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FAR Wins Priority Status with State Wetland Restoration Program (WRP) of Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management (CZM) for 10 Acre Central Marsh Restoration in Cambridge and Belmont
Reservation Improvement Plans Move Forward in Cambridge
by Ellen Mass

FAR is seeking conservation-minded partners who will work with non-profits, state agencies and the Bulfinch Company affiliate BHX to restore a large invasive dominated marsh of 10 acres at the heart of the Alewife Reservation, located inside Acorn Park Drive and across the Drive from the Belmont Uplands in Discovery Park. This "central wetlands" marsh is tributary to Little River, Perch Pond and other wetlands primarily owned by the Dept. of Conservation Recreation. The marsh plan is highly consistent with the state Master Plan of the DCR, prepared by Bioengineering Group, and complements the City of Cambridge's goal of creating a stormwater marsh on the south side of Little River that will improve the watershed significantly. Cambridge together with Mass Water Resources Authority are presently planning this New England model wetland restoration project of 8 acres (about 5 percent of the Reservation) which will include a completely natural teaching amphitheater with wildlife engraved boulders as seats, board walks and a restored marsh ecosystem with native plantings for wildlife.

The restoration of the central emergent marsh, which is Cambridge's largest wetland, with small section in Belmont, has the potential to re-create several wetland functions that have been lost over time as a result of development and hydrologic changes. The marsh is currently stagnant, and does not contribute significant cleanwater flows to the Little River. The restoration options being considered are several: spilling and pulsing more water to filter and flow through the marsh to limit and eliminate invasive species of Phragmites (Common Reed); evaluating and designing solutions for the wetland to handle flooding in the area; recreating original wetland functions that have been lost over time as a result of development and hydrologic changes; restoring marsh to improve riparian flows to Little River for reducing excessive sedimentation in Little River. Presently, the shallow river is hardly navigable for native fish and for canoes.

Storm water and flood water pass back and forth inefficiently under Route 2 from Arlington via 5 culverts, some of which already flow into the central wetland and more might be diverted there. This project is now on the priority list for examining solutions to the watershed by the Mass. Wetlands Restoration Program of the Coastal Zone Management.

As part of the development of the new Smithsonian Astrophysics Building, a storm water basin will be constructed by BHX to improve stormwater quality and remove a portion of an existing culvert to allow water to flow more slowly, infiltrate into the ground, and possibly improve water quality. The basin is designed to spill over into the marsh to improve stagnant conditions but may need additional pulsing and careful corridors to keep water moving in order to eliminate the reeds. This mechanical process has been recommended by FAR.

Technical environmental professionals are sought to evaluate the beneficial aspects to restore a true wetland of significant biodiversity, beauty, and to promote additional wildlife habitat. At present, there can be no complete wildlife life cycles as nothing can grow in the Phragmites marsh. The reeds provide night roosts for starlings and robins primarily. With restoration of cattails, bulrush, sedges and flowering bushes, etc. the population of turtles and amphibians would grow substantially with an increased number of shore and song birds. The 19 species of mammals inventoried in the area would be provided a complete habitat.

As late as the early 1900's, this area was a diverse emergent marsh with an unrestricted flow to Boston Harbor providing food, cover and breeding habitat to a thriving wildlife community and healthy passageways for the state's priority protected anadromous alewife fish.

By ameliorating upstream conditions at the reed marsh, and improving riparian drainage to Little River (both offshoots of the central marsh restoration via invasive species removal), a significant improvement to the ecological conditions of the entire watershed may be expected. The upstream town of Belmont also plans to improve its water quality drainage in the next year, further contributing to the restoration activities.

The history of the Little River and the associated emergent marshes is typical of urban wetland marshes. However, recent changes in land development patterns and unique opportunities to reverse the historic degradation has resulted in the selection by the Office of Coastal Zone Management for this area as prime candidate for a Wetland Restoration project. See CZM's web page at for more information on the restoration program. For interest in partnering, call FAR at 617 547-1944.

Added to website December 27, 2004