Cambridge Outdoors

playing, learning, and being outdoors in Cambridge, Mass.

A woman uses a long pole reaching from a bridge into the water on a snowy day.


A Victory for Clean Water: Citizen Science Data Leads to Change

The following news is reprinted with permission from the Mystic River Watershed Association:

For years, the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) and its volunteers have helped to document water pollution problems in the Town of Belmont. This week, that hard work paid off.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued an Administrative Order on Consent with the Town of Belmont over years of water quality damages. Over the next five years the town has agreed to make a significant investment in repairs to its storm water system, which is discharging pollutants, including human sewage, into waters of the Mystic River watershed. We congratulate Belmont on their commitment to improve water quality to tributaries to Alewife Brook.

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This is a success story for citizen science and for non-profit environmental collaboration with government agencies. Data acquired by MyRWA volunteers and shared with EPA was key to making progress. This has been a group effort—from the dozens of volunteer monitors who go out each month to collect samples, to the tireless work of others like Roger Frymire, who spent countless hours finding sources of pollution in the Alewife Brook area.

Since 2000, volunteers through the MyRWA’s Baseline Monitoring Program have generated water quality data that is shared with state and federal agencies. Each year the EPA in conjunction with MyRWA issues a water quality report card for the Mystic River watershed.
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The 2015 water quality report card for the Belmont area tells the story: Alewife Brook earned a D grade with 50% compliance with boating and swimming standards for bacteria; Little River a D- grade at 44% compliance; and Winn’s Brook an F grade at 33% compliance.

One powerful aspect of the Baseline Monitoring Program is that it is poised to document success as well as problems. As infrastructure repairs are made in Belmont, we fully expect these grades to improve. We look forward to documenting and celebrating water quality improvements to Alewife Brook, Little River, Winn’s Brook, Wellington Brook—and the Mystic River itself—over the next five years!

Congratulations and thanks to everyone who continues to work with us for protecting clean water.

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Five Questions for Magazine Beach Advocates

Cathie Zusy and Brian Conway of the Magazine Beach Committee of the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association.

Cathie Zusy and Brian Conway of the Magazine Beach Committee of the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association.

On the fifteen-acre section of parkland between the banks of the Charles River and Memorial Drive, between the BU Bridge and the Riverside Boat Club, bird-watchers have identified no less than 94 species. This area, called Magazine Beach, also attracts a regular stream of walkers, joggers, bikers, boaters, and families using the state-run outdoor swimming pool. A powder magazine–built as a gunpowder storage facility in 1818 and converted to a bath-house in 1899—is slated for occupancy about two years from now. New landscape plans include a 10-foot multi-use path along Memorial Drive, a dock, two overlooks, stormwater-related improvements, and a splash deck and natural play features.

Cambridge Outdoors talked with Brian Conway and Cathie Zusy, members of the Magazine Beach Committee of the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association (CNA), who have worked in recent years to champion the park’s revitalization.

1. What is the history of the parkland at Magazine Beach?

“It was originally an island surrounded by marshes but was turned into one continuous piece of land. It was a park created by the city. The Olmsted Brothers created a plan for the park inspired by Charlesgate Park, where the Esplanade is now. The Cambridge “city fathers” wanted something just like that—a water park and a “play ground for the young.” It was inspired by envy. But a financial panic in 1893 got in the way. 

All the parklands along the river were turned over to the Metropolitan District Commission in the 1920s for the purpose of consistent parkland management.

There’s a long history of people trying to make Magazine Beach better. There have been many different plans for the park over the years, most of which never were implemented. The last real improvements happened in the 70s, other than the 2009 city investment in new playing fields.”

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The powder magazine at Magazine Beach in 1935, converted into a bath-house, with swimmers and beachgoers in the foreground.

2 What role has this (adjacent) neighborhood had in the history of Cambridge, and what is it like today?

“From the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, many immigrants lived in this part of Cambridge. There were many factories here and close by. Magazine Beach was created to provide a place where factory workers could cool off on hot summer days. Today, instead of soap, biscuit, candy, lantern and telescope factories, we have biotech and high tech companies. But the need remains: we all need “breathing spaces” to relax and revitalize along the river.”

