Saturday, September 1, 2007

Wildlife along the 'Pleasant Street Corridor'...

I brought my two year old son Robert along for Carole Smith Berney’s wildflower walk along the Charles River in Watertown on August 18. In her booklet co-authored with Patsy Murray, “Wildflowers Near the Charles River Along the Greenway Path in Watertown, Newton, and Waltham,” Carole has done a remarkable job documenting the wildflowers with sharp color photographs and interesting descriptions. In fact, I cited her identification of 47 species of wildflowers in a study I did this summer of wildlife along the Pleasant Street section of the Charles River. The town has hired Sasaki Associates to study the area and make new zoning recommendations for development and green spaces.

After a public meeting in June and an update to the town council on August 14, it looks like the plan is geared toward heavy residential development along what is being called the “Pleasant Street Corridor” in Watertown. My research looked at wildlife along the river and some of the commercial and other types of development already sited there, and highlighted areas of concern identified by stakeholders and experts related to development along this iconic regional ecosystem. The analysis by Sasaki and the town focuses on the value of real estate and taxes, but does not begin to quantify the value of the green spaces and wildlife along the river, unless it is in the context of "riverfront property."

Which is why the work of people like Carole Smith Berney and others cited in my research is so important. My study documented some of the natural habitats along the river and contrasted that with the adjacent commercial properties, and during the walk Carole told a great story about a turtle coming into intimate contact with a human-made landscape.

She pointed out that female turtles lay their eggs on the banks of the river around Father’s Day, and one day she saw a fairly large snapping turtle digging a hole in the new landscaping mulch behind Riverbank Lofts. Carole wondered how the turtle was going to get back to the river after laying her eggs, because there is a three foot concrete wall between this area and the path to the river. She photographed the turtle walking to the wall and continuing right off the edge (see photo above by Carole Smith Berney), and then walking across the path and through the poison ivy back to the river.

I also met Will Kemeza from Trustees of Reservations on the walk, and we observed a resident using a very heavy rope and a hook to pull large debris out of the river from the footbridge between Sasaki and the pool. On that day he removed an old computer and an even older cash register from the river (see photo by Jason Sohigian)--probably dating back to a robbery from the 1930s!

For those of you following the Pleasant Street Corridor issue in Watertown (a group which now includes my Harvard instructor and former Watertown Science Program Director George Buckley), Carole is planning to do a presentation in the fall about “Green Watertown,” which will include a section about the Pleasant Street planning. I hope the conservation groups in town remain closely involved in the process, so the value of the river’s natural resources and green spaces are included in the town’s balance sheet.

September 23 update: As of the September 20 public meeting the planning mentioned above seems to have changed its general focus over the past 30 days from residential/condominium to retail/restaurant for Pleasant Street--with a recommendation to allow higher buildings along the Charles River in exchange for access to the river.