Friends of Arlington's Great Meadows (in Lexington) - FoAGM

Great Meadows’ Friends looks to start small

By LES G. MASTERSON
STAFF WRITER, Arlington Advocate, March 14, 2002

It’s not the nearly 150 acres of wetlands that worries Great Meadows’ advocates, but the approximately 30 acres of land that could wind up as future development, which has activists seeking a permanent conservation restriction for the tract of open space. 

The Friends of Arlington’s Great Meadows held its first meeting Tuesday at Arlington’s Community Safety Building. The meeting brought out approximately 50 residents from Arlington and Lexington, who spoke of the need to protect the 183-acre parcel of land that is within Lexington, but owned by Arlington. 

The Friends formed after a Great Meadows report by Frances Clark of Carex Associates, who presented her findings last year. She listed a number of concerns, including the land being threatened by development proposals, not being permanently protected, lacking a stewardship program, providing difficult access to the site, and the uncertainty over the future of the parcel. 

With those concerns in hand, five advocates formed the Friends of Arlington’s Great Meadows and have been working since January. Those five people ballooned to the 50 or so who showed up Tuesday night and brainstormed ideas as to how to improve Great Meadows through education, signage, developing better trails, and ultimately deeming it conservation land. 

" It’s the biggest piece of open property we have, " said Arlington resident Andrea Golden, who is one of the five core members. " It is important to have something that nobody owns in a natural state nearby. " 

Since being purchased by Arlington in 1871 to serve as a supplementary water storage area, Great Meadows has been the victim of " benign neglect, " which has allowed it to transform without much human interference. Now, advocates are faced with an open space that is overrun by invasive plants and an inadequate — and confusing — trail system.

Great Meadows is the largest piece of undeveloped land in the Arlington/Lexington area and advocates are concerned that some of the outer portions of the site could become prime real estate — especially in these difficult financial times. Over the years, officials have discussed a golf course and a cemetery on some of the parcel. Instead, nature lovers have enjoyed the site, which advocates say includes at least 56 breeding bird species, 12 amphibian/reptile species, 251 plant species, and eight ecosystem types. 

One of the core group of five Friends, Mike Tabaczynski of the Lexington Bicycle Advisory Committee, warned that any development at Great Meadows would affect those living along Mill Brook, which is already prone to flooding.

" If [a portion of Great Meadows] is paved over and houses are built there, there will be more flooding [downstream], " he said. 

One of the foremost experts on every tree and blade of grass in Great Meadows is Arlington photographer Harvey Cote. Cote has been taking photos at the site for the past three decades. The photographer usually strolls around the meadows twice a day, looking for the perfect shot. 

During his travels, he has toured the numerous trails, but even he recently found a new pathway. 

" I’m concerned that the little unknown trail would be gone, " said Cote of the Friends potentially developing a new trail system. 

Tabaczynski concurred that the group must tread carefully.

" You can actually do damage if you don’t do things right, " he said, adding that " sometimes it’s better if you don’t do anything. " 

The Friends split into three subgroups Tuesday: education, resource management, and conservation protection. Great Meadows, though a wetlands, is not protected by any conservation restriction and many of the Friends said the protection is vital. 

" We can’t do anything until this goes into conservation, " said Lexington resident Jackie Ward. " Unless it’s put into conservation so that it is protected, I think all these great plans are for naught. " 

Though the Arlington Board of Selectmen isn’t discussing any potential development at Great Meadows, members change over the years, she said.

" If it’s not protected, the view of the Board of Selectmen can change. That is what concerns me, " said Ward. 

Though the Friends’ organizers spoke of brainstorming immediate smaller changes, Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee’s Jack Johnson said protection is the most important aspect. 

" If it’s not going that way, then all the baby steps are not leading us anywhere, " said Johnson.

On the smaller, more immediate changes, the Friends discussed placing boardwalks on some of the trails, making more parking, developing signs that read something to the effect of " Arlington’s Great Meadows in Lexington, part of the Mystic River Watershed " at some of the meadows’ access points. 

" There are a lot of needs here and we can’t do them all so we have to set up some priorities, " said Tabaczynski. 

The Friends of Arlington’s Great Meadows will hold its next meeting on April 9 at the Waldorf School in Lexington. 

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