An Old Man’s Walk in Cold Spring Park

Text and photographs by V. Eugene Vivian, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ

During May of 2005 I passed a 90th birthday milestone. Most of my life I have walked in woodlands, fields, swamps, marshes and meadows. Slowed down markedly following the placement of stents to prevent the rupture of a large abdominal aortal aneurysm, I initiated recovery with short strolls in Cold Spring Park, which is adjacent to my wife’s home of 15 odd years on Terrace Avenue in Newton Highlands.

As is my lifelong habit I made note of the species in the habitat into which my plodding feet took me. To enter the Park from Duncklee Street at Beverly Road one must ascend the side of Cochituate Aqueduct to find a well-worn trail, which soon descends from the top of the aqueduct to the north to an old farmstead bordering a ponded swampy wetland.

Atop the aqueduct white pines, northern red oaks and Norway maples which have been invading from the adjoining suburban area shade the jogging/walking trail heavily used by younger men and women ranging from late teens to early forties all jogging past me.

Male and female walkers shepherding leashed canines all greet me, many armed with plastic bags to retrieve pet droppings. Their appreciation of the park is further evidenced by the litter-free aspect of the trail and forest floor.

Cold Spring Park is an open depressed basin 40-50 feet above sea level with few contours as shown on the U.S. Geodetic survey map on the Boston South Quadrangle. The Park’s main entrance is from Beacon Street featuring several play fields. A broad pathway on the eastern side leads from the parking area past the first two exercise stations of the Lenny Adelman Exercise Trail. The health trail is named to memorialize a young man remembered as one who greatly cherished Cold Spring Park, and who aided in the layout and construction of the Exer-trail.

The park was acquired in the mid 1930’s by the City of Newton and the Department of Parks and Recreation; it was an undeveloped swampy forest depression with wetlands chiefly in its northeastern sector, and with a total area of 67 acres. From the Newton Conservators home page I learned that the former wetlands (called Alcock’s swamp) was partly drained by lowering the level of Cold Spring Brook, which still flows from the park. The playfields near Beacon Street were preserved from an earlier township landfill. The remainder of the land was obtained by gifts and tax liens.

On the trail which follows the ridge of the Cochituate Aqueduct near Duncklee Street, is a somewhat moist, shaded and cool forest floor with false solomon’s seal, bracken, Indian pipe, Canada mayflower, yellow celandine poppy, the invasive garlic mustard, northern blue violet and the wild lily of the valley (with leaves larger than those commonly seen in gardens). These forest floor herbs share space with shrubs such as maple-leaved arrow-wood, buckthorn, witch hazel, blue elder, and beaked hazel (?). Waiting to accompany you home are enchanter’s nightshade, white avens, begger’s ticks, and burdock with their fruited hooks affixed to your clothing.

Many persons whom I encountered were cordial in their greetings and some were solicitous of my welfare noting my cane and hunched “figure 7” posture or seeing me resting on a fallen log.

North of the Exer-trail stop #16 is an old cellar hole proclaiming the former agricultural use of the land. Upslope just beyond is a formerly cleared old farm field edged with black-capped raspberries, flowering dogwood, wild black cherry, white ash, stag horn sumac and the ever present vines, such as wild grape, poison ivy and Virginia creeper. These are augmented by herbs like pokeweed, tansy, common milkweed, wild carrot, black eyed Susan and red clover.

At the old field a well-used cross trail leads west through cool woodlands now overgrown from former agricultural use. It connects both with the large south central playfield area and also crosses a brook to join the Exer-trail at Station #8 and Plymouth Road. I suspect that this trail serves as the wet winter weather cut-off from the wetter pathway areas to the north toward Beacon Street.

Leading east from the old field the cross trail takes one out of the park to Beaconwood Road and a cluster of streets surrounded by swamp areas featuring wetland denizens such as touch-me-not (Impatiens), with the showy invading purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and sedge species. One of these streets leads back to the main park section and station #18 of the Exer-trail.

Continuing north from the old field the main Exer-trail leads through a wetland probably waterlogged in winter with wooden stepping platforms to aid the walker in wet conditions. A pleasant cluster of spinulose shield fern can be seen here.

Other ferns visible are sensitive cinnamon and interrupted fern species, all in the vicinity of Exer-trail Station #17. At trailside nearby is the bracted green wood orchis.

The cool forested semi-wet zones of the Exer-trail traverse forests of red maple, slippery elm, ailanthus and black locust with both wild and bristly sarsaparilla. Herbs and minishrubs such as Vinca and the escaped English ivy are found in this old farm area. Shrubs in this vicinity include toothed arrow-wood, snowberry and winged euonymus.

I had been walking without binoculars, but my ears informed me of the occasional presence of several common woodland and suburban area birds beginning with wood thrush, robin, goldfinch, starling, purple grackle, house sparrow, downy woodpecker, white-breasted nut hatch, black capped chickadee, common crow, wood pewee, song sparrow, catbird, cardinal, northern flicker, blue jay, red-eyed vireo, mourning dove, and crested flycatcher.

Where the cross trail meets the Exer-trail at Station #9, it circles south of the large playfield and finally ascends the Cochituate Aqueduct on the eastern forest boundary.

In this vicinity, I first noticed a single white oak along with black walnut, pignut hickory, weeping willow, eastern cottonwood poplar and several fern species notably New York and cinnamon ferns. Among the shrubs were burning bush and sorb-leaved sorbaria (probably escaped from nearby cultivation).

At this point in my rambles, I was forced to return to New Jersey and temporarily interrupt my wanderings in captivating Cold Spring Park.

Plant Checklist

About the Author
V. Eugene Vivian was born in 1915. He received his PhD from New York University. He was Professor Emeritus at Rowan University in New Jersey. He was the author and editor of numerous books and journal articles, including Wilderness Wetlands in Spring: A Canoe Trip in the Pine Barrens of South Jersey.

Professor Vivian died in 2008 at the age of 93. Read his obituary.


Schmid, James A. and John T. Kartesz. Checklist and Synonomy of Higher Plants in New Jersey and Pennsylvania with Special Reference to Habit and Wetland Indicator Status

Fernald, Merritt L. 1970 Gray’s Manual of Botany, eighth (centennial) edition (corrected printing). Van Nostrand Company. New York , NY

Gleason, Henry A.1952 (1968). The new Britton and Brown illustrated flora of the northeastern United States and adjacent Canada . New York Botanical Garden and Hafner Publishing Co. New York NY . 3 volumes.

Gleason, Henry A., and Arthur Cronquist. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada . Second edition. New York Botanical Garden . Bronx , NY

Symonds, George W. D. 1963 The Shrub Identification Book. M. Barrows and Company, New York, NY