These Routes Were Made for Walking
By Sean Sullivan
In a fitting capstone to an extraordinary year, Natick will honor Earth Day like in the days of old – in person.
The town will be hosting Natick Trails Summit, a virtual event that seeks to publicize and promote local pathways and bucolic byways. It will be a virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony of sorts, as stakeholders gather to discuss and educate attendees about the town’s plans for these outdoor spaces.
The summit dovetails nicely with Earth Day (April 22), and the warming weather that often arrives during those upcoming weeks. Natick’s usually vibrant and well-attended Earth Day festivities will remain in hibernation for the second consecutive year this month, the town erring on the side of caution during a pandemic still proving its potency.
Paved pathways will also have a starring role in the summit, as Natick’s much-anticipated stretch of the Cochituate Rail Trail becomes more integrated with neighboring towns.
As we’re not out of the woods yet in terms of moving past the pandemic, this summit will assume the form of the ubiquitous Zoom meeting. Any interested party may participate in the event by visiting tinyurl.com/2021naticktrails to RSVP and receive a link to the summit. The event will be held on Saturday morning, April , from 10 am and noon.
The online meeting is both an effort to inform the public about these open spaces, and to connect the diverse array of stakeholders who can have an impact and input on these related projects. The Natick Trails Summit will include the new Trails and Forest Stewardship Committee, the Cochituate Rail Trail Advisory Committee, Friends of Natick Trails, Keep Natick Beautiful, and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council among others.
Marianne Iarossi is an Open Space Planner & Conservation Agent for the town, and will kick off the virtual summit.
“It should be chock full of basically trail information,” she said. “Anybody who has a trail interest, we’re encouraging to sign up.”
The town’s trails and forests had already been an often-overlooked resource during the past few years, and the recent renewed emphasis on outdoor lifestyles has brought these venues back into sharp focus.
“Because of Covid, there’s a lot more people using the trails,” said Doug Drenik.
He is a member of Natick’s new Trails and Forest Stewardship Committee, and spoke with anticipation about everything trail-related in the town. The committee is under the umbrella of the town’s conservation commission, and its creation is an effort to reclaim an ownership, pride and upkeep of those trails and woodlands. Before it came into being, care of the trails was mostly an ad-hoc affair.
“No one knew who was responsible for the trails,” he said.
Now, Drenik is part of a committee whose mandate is to oversee them, a diverse team that includes a botanist, marketing talent, and other varied spheres of expertise.
At the top of the team’s list is trail signage, with the goal of making walking in the woods more user-friendly.
“The last thing we want is for people to go walking and get lost,” said Drenik.
With Hunnewell Forest’s 100 acres, hills, and winding array of paths, getting lost can be easy for the uninitiated hiker. In addition to the planned signage, kiosks located at trail heads have been targeted for makeovers and maintenance. That effort includes updated maps that will be monitored and replenished, and an app that will aid hikers in their travels.
“Coming this spring,” he said, “the town will start to see a lot of these efforts.”
Perhaps most exciting of the upgrades will be a new corps of trail volunteers. These locals will agree to walk specific trails at least wice monthly, collecting trash and tidying up as they go. They will also report to the committee any larger issues that need tending to, such as fallen trees.
“Frankly, I’ve been overwhelmed with the response,” said Drenik, after the call for volunteers went out. Thirty locals have signed up, which he said is about 3 per trail. “There seems to be a lot of energy around people getting involved.”
Having such a diverse team on the committee will be key for the implementation of certain projects, such as the restoration of the large meadow in the forest’s southeast section. The meadow is in a valley of sorts, hemmed in on three sides by wooded hills, and has resisted (as nature will) efforts to tame it.
The town now seeks to cultivate a wildflower sanctuary in the meadow, and a local Eagle Scout group has been recruited to help in that project. Iarossi said she hopes to see that project come to fruition for this spring and summer.
“We’re trying to keep it as natural as possible,” she said.