3. Why is Magazine Beach an important place in your own mind?

“At 15 acres, it is Cambridge’s second largest park. It offers access to the river, old shade trees, cool breezes, the sky and the sunset. And it is the location of the oldest building on the Charles River Basin. As a community park, it represents the ideals of democracy—it is everyone’s green open space.  It is a mixing ground.”

4. Are there animals at Magazine Beach? What can people do there?

“In addition to the 94+ bird species, there are rabbits and squirrels. It’s a favorite dog walking spot. Single and double shells launch from there at the Head of the Charles Regatta. It’s used by pick-up soccer players, Cambridge Youth Soccer, Cambridge Central Youth Baseball, Youth Lacrosse, the Boston University Academy Quidditch team, swimmers, and rowers (at Riverside Boat Club).” [Note: Click here for wildlife sightings at Magazine Beach]

Magazine Beach has been the venue for art activities, musical performances, and nature exploration for the past several years, supported by the Cambridge Arts Council, Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association, and other sponsors.

Magazine Beach has been the venue for art activities, musical performances, and nature exploration for the past several years, supported by the Cambridge Arts Council, Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association, and other sponsors.

5. What’s the more recent history of the revitalization effort?

“The CNA has been working on the project since November 2010. For the past three summers, we’ve had a full roster of outdoor events at Magazine Beach.The CNA has been working with Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation to revitalize the park and to restore it as a place of beauty. We’re committed not only to the revitalization of the park—we want to make sure its maintained. If there isn’t a “guardian” group, it may be forgotten.

With the help of Cambridge and private contributors, DCR has stabilized the exterior of the Powder Magazine. Cambridge just allotted another $100,000 to renovate the interior by adding public bathrooms and lighting, etc. (DCR will match this.)

The landscape is in design now. We hope to have “shovel-ready” plans by the end of the year. Then we need to find the money for park improvements.”

Notes:

  1. Prospective community-oriented tenants for the powderhouse building should contact HCP.Requests@state.ma.us
  2. For the Dept. of Conservation and Recreation’s Presentation on 10/20/16 regarding the landscape plans for Magazine Beach, click here.
  3. For updates, events, a bird list, and historical information, visit the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association’s Magazine Beach Committee website.


5 Questions for Mothers Out Front

Mothers Out Front, a Cambridge-based organization with community teams in five states, educates and trains mothers and supporters to advocate and act for a “swift, just and complete” transition to renewable energy. Not a few Cambridge members have gone on to play roles in the growing national movement grappling with climate change through “grassroots organizing, personal and collective action, and a focus on shifting policy.”  We caught up with Mothers Out Front Cambridge Community Team Co-Coordinators Zeyneb Magavi (right) and Leslie Bliss (left) at a city park recently. Magavi,a graduate student, has three daughters 12, 11, and 6. Bliss, an educator, also has three daughters, 24, 23, and 21.

1. What makes Mothers out Front different from other organizations working on the global warming issue?

Bliss: Since we’re building a grassroots national movement, there’s an emphasis on empowering others and creating leaders.

Magavi: Well, it’s run by women and it’s not hierarchical.

Bliss: We spend time building relationships with each other—within community teams, and with other Mothers Out Front in the state, across the country, and with allies. We give importance to taking the time to listen,  connect, and respect.

Another difference is that we are focused on fossil fuel policies as an ethical choice. Environmental organizations have focused, in past years, on love of nature, on trees, etc.; others focus on the science of climate change. These are important, but Mothers Out Front has a very human focus.

Magavi: Mothers Out Front is based on a moral directive—that it is immoral to ruin the climate for our children’s future.

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A multigenerational Mothers Out Front team flagged gas leaks in Cambridge in May, raising awareness that the leaked methane is 84 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide in the first twenty years of its release.

2. What have you told your daughters about climate change and how have they reacted?

Bliss: My kids have heard a lot of talk about it at home and are very aware of climate change. We were chatting with one of our daughters, who dreams of becoming an apple farmer. My husband reminded her that she’d have to look even farther north than New England to be able to do that.  Our daughters have been part of mitigating our reliance on fossil fuels in the household.

