Arlington’s Great Meadows is a 183-acre parcel of land located in east Lexington. It is the largest piece of undeveloped land in the Arlington/Lexington area. It is part of the Mystic River watershed. Once a glacial lake, it is now a wet meadow surrounded by uplands created by glacial outwash. Great Meadows was purchased by Arlington in 1871 to serve as a supplementary water storage area, but was only briefly used for that purpose. However, it remains a valuable buffer against flooding in the area
Arlington’s Great Meadows has long served as public open space and is a popular recreational spot, particularly since the opening of the Minuteman Bikeway on its southern border. Because it is situated between two schools, the Waldorf School of Lexington and Lexington Christian Academy, Arlington’s Great Meadows is a valuable resource for teaching children about nature and the environment. The Citizens for Lexington Conservation organizes annual bird watching and geology walks in the Meadows.
Several Citizens for Lexington Conservation publications on the Great Meadows are available in PDF format. The primary one is Guide to The Great Meadows: A Walking Tour, it is a 10 page illustrated guide including a map and historical background of the area. ACROSS Lexington, a project of the Greenways Corridor Committee, also includes Arlington’s Great Meadows in its network of marked trails and paths for walkers, runners and trail bikers.
A Natural Resource Inventory and Stewardship Plan commissioned by Arlington’s Conservation Commission, was completed in 2001 by Frances Clark of Carex Associates. Copies are available at the Arlington and Lexington Public libraries. It is available online at: www.FoAGM.org/AGM_Inventory/concomGM1001.htm
An Access Points Map for Arlington’s Great Meadows is also available, indicating public and private points of entry.
Biodiversity at the Meadows
Arlington’s Great Meadows provides a home for local wildlife. To date, 56 species of birds have been found nesting in Great Meadows, 12 species of amphibians and reptiles live there, and 251 species of plants grow in the wet meadow and uplands. Last summer’s Biodiversity Days survey of the area recorded nearly 400 species of plants and animals in the Great Meadows area.
A bird survey of the Great Meadows written by John Andrews and published in 1991.
THINGS TO SEE
Part of the beauty of visiting AGM is the opportunity to immerse yourself in many different ecosystems and features that offer a wide range of experiences at AGM. Some highlights include:
Meadows: A woodland meadow is maintained by mowing near the Emerson Garden Road entrance. This meadow supports wildlife, especially birds and plans, that require a meadow ecosystem. Extended views of a large wetland meadow are available from the extension of the C trail.
Boardwalks: Plants and wildlife and great views are abundant from the Lily Pond Boardwalk and the Finger Marsh boardwalk.
Infinity Pond/Vernal Pools— a certified vernal pool. Two vernal pools, including “Infinity Pond” which is certified, can be found on the north side. In these communities, 251 species of plants have been identified, including some that are uncommon.
Woods: The upland communities include grasslands, successional mixed deciduous forest, oak forest, and a mosaic of black oak, pitch pine, and scrub oak.
The size of AGM, in conjunction with its diversity of plant communities and geologic features, support a good diversity of animal life considering its proximity to a large urban center.
Mammals: Some of the most notable animal species found in AGM are coyote, red and grey fox, fisher, porcupine, mink and weasel. Deer as well have been observed on occasion although they are not abundant. Beaver activity: the path near Fottler Ave shows beavers are back in AGM. You need to look closely but this is not a log jam or made by humans. There is muck piled behind the sticks and the water level of the stream behind the dam is about 1 foot higher than the main (Mill) brook it’s feeding into.
Insects: Many species of butterflies and insects thrive at AGM as well.
Reptiles and amphibians: 12 species of reptiles and amphibians have been identified.
Birds: 56 species of breeding birds have been identified. The American Woodcock is a signature species of AGM. For many years people have been coming here in March to observe the dramatic mating displays. As the meadow succeeded into woodland, crucial habitat for this bird was disappearing. Maintaining its habitat was a key consideration in the meadow restoration project, and for maintaining a mowed meadow near the Emerson Gardens Road entrance.
Geology of AGM and its Role in Human History. Eskers, vernal pools, and glacial erratics in
AGM provide evidence of substantial glacial influence. After the glaciers receded, the growth
and death of marsh plants over thousands of years in the former glacial lake bottom resulted in
substantial accumulations of peat.
In pre-colonial times, the land that is now AGM was used as seasonal hunting ground by
local Native American tribes. When the colonists arrived, they started using oak, pine, and
maple from the upland portions of the land to supply shipyards in Medford. In early colonial
days, AGM was known as Alewife Meadows, named after the small herring, or “alewife,” which
made their way up the Mystic River to spawn in the Meadows. The property was mainly used
for grazing as the soft peat would not support the weight of buildings.
In the 1860’s, the Winship family operated a small dairy farm that occupied much of the
meadows, and there was a mill on Monroe Brook near what is now Fottler Avenue. Milk and
hay, as well as peat mined from the meadows, were carried over the oxcart roads that can still be seen throughout the area.
In 1871, through an act of the state legislature, the Town of Arlington acquired the land
for use as a reservoir. To create the reservoir, the marsh was dammed and flooded, and a central pumping station and 25 wells were built alongside the railroad bed that is now the Minuteman Bikeway. William Brewster, the highly regarded local naturalist, recorded shorebirds and ducks that he saw in AGM in the late 19th Century. The reservoir did not last long as the current Quabbin Reservoir was built at the turn of the century and Arlington joined the regional water supply. AGM was drained in 1902 and the area reverted to marshland. Subsequently, ditches were dug to provide further drainage for the sake of mosquito control. Frances Clark observes that although the area has been disturbed multiple times, the natural topography, soils, and hydrology, have remained essentially the same.