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 almost was 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.

Flood Control

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.

In the Neponset Watershed, all water flows toward the Neponset River and into Fowl Meadow, before heading into the estuary and Dorchester Bay.
Flooded Fowl Meadow

Exploring Fowl Meadow

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 and can be buggy, so it’s recommended to wear a hat, sunblock, 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 the 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.

Burma Road

A Historical Narrative

“The Fowl Meadows: For Peat’s Sake,” by Canton historian, George T. Comeau

Posted in the Canton Citizen, March 2011

There is an ancient map from 1794 inscribed with the names of the selectmen of Stoughton — Elijah Crane, Jabez Talbot and Nathan Crane — and on this map there are more than six bridges that cross the Neponset River in what is now Canton.

Today, we mostly cross the Neponset River along Neponset Street, yet this road is among the newer roads, historically speaking. When we drive past the old Canton Airport, we see wetland and what we now consider “open space.” To the early settlers, this land was well supplied for access to food and valuable pastures.

The early bridges were used to access land in the Fowl Meadows, our western boundary. The first mention of this land dates to 1646, and much of this area was granted to Dedham in grants of 1653. Read more…

The Neponset River as it winds through the Fowl Meadows circa 1890. (Courtesy of the Canton Historical Society)

Read: “Reason and the River: Fowl Meadow and The Ghost of I-95“, by Will Reason

The Skyline Trail of the Blue Hills Reservation does a strange thing. After ascending the magnificent Great Blue Hill, it dives back down and stubbornly continues. The trail climbs up the appropriately named Little Blue Hill, then meanders through a forest that stands a bit too close to the nearby office parks, and finally peters out yards from the guardrails of the I-95 on-ramp. Why the original trail architects chose to have it end so anticlimactically is beyond me, but the advantage of this extra section is the access it provides to two unusual and fascinating spots.

Abandoning watercraft for the day, I took a short but pleasant walk through this final stretch of the Skyline Trail. I then followed a herd path stomped out by hikers confused about the trail’s ending and arrived on a long expanse of forgotten asphalt. Grass grew from old cracks that crisscrossed the pavement. This was the ghost of I-95.

Photo credit: Will Reason

The story of the road is well-told but merits mention. In 1967, I-95 was almost extended into Boston. This construction would have paved right over Fowl Meadow, one of the largest expanses of wetlands in the watershed. Commendably, this was stopped by a citizen suit, aided by NepRWA’s precursor, The Neponset Conservation Association. The first few hundred yards of the road had already been partially paved when construction ended, so today the site is a cool place to visit both for its triumphant history and slightly spooky atmosphere.

After exploring the ghost road, I decided to hike through Fowl Meadow to see what had been saved. The end of the ghost road connects to the Burma Road Trail and I hiked the length of this somewhat overgrown and intriguingly untamed footpath.

The end of the “ghost road” connects to the Burma Road Trail. Photo credit: Will Reason

I took a detour out to the edge of the Neponset and the river was a thin, winding ribbon, with its clear and placid waters reflecting the blue sky overhead. Exiting onto Brush Hill Road, I walked back to my car via Route 138, making the hike into a five-mile circuit.

This trip is perfect for anyone interested in the environmental history of Greater Boston and a walk through Fowl Meadow is a nice remote counterpart to some of the more popular hikes in the Blue Hills. Just be sure to check yourself for ticks after walking through the long grasses of Fowl Meadow (I found two).”

About the author: Written in 2019, Will Reason was a rising Senior at Boston University Academy, who wrote about his experiences exploring the Neponset River and its Watershed.