Dexter Road 2007 Update

In 2004, Carolyn Fine Friedman sold her house in Newtonville and graciously turned over to the Newton Conservators a parcel which lay behind it. This was done with the agreement that this wooded slope would remain in its natural state as conservation land. It consists of a fairly steep north-facing hillside, extending downward from her former residence to the level of Dexter Road below, across the road from houses and the Laundry Brook. She had left this landscape undisturbed for many years for her own enjoyment and that of her neighbors.

A study by the Land Management Committee’s Survey Team revealed that among the trees on the site are sugar and red maples, mockernut hickory, European beech, and red ashes, a single, small American chestnut, and many Norway maples. There is considerable variety among the wildflower population: wild sarsaparilla, jack-in-the-pulpit, wood aster, jewelweed, Indian pipe, and common yellow sorrel, all of them native plants. Also noted were more recently introduced species including garlic mustard, yarrow, woodruff, celandine, orange day-lily, coral bells, and yucca. There are at least four types of native fern.

In agreement with Mrs. Fine Friedman, we plan to leave this hillside in a natural state, with no attempt to alter its character in a major way. However, we do plan to introduce some additional native species appropriate for the habitat, including shrubs such as lowbush blueberry, hazelnut, black huckleberry, mountain laurel, and maple-leaf viburnum. Also we believe that some of the following wildflowers might be good candidates: pink lady slipper, tick-trefoils, Canada mayflower, starflower, and wild oats. Braken fern is another native species that could adapt well.

We will increase the diversity of plants and enhance the beauty and holding quality of the undergrowth. The thick canopy overhead, provided by the tall maples and oaks, blocks sunlight from reaching the ground. It will be necessary to remove maple saplings that are rising among the older trees. The ground beneath them at present is a somewhat barren forest floor, lacking many of the usual soil-retaining plants necessary to prevent erosion on steeper portions of the slope.

Newton ’s Tree Warden, Marc Welch, has sent his team to clear debris and overhanging limbs of trees along the six foot strip of city land on our side of Dexter Road. Recently, NStar crews have come by to take out trees and limbs interfering with the telephone and electric wires running along Dexter Road, through the woods up toward Prospect Park. We believe this had greatly reduced the danger of trees falling during storms and damaging parked cars or other property nearby.

This summer we hope to initiate our plan to remove many of the invasive plants and to substitute natives. We look forward to support from our immediate neighbors on Dexter Road, and we hope to involve a few Newton North High School students from the Environmental Science Program in this work. Our Dexter Woods site could evolve into an outdoor classroom for students interested in ecology and natural history. Mr. Zachary Snow and Ms. Andy Dannenberg, members of the science faculty, have expressed interest in having some of their students participate in a study of this sort.

Dexter Woods is one of only two conservation parcels the Newton Conservators actually own outright, and since it lies in a busy neighborhood, we have had to face new responsibilities. In one storm last year, the limb from a tall tree fell across the road, damaging an automobile. Recently another aging tree fell across a neighbor’s line, leaving part of its trunk in her yard. Backup from a sewer line running beneath our property caused an unpleasant spill-over into Dexter Road. This required scurrying around to get help from the city sewer crew. They found that tree roots had blocked the drainage line.

We have made a big effort to keep ahead of these problems and to maintain a happy relationship with nearby neighbors on Dexter Road, hoping they, too, can enjoy the beauty of this very small but quite beautiful piece of natural land. With the present-day pattern of large, new houses built on similar pieces of property, we hope that other land owners might think favorably of the idea of transforming plots like ours into miniature conservation areas.

M.G. “Cris” Criscitiello
Co-Chair, Land Management Committee