Magavi: I think of discussing climate change with children the way any parent deals with any other parenting problem. It needs to be developmentally appropriate. My oldest two know the “big picture scary part” of climate change. My youngest (6) and I haven’t yet discussed it directly. The first step is to learn to love nature, understand how it works and that is a system. Once you understand that it’s a system, that you can understand more clearly  how it can be disrupted by human activity.

Also, if you present a problem along with information about an action to address the problem, it avoids the anxiety  in young kids. My middle daughter got really worried for a while. I brought her to a march, and her worry went away because she had done something about climate change and saw that other people are working hard on the problem. We’re giving them hope.

Bliss: At one point I was gathering postcards and sending them to Governor Baker. My daughter stepped up and said, “Oh, I’ll do that, too, mom.” This sort of thing creates a jumping off point, where you can connect and have a conversation about actions we can take.

3. How do you see the relationship between Black Lives Matter and Climate Activism?

Magavi: Both movements fight injustice. Often the infrastructure for fossil fuels extraction and delivery goes geographically through disadvantaged communities. If  you step back in time and think of colonialism and the extraction of resources it involved, you can see a parallel, that the fossil fuel economy is being played out in a class way.

I’ve read a paper spelling out how inequity is the root cause of climate disruption. The main idea is that only from inequity and huge gap between haves and have nots can you get the kind of extraction and consumption of natural resources that has driven climate change.

Black Lives Matter UK recently had a sit-in at the London City airport  (editor’s note: The airport  is slated for expansion into adjacent neighborhoods). They were drawing attention to the fact that it’s the wealthy who fly in those airplanes, and it’s the front-line communities and the poor who suffer the most as a result of the environmental effects of the air travel industry.

Bliss: The No-DAPL movement is a recent example I’ve seen that’s really taken fire, highlighting the connection between injustice based on race and injustice based on climate.(Editor’s note: The “Dakota Access” Pipeline (DAPL) is a  fracked-gas pipeline that will stretch from North Dakota’s Bakken shale fields through Lakota Treaty Territory and underneath the Missouri River, to Peoria, Illinois).

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In Massachusetts and elsewhere, Mothers Out Front has campaigned against expansion of fracked gas infrastructure. Click here for more information about the Massachusetts Stop Spectra and related campaigns.

4. What does being part of Mothers Out Front mean to you personally?

Bliss: We’re pragmatic and get things done one step at a time—that’s how parenting is, too.

I’ve come to know know I’m not alone in being concerned about this. I have built strong relationships with other women in Mothers Out Front who are part of our Cambridge team. This has been deeply motivating and reassuring.

Magavi:  I would second that. I would also say what’s been inspiring is the strength and brilliance of the women in the group. The way we work is so low stress. We work collaboratively —it’s a pleasure. It means a lot to me to take action on climate change through Mothers Out Front because it turns worry into a positive, meaningful action.

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The Cambridge City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting Mothers Out Front’s gas leak campaign in May.

5. What does a member do? Can people who aren’t mothers join ?

Magavi: With Mothers Out Front, you can participate at any capacity you are able to do—from ‘liking’ the Mothers Out Front Facebook page to volunteering at a table at a community event. You can volunteer when you have free time, and then not, when you don’t. We’re mothers, so we understand about time constraints.

Bliss: Also—we are mothers, grandmothers, and allies. Anyone of any gender with or without children, can show up at events and support us. The organization is women-run (no man can be in a leadership role). We have people who say, “I have nephews and nieces, so I am very concerned about climate change because of them.” Or, “I’m a caregiver, and I’m very concerned.”

Links:

HEET Report on Gas Leaks in Cambridge

Sign up for Mothers Out Front Action Alerts

Mothers Out Front’s Six Tips for Talking with Children About Climate Change

 

 


Climate Congress in Cambridge

On Saturday, October 1, Cambridge’s Climate Congress opens at City Hall. The purpose is to articulate a vision of “climate citizenship.” The concept of climate citizenship is reviewed in this FAQ regarding the Climate Congress, which also spells out the role of delegates  and other kinds of participation open to the public:

“The bare minimum requirements to be a delegate are that you are able to attend the opening (Saturday, Oct 1) (or commit to viewing the video recording ASAP) and closing sessions (Saturday, Nov 12), and participate in at least one weekly evening discussion (usually Wednesday evenings). That said, we understand that not everyone can make that time commitment, so you are not automatically ineligible if you can’t. Individuals can be delegates, and youth and children (the latter with parent’s guidance) are allowed as delegates.”

