Standing in the basement of Lane Hall, Jack Ridge, Tufts professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Climate Sciences, points to a print map that illustrates the geology of the Middlesex Fells Reservation, commonly referred to as the Fells. He has spent years mapping the geology of the nature reservation, which lies roughly two miles north of Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus. Through a labor of love, he has created numerous self-guided geology tours of trails within the Fells so that Tufts community members can learn about what lies beneath their feet as they explore within the woods.
A place full of opportunities for adventure, the Fells serves as an educational resource, place of recreation and nature reservation for the five towns in which it is located — Medford, Malden, Melrose, Stoneham and Winchester — as well as for the greater Boston area.
It is a state-funded park that is overseen by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. Massachusetts DCR works in concert with the neighboring towns, the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority and Friends of the Fells, a local nonprofit organization, to manage the park.
In addition to government agencies and Friends of the Fells, local community members play a large role in the park’s maintenance. Maddie Morgan, the manager of community engagement and operations at Friends of the Fells, introduced the organization’s Trail Adopters program, wherein community members report fallen trees and other hazards to keep the Fells safe.
“They go out at least three times a year, most go out more … and just create another set of eyes for the Department of Conservation and Recreation,” Morgan said.
According to Morgan, bureaucratic slowdowns and obstacles arise when trying to create new projects due to the multitude of actors involved in the management and maintenance of the Fells; however, progress is constantly being made within the park.
“Essentially because it is a state park, it’s publicly owned, so there’s a lot of different pieces and players and community members, government, state, local partners that are involved in getting it to run,” Morgan said. “Because of that sometimes things are a little slower paced and it takes a little longer to make [projects] happen. But when [a new project] does happen, it’s great and it’s obviously gone through a very thorough vetting process.”
She underscored the importance of perseverance in her line of work.
“[In] any kind of government organization, bureaucracy is always going to be a bit challenging. But I think if you have the right people to talk to and you’re patient and persistent, I think you can get things to work. But it is a long game. It’s not going to happen overnight,” Morgan said.
In line with its values of community partnership, Friends of the Fells is working to launch a program called “Be Kind,” which, as put by Morgan, “develops a better understanding of other user groups between user groups.”
These user groups, Morgan added, range from mountain bikers to hikers to community members walking their dogs. Overall, the Be Kind campaign endeavors to promote cooperative stewardship of the Fells by all who visit it.
On top of that, stewardship opportunities within the Fells are abundant. Eva Ramey, stewardship director of Tufts Mountain Club, shared her understanding of the term’s definition.
“Stewardship is giving back to the community that we’re in and taking care of the environments that we use,” Ramey, a junior, said. “I imagine this as meaning conservation, as meaning volunteer work, as meaning trash pickups and being aware of the impact that we leave in spaces like the White Mountains [and] Woodstock, where the Loj is, and the Fells near campus.”
TMC is one of many organizations that partner with Friends of the Fells to complete projects within the park. Currently, TMC works with Friends of the Fells and the Massachusetts DCR to remove invasive species from the Fells. On Feb. 25, TMC co-hosted an invasive species removal event with Friends of the Fells.
Although the Fells is only a short car ride from Tufts, transportation can be a major issue in accessing the resources it has to offer. Ramey emphasized the need for “better knowledge of [transportation] resources and better utilization of them” to make the Fells more accessible to all Tufts students.
Currently, TMC serves as a resource for organizing carpools to the Fells including weekly walks organized by Joey Galvan-Carty, the club’s hiking director. Once the hurdle of access is passed, the Fells is a wonderful resource for Tufts students to spend time outside.
While standing in the Fells, it is easy to feel connected to nature and the present moment; however, there is more to the Fells than current programs, stewardship and use. Taking a historical lens to the Fells reveals a rich history of environmental advocacy.
Morgan elaborated on the history of the Fells and its significance.
“There’s a lot of advocacy with a couple of people like Elizur Wright, [Frederick Law] Olmsted and his son. … They fought really hard to advocate for the Fells to protect it, and it was falling on deaf ears for a long, long time,” Morgan said. “But they just kept fighting and they were able to preserve the space and kind of launched the environmental movement from the work they did. So it’s really a very sneakily historic place [with] a lot of stories in it.”
The abundant history of the Fells is still being discovered to this day. Professor Ridge has spent the last decade researching and mapping the underlying geological history of the Fells.
This yearslong project was not sponsored by Tufts or an outside organization. Ridge explained that available writings on the Fells’ geology were out of date, so he was inspired to pursue it as a passion project.
“I became more interested in it, and I realized that there was something to do here that would be of interest to other people in my profession. But also a lot of people in the public are out [in the Fells] all the time, and they’re curious about it,” Ridge said.
Since starting his venture, he has created both a surficial geological map, which shows glacial features as well as a map of the bedrock structures within the Fells. Ridge then used his findings to create educational, self-guided geology tours of different trails within the Fells. The tours are accessible from his website, “The Geology of the Middlesex Fells.”
“I don’t know how many people use [the website],” Ridge said. “A few people have contacted me and said they liked it and everything and they asked questions about it.”
Ridge recalled with a smile how he once gave a talk at an elementary school and was later identified by one of the students in the audience who remembered his visit.
“I was in the supermarket, and this little boy was yanking on his father’s sleeve coat, [saying], ‘Dad, that's the geology guy!’ So that felt pretty good. It made an impression on some kid,” Ridge said.
Ridge’s passion encapsulates the beauty of the Fells. It isn’t used by everyone and the stories it has to tell are not always easily apparent. But if you take the opportunity to explore and look closely, you will learn something new, and the Fells will make a lasting impression on you.