LETTER: Walker Pond is an Opportunity to Embrace Nature

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Photo by Leo Martin Walker’s Pond, on the Westside of Watertown.

By Linda Scott
Watertown Resident

Thoughts on Walker Pond

“So ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

— Leonard Cohen

I was reminded of this Leonard Cohen song while watching the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) meeting on January 18th.

One of the projects being discussed was Walker Pond, a property that Watertown purchased for over $11 million as a sort of “Jewel in the Crown” for Watertown, a rare place where families could sit, experience nature, picnic, fly kites, play informal soccer games, and get to know more about each other and the nature that surrounds them.

Lots of my life experiences came to mind…

“Look, Linda, a rabbit. It must have escaped from the Nature Lodge,” said a little girl while we, me a camp counselor and she a child from a very rich NYC family, stood on the porch of our cottage on a dewey early morning at a camp in Connecticut.

There’s more to a child’s life experience than sports, although that can be important. When I was a teacher, there were kids that had their lunch in my room, rather than brave the vagaries of sports at recess. They needed that break from competition. Their school day offered enough of that.

In this CPC meeting, they gathered together to stress to the DCDP (Department of Community Planning and Development) that the reason that Walker Pond was purchased was to give Watertown and its children a very different experience. A place to be still. A place to look at the natural world and see what it had to offer.

CPC member, Jamie O’Connell, started it off with a comment (I’m paraphrasing here) that the nature seemed secondary in this DCDP plan. That rather than studying the pond, it looked like there was a plan to build something around the pond, with little regard for the nature.

Other members followed suit with questions about the choice of a company that’s known for building sports facilities. They suggested that perhaps building decisions have already been made before a serious study had been done.

The CPC sent the DCDP back to the drawing board. I sure do hope that they got
the message.

Next on the CPC Agenda:

February 1, 7 p.m., attend by Zoom. Topics: Funding for the Browne House and Mt. Auburn Cemetery

February 15: 7 p.m., attend by Zoom. Topics: DCDP returns with the Walker Pond project. A discussion (and perhaps a vote on?) all of the projects up for funding by the CPC.

(Letters to the editor can be sent to watertownmanews@gmail.com)

20 thoughts on “LETTER: Walker Pond is an Opportunity to Embrace Nature

  1. I watched the CPC meeting after reading this letter. I’m not confident that a firm primarily focused on structured park infrastructure can compete with a dedicated “landscape architect”, and commend the committee for pushing back. The initial choice of a designer will shape the entire project. We should be looking for an Olmsted here: Winding paths, trees, benches, picnic tables… Maybe a boardwalk, or a garden with a piece of public art?

    The proposal quotes residents’ desire for passive recreation at the site but then parlays this into support for ‘passive/active recreation’. The city has the footing to ground their proposal in solely passive recreation, with the potential to expand the scope to include active if public comment warrants. It makes me nervous that they are toeing the line with plans for ‘active’ recreation this early in the process.

    We shouldn’t be looking at this as a pond next to some nice developable land (structured park). The existing topography, including drainage swales, etc… functioning as vernal pools, might be as environmentally valuable as the pond itself. Sure, get rid of the existing unneeded pavement. But, suggesting a large field, devoid of trees or paths, and flat enough for soccer, sounds like self-fulfilling tunnel vision.

    • Hi George.

      This is the clearly thought out and expressed comments that you are known for! As our land (and air) space is rapidly being encroached upon, these are matters that need to be front and center in our deliberations for how we use the little open space that we have left.

      Thanks again for contributing to the conversation!

  2. Thanks for the heads up information regarding Walker Pond and the other CPC agenda
    items. Lets hope those zoom sessions are clear enough for understanding what is proposed.

    • Hi Robert,

      Following these zoom conversations, I’ve learned a lot. They’re well worth watching and sharing with friends and family. I think that we’ve forgotten how much goes into every City issue, and when people don’t pay attention, it’s quite literally their taxes and their lives that are being effected. Please encourage others in Watertown to participate!

    • Hi Robert,
      All applicant information is available on the city’s website https://www.watertown-ma.gov/1168/CPA-Project-Applications. As noted above by Linda Scott, on February 1 we will be hearing from the two historical applicants – Mt. Auburn Cemetery and the Browne House. On February 15 we will hear an updated scope of work regarding Walker Pond. Then, time permitting, we will discuss the four projects and decide which projects will be recommended to the city council for funding.

      Project funding comes from an annual 2% property tax surcharge and variable matching funds from the state. Councilor Lisa Feltner, District B, aptly named this funding “the people’s purse.” This funding can enhance, beautify, strengthen, and expand our community resources. As one resident said to me “It’s kind of like icing on the cake funding.” So if you have ideas for future projects – be it for an open space/recreation, affordable housing, and/or historical project please review our plan on the city website for further details. The CPC wants the community’s input.

      As many folks know, I am always available to answer questions as is Lanae Handy, our CPC coordinator. So do some brainstorming with friends and family and reach out. My contact info is Elodia Thomas, CPC, (617) 926-3952.