For full information visit the  Green Cambridge site, from which the agenda and information below is drawn.

Click here for the self-nomination form.

Click here to nominate someone else (from your group, organization, or community).

Agenda for the 2016 Cambridge Climate Congress

Saturday, October 1st – Cambridge City Hall
9:00 AM to 12:00 PM Opening Session

(will be videotaped for later viewing)

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Wednesday, October 5th, Citywide Senior Center
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM, Second Discussion Group: Origins


Thursday, October 13th, St. James Episcopal Church, 1991 Massachusetts Avenue
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM, Third Discussion Group: Faiths


Wednesday, October 19th, Citywide Senior Center
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM,  Fourth Discussion Group: Personal Resources


Wednesday, October 26th, Citywide Senior Center
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM,  Fifth Discussion Group: Political Values


Wednesday, November 2nd – Location TBD
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM,  Sixth Discussion Group: Climate Action and Activism


Saturday, November 12th – Cambridge City Hall
9:00 AM to 12:00 PM, Closing Plenary Discussion
12:00 PM to 1:00 PM,  Lunch
1:00 PM to 4:00 PM, Closing Plenary Overflow (as needed)

Click here for full  image (map).


Five Questions for Cambridge’s Monarch Nannies

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A family checks out the monarch butterflies still in their nursery boxes shortly before helping to escort them to the meadow for release on August 7.  Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.

Why are Monarch butterflies so special? We recently asked five questions of Martine Wong, Fresh Pond Reservation (FPR) Outreach & Volunteer Coordinator, and her Cambridge Mayor’s  Summer Youth Employment Program (MSYEP) intern, Shewit.  On August 6th and 7th, amidst some fanfare—kids and puppets—Martine, Shewit and other staff and volunteers released most of the butterflies that they had helped raise, under the auspices of the Water Department of the City of Cambridge, over the course of the summer.

1. Why is FPR raising butterflies for release?

Shewit: We raise Monarch butterflies every year to educate people about and show the life cycle of the butterflies and to teach the importance of milkweed to Cambridge residents so they might plant milkweed in their gardens. Milkweed is the only plant [Monarchs] lay their eggs on and eat when they are caterpillars. The Monarch butterfly is now in decline because of milkweed plants’ reduction by pesticides and because of using land for other purposes such as for pavement and farming.

Martine Wong, left, with volunteer Lisa and MSYEP intern Shewit, at the Monarch Release event at Lusitania Meadow, Fresh Pond Reservation.

Cambridge Water Dept. staffer Martine Wong (left) with volunteer Lisa Recolta (middle) and MSYEP intern Shewit Yitbarek (right), at the Monarch Release at Lusitania Meadow, Fresh Pond Reservation.Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.

Martine: There are several reasons we’re raising Monarch butterflies for release at Fresh Pond! We hope to teach people about the connection between shrinking butterfly populations and the importance of protecting wildlife habitat. We also want to show people that there are action steps they can take to protect them—you can plant milkweed and other native pollinator-friendly plants, and help to remove invasive plants such as Black Swallow-wort. Also, they are exquisitely beautiful and a joy to behold.

2. Once you received the larvae in the mail, up until this moment of releasing the full grown butterflies, what surprised you most about them?

Shewit: They eat a lot of milkweed leaves and they grow so fast.

3. If we want to help Monarchs live in our city as a whole, what can kids (and just anyone, for that matter) do to make it a welcoming place for them?

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Visitors to Fresh Pond Reservation this summer could view Monarchs at the Ranger Station, in various stages of their life cycle.

Shewit: To make a welcoming place for the Monarch butterfly is to plant enough milkweed plants in the garden, without pesticides. Once the butterfly lays her eggs, the caterpillar continues living upon the plant until it becomes a butterfly—there is no need to change things or worry about it. OR, If the person does not have garden they can raise them in the cage.

