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Board-walk on the wild side
Thursday, July 28, 2005

At 8:30 on a Saturday morning most people are just getting out of bed, but for Michael Tabaczynski and other volunteer crew members, 8:30 is the start of their long day of manual labor.
     These are not your typical construction workers, but rather a ban of volunteers who gathered together and sacrificed their Saturday to construct a boardwalk over the area of land known as The Great Meadows.
     The Great Meadows is a plot of land consisting of 183 acres of mostly wetlands purchased by Arlington in the 19th century as a public water supply. The land, however, is no longer just a place for water supply, but a recreational sight that houses many different people and activities. The Great Meadows is also an increasingly used sight for school field trips.
     "It is possibly the largest contiguous wetland in Lexington," said Tabaczynski, project organizer and leader of the construction.
     With an environment that can offer so much out-door recreation to the community, The Great Meadows needed something back in return. The outstanding problems to be addressed were the poor visitor support facilities, a better means of protection for the environment, and the long standing problem of the wetlands being submerged underwater and muddy for two to six months of the year.
     "Three years ago I thought The Great Meadows could use a boardwalk so that it could be used in more than just the summer season," said Tabaczynski.
     Three years later, and with a lot of planning and some help, Tabaczynski's idea materialized.
     Tabaczynski is trained in trail design and construction, and is no novice to leading projects similar to this one. He has managed endeavors at Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) state parks, Lynn Woods Reservations, the Middlesex Fells and Lexington Conservation land. He is also an active member of several local and regional conservation organizations including Friends of Arlington's Great Meadows (FoAGM), Citizens of Lexington Conservation, the Lexington Conservation Stewards, and the new England Mountain Bike Association.
     It was through these organizations from which Tabaczynski recruited workers and found ways to get funds for the projects.
     The organization principally responsible for the overall project, however, is FoAGM, an unincorporated association of Arlington and Lexington residents using means of education to help preserve the Great Meadows as a natural open space. The Arlington Land Trust, a community-based nonprofit organization, served as the fiscal sponsor to FoAGM to fund the project.
     "No municipal funds were used to finance construction," Tabaczynski said.
     Tabaczynski was able to secure money from a Recreation Trails Program (RTP) grant from the state Department of Conservation and Recreating which amounted to $11,316.
     "Getting the grants is a competitive situation," said Tabaczynski. "They only fund about one third of the proposals."
     Luckily for everyone, the grant was approved and last Saturday 700 feet of the boardwalk was constructed, making trails now accessible in all four seasons. The volunteers worked an average of six hours totaling 245 hours of labor. There were 35 volunteers overall - 18 Lexington, 16 Arlington and one Waltham - with 11 organizations represented in the crowd.
     "The workday was attended by a good mix of regulars and newcomers," said Tabaczynski. "Both genders were represented, and a diverse set of skills, backgrounds, and affiliations were evident."
     The remaining 450 feet, which needs to be constructed to finish the boardwalk, is planned to be built some time next fall or spring. But for now, however, the community constructed boardwalk not only serves as a symbol of the dedication these people have to their community and wetlands, but a dry place to walk on when the land below is flooded.
     As a response to the accomplishment, Tabaczynski said, "The work will help ensure that the Great Meadows provides a positive experience for human visitors and a secure habitat for wetland plants and animals for the next 20 years."

Chloe Thorburn, of Lexington, takes a sip of water while helping construct the boardwalk at Great Meadows last weekend. (Staff photo by Shawn Lynch)