If you look at the official map of the Western Greenway Trail, a trail running throughout Waltham, the first thing you will notice is how colorful it is. A key in the corner notes the differences between blue, yellow, pink and black stretches of path. The second thing you will see is the shape: when the colors come together, the trail becomes one big loop, connecting the historical, natural, and locally beloved places of the town. This map was published by the Waltham Land Trust, a non-profit organization at the field station dedicated to protecting and maintaining Waltham’s green spaces. Countless volunteers have worked to make the Western Greenway Trail possible, despite the growing threat of development that all American cities face. The map reveals the Waltham Land Trust’s hard work, but also its goals and visions for the future: blue and black indicate trail that has already been built, but pink and yellow indicate trail that the Waltham Land Trust is working on presently, so that the loop can one day be completed.
The Waltham Land Trust began as a coalition between the smaller land trusts of several Waltham neighborhoods in response to the growing threat of land development that was eradicating public green spaces. Officially incorporated in 1999, one if its founders is Marc Rudnick, who also helped to found two other field station groups–the Waltham Farmer’s Market and Green Rows of Waltham. Now on its 20th anniversary, the organization’s mission is to “protect, restore, and acquire open space” in Waltham. In 2012, the Land Trust started its stewardship program–its “biggest success story–” involving 15 participants that year in the maintenance of the Western Greenway Trail, which is not covered by the city’s park maintenance department. Now, the program reaches nearly 200 volunteer stewards, who go through training and organize regular check-ins with the spaces they are responsible for protecting. As the program succeeds, stewardship projects have extended beyond trail maintenance to include education programming, Charles River clean-ups, and invasive plant removal.
While the Western Greenway Trail is solid and beautiful evidence of the Waltham Land Trust’s hard work, not all of the organization’s time is dedicated to building conservation infrastructure and overseeing stewards. It also has a huge undertaking right here at the station: with the future of the station uncertain, the land trust advocates alongside each fellow station tenant and keeps up with communications between them. With so many organizations, each with different mission statements, operation strategies, and goals, it can be challenging to gather everyone into the same room or updates and strategic planning. The Waltham Land Trust has taken on this challenge. I was able to talk to Sonja Wadman, the Waltham Land Trust’s Executive Director, in order to learn about the land trust’s role at the station, hopes for the future, and impact on the greater Waltham community.
Why the Waltham Field Station? Sonja answered the question I was most curious about with enthusiasm. At the Field station, she explained, “we are in our element.” The Land Trust’s most basic mission is to save land, so “by design” it supports the missions of every fellow tenant. Each one facilitates land preservation — from the local community farm right here at the station, to the climate experiment which collects internationally-recognized data. Even the Charles River Dog Training Club pitches in, by providing a community that invites people and their pets to come enjoy public outdoor spaces. You can witness this support at monthly field station tenant meetings, where Sonja often takes the lead in discussing updates to the timeline, her communications with local and state government, and strategy. As the only staff member at the Waltham Land Trust, the field station is also personally a good match for Sonja. When I asked her what her favorite part of working at the land trust was, she exclaimed “I get paid to be outside!” Her background in city planning, AmeriCorps volunteering, and environmental studies have contributed to her desire to remain connected to the outdoors. She couldn’t do that from just any office building!
To advocate on behalf of the station, the Waltham Land Trust must also be politically savvy. One of many trust committees is tasked with exactly that: the Land Committee is open to anyone who is interested, but is highly focused on the politics of land in jeopardy. The Waltham Land Trust staff and Board of Directors have been actively involved in negotiations with UMass and the city since the beginning, and includes expert voices from the city council, several city commissions, educational institutions, local historical societies, and environmental sciences. The Waltham Land Trust is also responsible for keeping its fellow tenants in the political loop, leading tenant meetings and setting up opportunities for non-profits to speak directly to legislators.
The Land Trust also works hard to interact with and educate the larger Waltham community through its programming. One such program is stewardship, however more accessible programming for busy households are also available. You can find the Land Trust at local farmers’ markets, universities and schools, and running its own events! Local favorites include moonlight kayaking and river clean-ups, summer yoga, trail 5Ks, and of course, the New Year Hike on Little Prospect. Sonja laughed as she recounted a family of New Years hikers who were thrilled to be enjoying their winter walk together, explaining “this is the one thing we always do as a family!”
The Waltham Land Trust’s future prospects require a diverse set of actions, but all contribute to that straightforward original mission statement. The Western Greenway Trail map should eventually be marked with only black and blue, which would close the loop of footpaths. To do this, the land trust has set its sights on certain sections, hoping to connect Bentley University and the Lyman Estate, possibly restore a historic marble bridge that connects the trail across a creek, and add trail that gives hikers a tour through the station’s very own Waltham Fields Community Farm. The trust also hopes to continue being politically involved, working as hard to protect the field station as it has with other pieces of land. Finally, the Waltham Land Trust wants to keep educating, training, and welcoming the public to outdoor spaces. Local participation is critical to the organization’s mission. As long as there is enthusiasm about protecting Waltham’s green spaces, the land trust will continue to protect, restore, and acquire them–and keep us in the loop while they do it.
If you are interested in getting involved with the Waltham Land Trust, Sonja could always use more hands, especially with local events and tabling. She is especially interested in student volunteers and volunteers who speak Spanish and Haitian Creole, so that the mission of the Trust can be accessible to more Waltham communities. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Additionally, consider membership with the Waltham Land Trust, and make sure to ask about student membership rates! The Land Trust hopes to reach its goal of 500 members this year, and you can help. If you are interested in the many fun events that the Land Trust has planned, check out their website to see their calendar! Finally, as always, contact your local and state legislators. Help the land trust keep politicians in the loop about the Waltham community’s commitment to the Waltham Field Station.
By Anneke Craig, Boston Area Gleaners Intern