present-day police station on Main Street has lock-up cells for short-term use – it is not a prison.

 *And imprisoned women. The women’s prison population for 2023 was 201, all housed at a facility in Framingham. The count is down from 792 in 2014.