The City’s Urban Wild program is proposing to clean up and improve the Mattahunt Woods with $700,0000 worth of “light touches” that will potentially include adding a trail system, cleaning up large sections of debris that has accumulated over the decades, and work on ecological restoration.
The woodland in question abuts the Mattahunt school and community center and several residential streets. However, due to wetlands and difficult terrain, the site was not developed like the areas surrounding it, leaving a natural and peaceful tract of forest in the middle of Mattapan. It was declared one of the city’s 29 urban wilds after a citizen petition in 2008, though some parcels within the 8.5-acre site are privately owned.
On Sept. 13 at 6 p.m. the city will hold a second online meeting to discuss improvements with neighbors and gather more feedback. The project team will also share updates since the last community meeting in May, present the final proposed design for the site, and discuss next steps for the remainder of the project.
At the first meeting on May 2, the city’s Environment Department kicked off the official process to unveil design work from landscape architectural firm Crowley Cottrell, which was hired in March 2022. “We think there is a hidden gem here, said JP Charboneau of Crowley Cottrell. “And we think there are a couple of new ways to get into the site.”
The team also sees are ways to have more trails weaving throughout the site while staying on properties owned by the city’s Conservation Commission.
“We think we can improve the existing trail on Canaan Street and work off that to access more of the woods without destroying the character of what is there now,” said Anna Curtis-Heald of Crowley Cottrell. “We want to highlight and improve and showcase what is there today. We would work around existing trees when setting up the new trail system,” she added.
Part of that system would include potentially introducing new entrances at Itasca Street running between two existing houses, and one on Alabama Street – with that entrance funneling into new trails on Boston Public School land to connect with the Mattahunt School, giving students on site direct opportunities to study ecology and nature.
If set up, the new entrances would join improvements at existing entrances at Canaan Street (East and West), Mattahunt School, and Colorado Street like better pathways, signage to announce the area as Mattahunt Woods, and maybe some historical details about the setting.
Additionally, a major piece of the project includes eliminating the voluminous debris in tandem with an ecologically driven removal of invasive plant species and an attention to the healthy growth of the native species that exist there.
Neighbors have been largely supportive of the plan, particularly the cleanup, an item that scored highly in a neighborhood survey about the woods earlier this year.
“I think a boardwalk would be great and I love the idea around [clarifying] the entrances, especially if it would make it more accessible to those taking public transportation,” said abutter Yvette Philip. “Also, I like the signage about the history of the area.”
Said another abutter, Kim Nicholson: “I’m thankful I was notified of this because I wasn’t notified before…I am really thankful to learn it’s going to be improved and cleaned up and we would have better access and that’s very exciting to me.”
Robert Jenkins also supports the upgrading, as does Pam Jones, who advocated for the new access point on Itasca Street, though organizers said that new entry could be cost-prohibitive in this first phase.
Kenya Beaman, a Mattapan resident and liaison for the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), said improving the Mattahunt Woods would be a great plus for the greater Mattapan neighborhood.
“Mattahunt has been there a long time and a lot of people haven’t given it a whole lot of thought,” she said.
Fatima Ali-Salaam, chair of the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council (GMNC), said that there should be an effort to identify any utilities and sewer/water pipes that might run through or near the site. Also, there was discussion of neighbors advocating for the city to purchase the privately owned parcels.
Some neighbors wondered if better trails, good signage, and a cleanup might bring more folks to the site – as the area now is quite isolated. Paul Sutton, director of the city’s Urban Wild Program, said that hasn’t been their experience.
“In a number of Urban Wilds, especially of this size, they’re more conducive to the people that live around it,” he said. “I think the most visitors to the Woods will come from the school, but we need to talk about that.”
An in-person walk of the Mattahunt Woods took place on May 20. The project website can be accessed at https://www.boston.gov/departments/environment/improvements-mattahunt-woods