My volunteer experience with the Southwest Corridor Park Conservancy on Sat, Oct 12, 2019.
When I signed up to volunteer to help clean up, transplant shrubs and perennials, etc. for the Southwest Corridor Park Conservancy (SCPC), I pictured myself helping on a glorious, crisp fall day, but my daydreams got smashed when rain prevailed.
A cold, dreary day
I have to admit, when I woke up in the morning, I was not looking forward to digging in the dirt on a cold, dreary, drizzly day. In fact, driving into Boston looking at the rain on my windshield and the city buried in the fog, I wanted to turn around and head home. I heard the whispers of my soft bed sheets calling out to me, “come back to bed” but I signed up to help the Conversancy, and I did not want to renege on my commitment, so I continued onto Boston. It was the right decision, and one I will never regret.
How a community changed history
Before starting our work, we met Karen, one of the Garden Stewards who gave us a little background of how this park became a vital part of the community. If you would like to know more about the history, please go to the Southwest Corridor Park Conservancy website http://www.swcpc.org. They have many links on their history page that go into detail, which I strongly recommend. It really is a tale of David versus Goliath, and David wins! Here is a brief excerpt I pulled from their website.
“In the 1950s and 1960s, plans were developed for a 12-lane highway along the railroad right-of-way between Boston and Rte. 128, and on into Cambridge. The residents of the affected areas, including Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, South End, Back Bay, and Cambridge, protested against the destruction of their neighborhoods by the planned highway.
In response to community protests, by 1970 Governor Francis Sargent ordered a moratorium on all new expressway construction in Greater Boston and initiated a review of expressway and transit plans in the area. By 1972, Sargent canceled the plan for the expressway and designated the Southwest Corridor for the current mix of mass transit, open space and recreation instead.
At the time, it was described as the largest single construction project undertaken in Massachusetts. Construction started in 1979, after nine years of planning and environmental impact work. Planning for the project included over one thousand meetings with the community, to discuss station location, automobile traffic, construction materials, and park design.
The Southwest Corridor Park links the neighborhoods of the South End, Back Bay, Fenway, Roxbury and Jamaica Plain with green, street-level, open space. Approximately a quarter of the parkland is decked over the railroad tracks, providing more space for grass and plantings, and such recreational facilities as 11 tot lot areas, 2 spray pools, 7 basketball courts, 5 tennis courts, 2 street hockey rinks, 2 amphitheaters, and paths for biking, jogging and walking.
What almost became a highway, is now a 4.7 mile, 50-acre linear park that stretches from Back Bay Station in Boston to Forest Hills Station in Jamaica Plain.”
The Garden Stewards
Karen then explained there are about 40 Garden Stewards who volunteer their time to take care of a designated area of the corridor. Each Steward design’s their own space, but it must adhere to the Department of Conservation and Recreation guidelines, requirements, and standards. She has been volunteering her time in the corridor for over 30 years and takes care of one of the most extensive garden section and named it the Butterfly Meadow. This incredible woman works up to five days a week maintaining and cultivating this space.
Karen designed her garden to be a haven for butterflies. She researched which plants will not only provide food for these beautiful creatures but will be a sanctuary where adult butterflies will want to lay their eggs. She currently has plantings that will attract the following species: Monarch, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, East Tiger Swallowtail, and the Cabbage White. BTW, the butterflies are presently vacationing in Mexico for the winter!
She also went into great detail informing us that Monarch butterflies are in a 90% decline for several reasons. Monarchs will only lay their eggs on milkweed, and it the only plant the young caterpillars will eat. Most people think it is a weed, so they pull it threatening the once-thriving habitat of the Monarch. Also, increased use of pesticides and global climate change are bringing this lovely winged beauty to the edge of extinction. Here are a few very enlightening articles, and a video from National Geographic I found on the subject.
Inspired to do more
After Karen finished her inspiring talk, I no longer cared about the weather and was ready to help and do my part. They split our group of ten volunteers from Boston Cares up into two groups. Six people went to work on fixing some cobblestones, and the rest of us worked with Karen in her garden. One person starting pulling up invasive bindweed, another starting pulling up dead plants, and I worked with another volunteer pulling up all the soaker hoses from the garden, testing them to see if they were still good, and then packing them away in a tote for the winter. One volunteer pulled an empty suitcase from the garden. After seeing it, Karen mentioned to us an unfortunate fact that sometimes the homeless sleep in the garden at night. A very sad… since the winds of winter will come to New England soon.
The things we take for granted
I will say this was an eye-opening experience for me. I hate to say this, but I always took this beauty for granted. I always appreciated urban gardens, but I really never stopped and thought about what it takes to keep these gardens looking great. It is not the government or state that is maintaining most of these spaces, but volunteers. I not only learned this critical lesson from giving a few hours of my time but so much more.
It was Karen’s sharing of knowledge that I took away from this experience that I prized above all else. After we finished, I felt like I was riding a moonbeam. To me, the volunteer work was super easy and trivial, but without the help of volunteers, places like these will suffer, so I hope others will want to donate some of their time to help. I was so happy I did not listen to the siren song of my sheets but listened to the fluttering anthem of the Monarch butterflies.
They are always looking for volunteers and donations. Please visit their website to learn more.
Southwest Corridor Park Conservancy http://www.swcpc.org