Martine: Monarch butterfly caterpillars exclusively eat milkweed – they truly depend on this plant for their survival. A sea of pesticide/herbicide-free milkweed plants for adults to lay eggs on and for caterpillars to eat would be a great welcome, along with planting native pollinator plants that can provide nectar for adult butterflies.

4. What did you learn from other Monarch projects in the United States?

Shewit: I learned some interesting facts, such as monarchs do not have eyelids and they can see UV lights. If the monarchs are in a cage, they need clean space and food because their waste is too much.

The adult Monarch in its new habitat at Lusitania Meadow, Cambridge

An adult Monarch butterfly raised in captivity by the Cambridge Water Department gets accustomed to its new surroundings. Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.

5. If we see a Monarch butterfly at Fresh Pond, will we know it’s one of the ones raised in captivity?

Martine: There’s no way of knowing if it’s one of ours! There are tagging programs for the purposes of learning more about their migration and biology. Perhaps we will try that out next year!

Monarchs are released from captivity by Cambridge's Monarch Nannies


The butterflies are released! Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Dept. Photo

More:

  • Find other resources about Monarch butterflies in general, and the Cambridge Water Department program in particular, on the Water Department’s Monarch Watch Page.
  • Read the Boston Globe’s coverage of the Cambridge Water Department Monarch Release on August 7, 2016.
  • Find out more about the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program, which partnered with more than 125 community organizations and city departments this year. Opportunities include many in sustainability and environmental fields, in addition to the internship offered at Fresh Pond Reservation and Alewife Reservation.

    Giant puppets of monarch and other butterflies (and a few moths) were part of the festivities and parade that escorted the butterflies to Lusitania Meadow at Fresh Pond Reservation, where they were released. Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.

    Giant puppets of monarch and other butterflies (and a moth or two) were part of the parade that escorted the Monarch butterflies to Lusitania Meadow at Fresh Pond Reservation, where they were released. The puppets were made by community members through the Cambridge Wildlife Puppetry ProjectKim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.


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Cambridge’s Baird Creates “Human Nature Dictionary”

Cambridge Resident Freedom Baird’s open-source participatory project, the Human Nature Dictionary, is part of an exhibit running through August 8th at the Massachusetts College of Art.

Shocked that the Oxford Junior Dictionary had removed basic vocabulary words related to nature, the artist devised the Human Nature Dictionary as a form of protest. She saw the publisher’s pruning as a codification and endorsement of humankind’s divorce from nature, particularly as its locus was children’s access to language. It was an act needing correction.

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Field Desk, Human Nature Dictionary

Baird’s “dictionary” invites the public (including children) to invent, share, and restore  an English lexicon that conveys or reflects human perceptions, uses, and other relationships with the natural world. According to the main page for the online Human Nature Dictionary, it

“proposes not simply to reintroduce words about nature, but to create new language that shows that humans and nature are part of the same pan-natural system, and that our fates are inextricably merged.”

Examples of publicly-sourced Human Nature Dictionary entries include “Disney’s Law of Evolution,” the process by which animals found cute by humans experience population growth and habitat protection; “root-kilter,” a slab of sidewalk forced out of place by a growing tree root; and “april dregs,” garbage left behind after snow melt.

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Root-kilter. Photo by Freedom Baird.

Visit the Human Nature Dictionary online here.

Information about the Secret Life of White Oaks walkabout at Fresh Pond Reservation


A Single Species: An End-of-January Investigation

There is sometimes too much, or too little, simplification that goes on when “environmental education” takes hold. Starting with a single species, as Fresh Pond Reservation staff in Cambridge, Mass., will do on January 31st with “The Secret Life of White Oaks,” can make a path for kids, families, anyone, to start small and grow curious from there.

White oaks are the ones with rounded lobes on their leaves; and oaks, in general are trees that keep their leaves well into the winter.

Information about the Secret Life of White Oaks walkabout at Fresh Pond Reservation

What’s your single favorite or familiar species—the one that drew you in to a fascination with nature more broadly, or that you still hold in your mind’s eye, or that’s a talisman in everyday life? Flora or fauna notwithstanding, a single species is a direct line from the human to the natural world.