An Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) is a place in Massachusetts that receives special recognition because of the quality, uniqueness, and significance of its natural and cultural resources.
Such an area is identified and nominated at the community level and is reviewed and designated by the state’s Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) administers the ACEC Program on behalf of the Secretary.
Neponset River Estuary
In 1995, the Neponset River Estuary was designated an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).
As DCR notes, “The Neponset River Estuary ACEC is approximately 1,300 acres in size and is located in Boston (435 acres), Milton (355 acres) and Quincy (470 acres). The ACEC boundary is based upon the Wetlands Protection Act Regulations (wetlands resource areas and a 100-foot buffer) plus adjacent public open space and historic districts. The ACEC begins at the Lower Mills Dam in Milton and Dorchester, which separates the coastal estuary from the inland fresh water portion of the Neponset, and extends to the mouth of the river at Commercial Point in Boston and Squantum Point in Quincy.”
The ACEC, besides containing the Neponset River, also includes Gulliver Creek in Milton and Sagamore Creek in Quincy.
The Neponset River Reservation runs alongside the Neponset Estuary – from the River’s mouth between Squantum Point in Quincy and the colorful gas tank in Dorchester, and upstream along the freshwater section of the river, to the Fowl Meadow.
From tidal marshes and creeks to the freshwater River surrounded by buildings, roads, woods, trails, and marshland, the Reservation is a diverse natural area inhabited and visited by a plethora of species, plants, and animals, and with a lengthy historical and cultural past.
As described by the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation:
The Neponset River…remains a natural estuary with extensive marshlands at its mouth and significant freshwater wetlands along much of its upstream length. It provides an unusually rich and diverse habitat for both plants and animals including a number of threatened and endangered species. The estuarine portion of the Neponset River upstream of Granite Avenue is characterized by extensive tidal marshes. Granite bound for Boston from Quincy was transferred by early railroad to boats at a pier on the Milton Shore. This segment of the river offers interesting canoeing and nature study opportunities.
In the late 1880s, inspired by the founders of the Metropolitan Park System, Charles Eliot and Sylvester Baxter, the Metropolitan Park Commission acquired the Neponset River salt marshes – the first salt marshes in the Commonwealth to be publicly owned. Over the past 100 years, the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) has actively worked to acquire approximately 750 acres along the Neponset River. These acquisitions include formerly used lands, such as the Neponset Drive-In and Hallett Street landfill in 1973 and Shaffer Paper the former Sterns Lumber Yard, in 1986, all to be rehabilitated as parkland and an abandoned rail right of way in 1990.
The Lower Neponset River Reservation Master Plan was prepared in 1966 with community guidance. The plan builds up the principles set forth by Eliot and Baxter of wise land stewardship, restoring damaged natural areas, and opening portions of the outdoors for public use and enjoyment. The Plan made recommendations for new open space and parkland development with three of its five recommendations being implemented.
Read more about the Neponset River Reservation at https://www.mass.gov/locations/neponset-river-reservation
- Pope John Paul II Park, a new 66-acre park, has been constructed on the site of the former Neponset Drive-In and Hallett Street landfill and opened to the public in 2001. At Squantum Point in Quincy, phase one of Squantum Point Park, 25 acres of a 50-acre former U.S. Navy Airfield, was developed as waterfront parkland Point Park with assistance from The National Grid Co. and dedicated in the spring of 2001. The completion of 2.4 miles of the Lower Neponset River Trail in 2003 will create opportunities for people to rediscover the Neponset River and the Reservation and to traverse a rich variety of historical and ecological contexts.
- The site of the former T-Construction Company and Schlager Auto Body was acquired by the Commission in 1998 to be rehabilitated as parkland. The Commission hopes to acquire a parcel (The JSax property) adjacent to these two parcels in 2003. These three parcels were not included in the Master Plan of 1996. Their rehabilitation as a new 7-acre waterfront park called Neponset II will provide an important missing link between the recently developed parkland at Pope John Paul II Park and the MDC Neponset Marshes just west of Granite Avenue.
- The Reservation also offers other recreational and educational opportunities at Moynihan Playground and the Martini Shell in Hyde Park, Ryan Playground in Mattapan, and Ventura Street Playground in Dorchester. Kennedy Park in Mattapan is home to a community garden and the City Natives Nursery.
The Fowl Meadow is a large tract of wetland that meanders 7.2 miles through Norwood, Canton, Westwood, Dedham, Milton, Sharon, and Hyde Park.
The Fowl Meadow was almost paved over in 1967 when the state proposed to extend Interstate 95, an eight-lane highway, all the way into Boston instead of ending at Route 128 (as it does today). The original proposal would have paved over much of the Fowl Meadow and located a major interchange on top of Paul’s Bridge, a historic bridge located in Milton.
A citizen lawsuit stopped the proposal. The lawsuit hinged on the fact that the project would have transferred land from the MDC to the Mass Department of Public Works. The lawsuit clarified the fact that the transfer of designated conservation land for development requires authorization by the state legislature even if the transfer is only from one state agency to another. The Neponset Conservation Association, which went on to become the Neponset River Watershed Association, was one of several groups that worked to save Fowl Meadow and Paul’s Bridge.
The averted environmental tragedy is a positive example of the crucial role citizen activists play in protecting and restoring the Neponset River Watershed.
In addition to providing wildlife with critical habitat areas, the wetlands of the Fowl Meadow serve as an effective flood control barrier along the Neponset River. After heavy rains, the wetlands soak up excess water and then release it slowly over the course of several weeks. This sponge effect helps to reduce the peak River levels during floods, helps recharge underground aquifers, and prevents water from rushing downstream – potentially causing property damage in Hyde Park and Dorchester.
If you wish to hike into the Fowl Meadow, you can walk down a wide 2 1/2-mile path called Burma Road. The hike is in the open, so wear a hat and sunblock. It can also be buggy, so consider wearing long pants, long sleeves, and bug repellent.
Park near Paul’s Bridge at the intersection of Neponset Valley Parkway and Brush Hill Road in Milton.
Another way to see Fowl Meadow is by riding the Providence or Attleboro branch of the MBTA commuter rail. The trip from Sharon Station to South Station passes by many of the Fowl Meadow sights.