By Doug Dickson
Today marks the beginning of the 40th year in the history of this distinguished organization. This time next year, we will celebrate our 40th anniversary, the Newton Conservators having been founded in 1961. Our mission is identical to the one set out by the visionaries (some of whom are with us tonight) who created the Newton Conservators in 1961. But the backdrop of issues and opportunities is different.
Those of you who have read our newsletter this year will know that I regard this as a transitional period in our history. We must change with the times and the times have indeed changed. We have fewer opportunities to acquire and preserve open space. Even if we had the money, the community is largely built out. But plenty of challenges remain and our mission is just as viable in this environment as it was 40 years ago when the preservation of several hundred acres of open space and many other accomplishments were still in our future.
Setting priorities for this new phase of our history has occupied a significant amount of our attention this year. The board of directors has identified six goals for the coming year or two:
Create a land bank for acquisition, preservation and maintenance of public open space, hopefully augmented by passage of the Community Preservation Act.
Strengthen the process (including broad community input) and content (taking into account current conditions and opportunities) of the year 2000 Open Space Plan revision.
Create and publish an easy-to-use parks and public open space report card to focus attention on maintenance, utilization profiles and improvement priorities.
Develop a set of options and contingency plans for preserving selected parcels of private open space so the city is prepared well in advance of unforeseen events that could threaten them. (At the top of this list I would put Kessler Woods and the Angino farm property, followed the golf courses. We also need to focus continuing attention on the Sudbury aqueduct and the MBTA stations where development is proposed.)
Expand education programs to improve awareness, use and appreciation of public open spaces through various media, including revised maps, cable programs, and news articles.
Continue an active program of support, sponsorship and advocacy for open space, waterway and land use initiatives throughout our community and region on an as-needed basis. This obviously includes proposals as they emerge, but should also anticipate pressure from corridors of activity, such as Route 9 and Needham Street, where by the nature of the areas, development issues are complex and achieving balance between commercial and environmental interests is difficult.
To support these goals, we have continued our focus this year on building the infrastructure of the organization. Our membership continues to grow, thanks to the great ideas and hard work of our membership chair, Lucy Caldwell Stair.
Our web site continues to grow in content, thanks to Mike Clarke’s assiduous updating and adding of information. Ted Kuklinski acquired our new URL–www.newtonconservators.org–and set us up on a free web hosting service to facilitate location and use of our site. When you see the ads on our lead-in page, remember that they are paying for the service so we don’t have to–and remember that you don’t have to read them.
We took our first tentative step this year in broadening our investment strategy, placing some of our money in a diversified index fund to improve the return on our total portfolio and our stewardship of this important resource. Most of our money continues to be held in treasury notes and certificates of deposit. Thanks to Dwight Golann and Mike Collora for providing both advice and action.
We are in the process and updating and expanding our open space maps and hope to have these available this fall. Bud Elliott is taking the lead on this project.
Many other board members have contributed to our success this year: Peter Kastner managing our publicity machine, Mike Clarke, Bonnie Carter and others writing, editing and mailing our informative newsletter, Jim Broderick masterminding our restoration of Ordway Park, Judy Hepburn creating our spring and fall walks program, Bill Hagar and Bud Elliott coordinating our grants program.
The Conservators took positions on a number of open space and land use issues this year, including the constellation of developments here at Andover Newton Theological School. We have been particularly concerned about preserving the view to the Blue Hills from the southern end of the quadrangle, the only such view still accessible to the public from Newton’s hills.
We have voiced our concern about the encroachment on wetlands by the Bradford development along Route 9 in Thompsonville and have gained agreement by the developer to place the wetland area itself under a conservation restriction.
We helped gain passage of the landmark Tree Preservation Ordinance, the first to require replacement of trees lost to private development in the state and well beyond.
We played an active role in the development of a framework plan that will lead in the next phase to a new Comprehensive Plan for the city. Thanks to Bud Elliott and Norm Richardson for ably representing the Conservators in this process and prevailing in the end over a roomful of development interests. We were also active in the Flowed Meadow Planning Group. With support from Mike Clarke, Peter Kastner and our Environmentalist of the Year, Marty Sender, this remarkable piece of property will be transferred from the DPW to the Conservation Commission, where it will be managed as a passive recreation area.
And, of course, what would a year be like if we didn’t have a Little League sign proposal to oppose. And oppose we did–this time at Hamilton Field. Though this year’s episode was successfully resolved, the challenge remains to undo the damage from past mishandling by elected officials of requests for signs on two Little League fields, where as a result, large numbers of commercial signs disrupt the beauty and serenity of our parks.
We have also taken positions on matters before the Conservation Commission and the Parks and Recreation Commission too numerous to itemize here. We continue to monitor the work of those boards in addition to the Land Use Committee of the Board of Aldermen, the Urban Tree Commission, the Landscape Advisory Council, the Commonwealth Golf Course Board, the IPM Advisory Committee and others. The Zoning Board of Appeals adopted rules and regulations for Comprehensive Permits last fall at our urging (thanks to Mike Clarke for initiating and seeing that project through to completion) and the Parks and Recreation Commission Manual is now in final form (thanks again to Mike).
This year, we co-sponsored a symposium on pesticide-free gardening with the Green Decade Coalition and shared newsletter content with the Charles River Watershed Association. We are a part of the coalition pressing for passage of the Community Preservation Act. Our relationships with other environmental and open space groups are strong and we intend to build on these to achieve greater regional impact. The issues we face in Newton are identical to those facing our neighbors and there is strength to be gained in increasing our numbers through joint projects and mutual support. The Chandler Pond Association in Brighton, the Green Space Coalition in Brookline, and the Waltham Land Trust are organizations with whom we have emerging relationships. Our local Friends groups continue to be important allies and formation of others is a priority, particularly in the Flowed Meadow/Auburndale Park area.
Thanks to your participation, the Newton Conservators is a strong organization, hewing today as it has in the past to its mission to promote the protection and preservation of natural areas, including parks, playgrounds, forests and streams, for recreation, education and scientific study. It is my pleasure to pronounce the organization in good health and ready to take on the challenges that await us in this new century. With your continued support, we will match over the next forty years the enviable achievements of our predecessors during the initial forty.