Hiking through an nature preserve filled with salamanders, frogs, birds and a diversified formation of trees may seem like a destination you'd have to pack an overnight bag to get to.
The Gladeside Urban Wild, located off River Street and Lorna Road in Mattapan, boasts all of these things, and right in our own backyard.
After endless hours of working with assistance from several collaborators, businesses, volunteers, and local organizations - Mattapan's Gladeside Urban Wild has recently been revitalized, cleaned and restored. The effort began in the fall of 2001, run through Boston's Park and Recreation Department. The restoration was part of a collaboration with Earthworks Project Inc to restore about a dozen Urban Wild locations throughout Greater Boston.
Today, the Gladeside Terrace location serves as one of the city's untouched, natural sites - extending over ten-and-a-quarter acres. The site is lined with Autumn Blooming Witch Hazel plants, a host of Fern, Crabapple, Summer Sweet, High Bush and Japanese Maple Trees and Highbush blueberries, shrubs, and sprouting flowers. All of it is encircled by natural trails, a cool breeze, and the echoes of birds.
The Urban Wilds are essentially remnants of what "Boston used to look like years ago," says Paul Sutton, Project Manager for Boston Parks and Recreation Department / Urban Wilds Initiative.
Each of these nature areas vary in size. Some are as small as one acre, others as large as one hundred and are made up of an assortment of landscapes like marshes, rock outcroppings, forested woodlands, wetlands, meadows and Costal salt marshes.
"I walk through it once a month," said long-time Mattapan resident Rodney Bender. "I am a firm believer that those quiet [places] where you can go sit down, collect yourself are valuable," added Bender.
Gladeside Urban Wild is certainly one of those places. The fact that the site is conveniently located in the heart of Mattapan drives residents like Bender to play a part in preserving its history.
"What the site contributes to the community is immeasurable," Bender says.
Some of the benefits are hard to notice: Sutton notes that such urban wilds actually help the surrounding neighborhood to stay cool in summer months. The growth in the wild helps filter storm water and provides flood control. It's also a great place for a workout, Sutton says.
"With a lot of areas being built out and there being fewer open spaces for residents to enjoy taking walks," said Sutton. "These places are becoming more important for wildlife observation or just relaxation." The Gladeside urban wild has been aided in recent years by a variety of community partners, including Boston Natural Areas Network, which assisted in the design, maintenance and build-out of the Gladeside trail system. Corporate clean up initiatives featuring KeySpan and Boston Cares, done in 2004 and 2005, have helped beautify the space and volunteers from Mildred Avenue School helped to plant new trees and shrubs.
The City of Boston has pitched in with funding for the installation of fencing and disposing of anything potentially hazardous. And teens with the Boston Youth Conservation Corps removed rubbish from the site - removing hundreds of tires, car parts, washers and dryers and a host other appliances and debris.
"The work that the students did in the summer of 2006, was primarily trail maintenance," Sutton says. "They were involved in laying out flags and removing some vegetation."
The city has also taken action to remove invasive trees that posed a risk to local homeowners on Lorna Road.
"There was years of work that went into having the ownership of Gladeside Urban Wild in Mattapan transferred from the Boston Health Commission to the Boston Conservation Commission," stated Sutton.
Though the clean-up and restoration effort has been successful thus far, Sutton says that the city counts on residents of the community to actively participate in keeping the cleaning efforts going and to deter future illegal dumping and abuse.
Bender believes the education should begin with youth.
"We need to educate young people to realize how important it is to appreciate and value these natural environments," shared Bender.
It is importantly what will be left behind for them and their children, he explained.
"I think this is not only one of Mattapan's most important natural areas," said Sutton, [but it is also] "one of the city most important Urban Wilds," Sutton added. "Because of its size and the fact it is not fragmented it is a healthy forested ecosystem that has drawn a lot of hard work and improved greatly," shared Sutton.
The Gladeside Urban Wild has two entrances: One on Lorna Road; the other on Gladeside Terrace. The gates are open to the public from dawn to dusk to utilize this site.
Site identification signs are scheduled to be installed this year at all forty urban wilds throughout the city of Boston.
"The signs will welcome visitors tell them a little bit about Urban Wilds as well as list contact information for people interested in volunteering, or interested in reporting any problems they encountered," shared Sutton.
To find out more information on the Urban Wild sites throughout Boston, visit www.bostonnatural.org .