It was a beautiful day in August of 2014 when the brand-new state park on the banks of the Neponset River was dedicated. About 50 people gathered at the Canton Airport on Neponset Street for a ribbon cutting complete with five-foot-long scissors to open a beautiful new park, now officially known as the Farnham-Connolly State Park, in honor of two local World War II pilots.
The ribbon cutting got its start during a summer 30 years ago when Andrew Gregg, then a summer intern with the Neponset Watershed Association, and Ian Cooke, who was soon to become the Association’s Executive Director, were trying to plot a new route for the Warner Trail through the Fowl Meadow marshes. Andrew had spotted a potential route through a series of privately owned parcels that stretched from just south of the East Branch of the Neponset and along a sewer berm up to Signal Hill, and then continuing north along the river up into the Blue Hills.
It was a perfect route, and along it, Andrew had found some of the most beautiful freshwater marshes in the Neponset Valley. They invited Jim Comeau, who then worked in land acquisition for the Metropolitan District Commission, to take a walk.
Jim described what he saw as a perfect fit for the MDC: large areas of unprotected, high value wildlife habitat (now in the heart of the Fowl Meadow Area of Critical Environmental Concern) with tremendous public recreation potential. Over the next 15+ years, the Commonwealth slowly but surely worked to acquire and incredible 718 acres of land along this corridor, the parcels south of the East Branch, the Canton Airport itself, Signal Hill, and floodplain land along the river that connects to the Blue Hills. This sustained effort had lots of enthusiastic helpers along the way from Representative Bill Galvin and Senator Brian Joyce, to Governor Deval Patrick, the Canton Board of Selectmen, the Trustees of Reservations, a conservation-minded landowner, and many others.
One of the biggest pieces of this puzzle though was the Canton Airport itself. In spite of having done pre-acquisition soil testing, it became apparent that the Canton Airport had serious contamination issues after it was acquired, so the site was fenced off and had remained closed to the public until just a few weeks ago.
Years of hazardous waste cleanup work led by Chief Engineer Michael Misslin and his team at the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (successor to the Metropolitan District Commission) along with lots of help again from our state and local political leaders, have finally made it possible to open the park to the public at last.
Today, the Farnham-Connolly State Park (AKA the Canton Airport) features a small parking area, a six-acre passive-use park with sun shelters, interpretive signage, paved paths, wetland overlooks, and a formal memorial site, plus 232 acres of beautiful freshwater marshes and other wetland habitats. The marshes are primarily accessible along an unpaved trail that runs north to south along the sewer berm originally identified by Andrew Gregg. The trail runs through the site for about a mile and dead ends at Route 95, but the Mass Department of Transportation has pledged to create a new pedestrian and wildlife underpass that will eventually connect to properties along the river to the north.