Friday, September 22, 2017

Blue Hills Reservation--a natural gem of the Boston area (2) Fowl Meadow

During our week at camp this year, I saw neighbors carrying inflatable kayaks.  'We just came from the Neponset River--only ten minutes from here,' they told me.  Interest piqued, I looked on a reservation map a few days later.  The Neponset River runs through the west end of the Reservation along a strip of land called Fowl Meadow.  I determined to walk Fowl Meadow and also check boat access to the river.  Though the Meadow is a rather isolated corner cut off from the western end of the Reservation, and "Ranger Tom's Suggested Hikes" ignores it, this was my second excursion into The Rest Of The Reservation, so I make it second in the series.

Fowl Meadow: easy 2 mile hike each way (made a little longer by a loop along the river bank).  Canoe/Kayak access to Neponset River at intersection Neponset Valley Pkwy & Brush Hill Rd.

I parked in a little lot at the intersection of Neponset Valley Parkway and Brush Hill Road.  A short walk on lawn northeastward curving to the left is good access to the river.  A short walk southwestward brings you into the Meadow.

The trail actually skirts the meadow proper in all but a few places, so to get a good look at real meadow means going a short distance off-trail.  But the trail is nice in itself, if not spectacular, and not heavily traveled.  The main trail, nearly ruler-straight, is called the Burma Road, while the loop begins with the perpendicular Fowl Meadow Path.  That path takes you into forest in one direction, and to the river bank in the other.  An odd combination of seclusion and civilization: the loop along the river bank is crossed by brambles in some places, showing it to be rarely used--yet I heard and (and sometimes glimpsed) trains pass half-a-dozen times along the opposite bank.  (I was startled to hear two trains pass in opposite directions only a minute or so apart--realizing only later that there were two parallel tracks.)

There are enough trees near the trail that there is some shade most of the time, but the Fowl Meadow in late summer has its share of flying insects: I regretted not having my hat nor any repellent, so that I was often bothered by insects landing on my head.

A plan took shape in my mind as I walked: I could leave a kayak on the river bank upstream near the far end of the meadow, drive to the parking area, and then walk back along the path to the waiting boat, finishing my excursion with a nice quiet two-mile paddle back to the car.  But it wouldn't work: reaching the far end of the meadow path I came to I-93 with no way to cross it, and the upriver boat access on the other side of the highway.  (The river passes under the highway, but there appears to be no easy way for a hiker to get to that bridge, and perhaps no good way under it, either.)

The part of the Neponset River paralleled by the trail seems relatively monotonous--especially compared to a gem such as the Nemasket.  But the character of a river varies along its length, often being more interesting in their narrower upper reaches.  The Neponset is here already approaching the sea.  I might kayak it from higher up someday.

In the end, I spent a quiet, relaxing afternoon in an unusual ecosystem among interesting plants and nifty animals.

Panoramic view of part of the Meadow proper.

A big, healthy clump of switch grass (Panicum vergatum)--one of the prettiest grasses I know.
The switch grass is still in flower (the delicate violet things dangling out collect wind-blown pollen).

Wood reedgrass (Cinna latifolia) has gracefully drooping branches.

Maybe a white-faced meadowhawk.

Neponset River.

Rough hawkweed (Hieracium scabrum) belongs to a large genus with dandelion-like flowers.

This bizarre thorny vine (three photos) with triangular leaves turns out to be an aggressive invasive--a fast-growing annual plant very hard to control.  (If you see it, kill it--don't let it set seed.)  Reservation folks need to know it is here!

Wild rye grass (Elymus virginica).

A leopard frog near the river bank.

Am I hiding from the deer? or is the deer hiding from me?  Let's find out.

Neponset River.  The far bank is nearly treeless because the train tracks are right there.

The delicate goldenrod Solidago odora.

Most of the deer I startled also startled me--so no photos.  this little one was an exception.

River birch is usually a southern tree.  Its pinkish shreddy bark is striking and characteristic.

Swamp white oak.

Two different goldenrods: grass-leaved goldenrod above, rough-stemmed goldenrod below.

Canada goldenrod.

Meadow glimpsed from the path.

Blue joint (Calamagrostis canadensis) waves tawny tassels in the wind.

Arrow-leaved tear-thumb (Persicaria sagitatum) is aptly named,
with tiny thorns on its stems and along the underside of the leaf along the midvein. 

Dodder (Cuscuta sp.) is a rare example of a plant that is unable to make its own food and so parasitizes other plants.  It twines around them and invades their tissues with peg-like structures.

Mystery dragonfly!

Black bindweed (Polygonum convolvulus), aka false buckwheat, twining around a grass leaf.

Meadow in the wind.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Blue Hills Reservation: Natural Gem of the Boston Area (1) Hancock Hill

Blue Hills Reservation lies just south of metro Boston, in a broad swath cut across its south edge by I-93 and divided a bit more by route 24.  Lesser roads also cross it.  The southern portion that includes Ponkapoag Pond is connected to a smaller part by a pedestrian/equestrian bridge across route 24, and  to the much greater northern part by an overpass across I-93.  All trails are open to hikers, and a good many are also open to mountain bikers and horses.  Many trails can be access from several points.  
For me, Ponkapoag has long been its own place.  Ponkapoag Pond lies in the larger corner of the reservation south of 93 and west of 24.  For the last five years we have taken a cabin at the venerable Appalachian Mountain Club "Ponkapoag Camp" for a week in August.  A recent excursion from the pond over the highway and to the ranger station spurred my new interest in the rest of the reservation, and the germ of these explorations come from "Ranger Tom's Suggested Hikes," available at the ranger station.  Also valuable is the $3 contour trail map of the Reservation.  It is possible to find your way on the trails without it, but not easy!
"Hancock Hill -- 0.5 miles -- 30 minutes -- moderate difficulty
"A wonderful summit view for those with limited time.  Begin to follow the North Skyline Trail at Reservation Headquarters and ascend the first hill, stopping at the first summit.  Return on the same trail."
Access from Ranger Station on Hillside Street, Milton, MA.
Hancock Hill was my introduction to The Rest Of the Reservation.  I did it on a warm day in late August, and was glad to have a water bottle with me.  I bicycled from AMC Ponkapoag camp, across the highway on the exit 3 overpass to Reservation Headquarters; you'll probably want to drive, parking across from headquarters by Houghton Pond.   I was breathing hard by the time I got to the top.  But I am old and out of shape, after all.

The view from up high.

Plant life in a dry environment.

Scrub black oak (Quercus illicifolia) aka bear oak.


Little blue-stem (Schizacharium scoparium) aka beardgrass.

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) aka kinikinick, an evergreen ground cover.

Sheep fescue (Festuca ovina), also a common grass of lawns and roadsides.

Western panic grass (Dichanthelium lanuginosum) aka wooly rosette grass.

From the top.

After my first short excursion, it was clear there is a lot to the Reservation.  More explorations to follow!