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Wild Gem in Heart of Brookline


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Within easy urban reach, a small patch of the wild

By Anthony Flint, Globe Staff, 3/28/2004

Stroll down the wooden walkway through Hall's Pond sanctuary in Brookline, and the first thing you'll notice is the peace and quiet -- extraordinary, since busy Beacon Street is a stone's throw away.

Stop for a moment and the occupants of this ecosystem will make themselves known -- migratory birds, turtles, and a variety of other wetlands wildlife. It's like a little patch of the Everglades in the middle of the city.

And that is the central idea behind Hall's Pond, Brookline's first land conservation purchase and one of the Boston area's finest examples of green-space restoration. Hall's Pond reflects a national trend, as small patches of the wild are being nurtured and preserved -- not as formal parks or playing fields, but as pristine natural environments that don't require a two-hour drive for urban residents to enjoy.

Hall's Pond, at the eastern edge of the 8.2-acre Amory Park, has a long and somewhat tortured history. Like a lot of North Brookline, the area was wetland when settlers moved in, an Atlantic white-cedar swamp that extended to the Charles River. The rot-resistant wood was harvested, and the wet parts were almost completely filled in by 1850, leaving a one-acre body of water then called Swallow's Pond.

Enter Minna Hall and Harriet Lawrence Hemenway, who lived nearby and were inspired to form the Massachusetts Audubon Society to protect birds that visited the pond and were being killed for their feathers, used to adorn ladies' hats. Hall's Pond wasn't filled in, but it received much rougher treatment than Amory Park, a conventional urban park created after Brookline converted the Amory family homestead in 1903. What is now the sanctuary remained in private hands and essentially was used as a storm drainage pit for more than 100 surrounding acres, including Coolidge Corner.

Brookline finally bought Hall's Pond in 1975, and it became the town's first wildlife sanctuary. But the area deteriorated -- the water quality suffered, and invasive plant species crowded out native vegetation. In the mid-1990s, the Brookline Conservation Commission and Friends of Hall's Pond collaborated to restore the pond's natural condition, halting toxic drainage and rebuilding the natural plumbing.

This being Brookline, not everyone was in agreement. Some residents couldn't understand all the fuss about a swamp, especially one that had deteriorated so much, and they worried about a proliferation of mosquitoes.

Brookline parks director Erin Chute says mosquitoes have not been an issue, in part because the ecosystem functions much better now, and natural predators like dragonflies abound. Chute says the comment she hears most often is that people ''never knew Hall's Pond could be so beautiful."

In a less urbanized era, Henry David Thoreau said, ''In wildness is the preservation of the world." Today the preservation of the wild is a key element of livable cities, says Michael Houck, director of the Urban Greenspaces Institute in Portland, Ore. Urbanites want access to nature in an immediate radius of reach, Houck says -- ''places where kids can dip for pollywogs, watch dragonflies, and have intimate nature experiences in their own backyard."

As backyards go, Hall's Pond certainly qualifies. Now the wild part is fully in place as well.

From The Boston Globe

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This park used to have a back entrance at the end of Essex Street, south of Ivy Street. A dirt path ran through the park, connecting to Freeman and Amory Streets.

A few years ago, this entrance was removed and fenced off; I'm not sure why.

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