Urban wild to get major face-lift in Bowdoin-Geneva

A system of trails, benches, parking, an outdoor classroom and a stargazing area will soon appear in an urban wild near the crossroads of Bowdoin-Geneva known as Geneva Cliffs. Thanks to a flurry of local organizations and public and private donors, initial work could be complete by next summer, if the weather and contractors cooperate.

"We're just receiving bid packages today for the costs," said Sherry Flashman, a project coordinator for the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation (EDC) on Friday. "We have sufficient funding to build the project out to phase one."

Phase one will blaze trails and build amenities on the Boston Conservation Commission-owned land at the site, primarily situated behind Star Five Oil at 303 Geneva Ave. A second phase will make light improvements to an adjacent NStar property that lies just behind a privately-owned parcel at 126 Bowdoin St. with a verbal agreement that NStar will not develop the parcel for a certain number of years. Local activists hope that someday all four sites, including Star Five Oil, can become part of the park.

The construction of phase one of the wild is estimated to cost upwards of $200,000 and is being paid for with grants from the city's Department of Neighborhood Development, the state's Department of Conservation and Recreation and an anonymous foundation. Enough money has also been raised to hire a part-time person who would coordinate volunteers for the maintenance of the park, which would not be included in the city's park system.

Flashman also said there would be interpretive signage describing elements of the wild, such as its ecology and Roxbury Puddingstone rock outcroppings. Invasive plants have all but overrun the area, and volunteers will support the few native species, such as birch, sumac and elm trees, that still exist while slowly fighting back invasives like Norway maple trees, Oriental bittersweet vines and Japanese knotweed.

"There are so many invasive species on the site that we'd lose the whole site if we took them all down," said Flashman.

Alternative futures for the NStar property and the parcel at 126 Bowdoin could also be in the cards, although both owners have yet to set any definite plans. Flashman said it would likely be up to the community to influence whether the lots remain open space or become housing or mixed-use developments. The city has negotiated with Star Five Oil to help them relocate in the past, but those talks seem to have fizzled. In June, the Zoning Board of Appeals turned down a request by the company for permission to park more oil trucks at the property.

The Geneva Avenue Working Group had much to do with fundraising and the park's design, said Flashman. The group, which focuses on coordinating major development along the avenue, is a combination of the Dorchester Housing and Open Space Action Team (DHAT) and the Greater Four Corners Action Coalition (GFCAC).

When phase one is completed, a new part-time employee will work out of the GFCAC office to coordinate volunteers and schedule programming in the wild.

Tomorrow night the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston will hold a stargazing event at the park at 6 p.m. In the past they have surveyed the moon, spotted the space shuttle, and viewed Jupiter and at least four of its moons.