  3. Walker Pond and its associated wetlands will provide Watertown with an ideal site for passive recreation. If developed properly, it will be an extremely desirable oasis – unique for Watertown. The site has some elevation variations, which with the removal of the existing pavement and unnecessary structures, could be transformed into a wonderful nature park. Adding loam as well as grading, planting trees and leaving open-green areas will allow people to enjoy the outdoors as well as simple activities such as picnicking and flying kites, as George has mentioned. It will prove to be a desirable destination for Watertown residents.
    The development of this park is in our hands. The surveys included in the proposed contract will provide necessary steps to complete the final design. I applaud Jamie for pushing for the review of the water quality of the pond and the CPC committee for requesting its addition to the scope of work.
    This is the first open-space land purchased by Watertown in a very long time.
    I am disappointed that at the end of this proposed contract we will only get a concept-design plan and not construction plans. That delays the creation of the park at least another year.

    • Hi Leo,

      I always learn something new when I read your comments! From these, I’m getting an overview of how this process works and the wonderful possibilities a well-designed Walker Pond will give to all of us, young and old!

    • I just reviewed the recording of the recent CPC meeting about Walker Pond. Thank you for your excellent letter, Linda! You captured the outcomes thoroughly.
      I was both excited to see that this project is coming before CPC, but I was also extremely frustrated to hear that there are proposals for reviews, evaluations, feasibility studies, etc., over a duration of 12-14 months, at a cost of almost $90,000 and for what?
      Apparently, in this project, as so many others in Watertown, the city planners and government have already decided what they want. So great to hear Jamie’s and John’s concerns and their recommendations to evaluate the existing natural ecology of this land.

      I love the oasis concept. For many decades, this corner of Watertown was overrun by industry and covered with asphalt parking lots. Reclaiming Walker Pond as a natural city park provides an amazing opportunity for passive recreation.

      Let’s do this right! City officials need to do the right studies to evaluate the land, water, plantings, trees and ecosystem as a whole. It is equally important to get public input on ways to best restore Walker Pond .

      • Thanks, Sarah for your valuable comments. We have one chance to get the Walker Pond land right. Let’s hope our City does!

  4. When I was a kid growing up in Waltham, Walker’s was the “away rink” for our natural ice hockey games. Some fierce battles took place with nothing more than a stick, shin pads and gloves…and snow boots served as the goal posts. Wish my kids could have experienced such fun without the aid of any technology.

    • Hi Jim,

      What a great memory! I’ve got a question for you. Maybe you know or could find out?? At a Councillor zoom meeting, a long-time resident mentioned that his grandkids were visiting over this winter school break. He called the Watertown skating rink to find family skate times, and there were none. I think that he was told all times were reserved for leagues. I think Watertown residents would love to know if their kids are allowed to use our rink, and if “yes”, when are those times? If “no”…why the heck not??

    • Jim,
      I too skated there when I was a kid growing up in Warrendale. Tagging along with my older brother to learn how to skate. The area around the pond was open, mainly grass. Since Raytheon tested their radar systems by bouncing the waves off reflectors that were located along Stanley Avenue, they cut the trees and mowed the unpaved portions of the area around the pond. Raytheon’s maintenance program was approved by the Gore Estate that owned the land and as well as the ConCom. Since they left the area has started to become more naturalized.

  5. There are a myriad of active parks in Watertown that typically serve children playing sports, riding on swings and climbing on various structures. Having a place where families can bring their children to have a picnic, peacefully have family time without tech gear in front of them, talk to each other, read a book and just enjoy nature at its best is something we don’t currently have in the west end of Watertown.

    This is our last chance to develop something that would serve the needs of so many people and children in so many different ways. Let’s not ruin this area with a whole lot of costly development.

    This brings to mind a concept that is often proposed in many different circumstances in business and in life: KISS – Keep it simple, stupid.

    The Interaction Design Foundation says:

    Keep is simple, stupid (KISS) is a design principle which states that designs and/or systems should be as simple as possible. Wherever possible, complexity should be avoided in a system – as simplicity guarantees the greatest levels of user acceptance and interaction. KISS is used in a variety of disciplines.

    To apply the KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) principle in your life, focus on simplifying tasks and setting clear, attainable goals. Break complex tasks into manageable steps, avoid overthinking, and prioritize simplicity and clarity in decision-making. By embracing simplicity in daily routines, goals, and choices, you enhance efficiency, reduce stress, and IMPROVE OVERALL QUALITY OF LIFE. Keep solutions straightforward, DECLUTTER YOUR ENVIRONMENT and maintain a clear, focused mind to effectively incorporate the KISS principle into your lifestyle.

    It seems to me that if we develop this space to simply simplify our lives, that would be a good thing for us and nature.

  6. Hi Joan,

    Your comments are right on point! Many times the simple approach is best. I think that we’ve lost that in so many ways. I think that’s why so many “movements”such as minimalism have become so popular. People want to carve out oases of calmness in their frenetic lives.

    Walker Pond, done right, will be a gem,..something that Watertown can be proud of!

  7. Am writing to second the message in Nancy Scott’s excellent letter and the follow-up comments above.

    With the purchase of Walker Pond, Watertown now owns a very special “blue space”. Natural open space is hugely beneficial to the spirits of people in a crowded city like ours, and natural open space featuring a 2-acre pond is priceless.

    With this new ownership comes important responsibilities: to bring Watertown’s only public pond to optimal health, and to keep it that way. This special place has been forgotten for many years, but it has beautiful green areas and beautiful vistas across the pond, as Leo Martin’s photo shows. The potential for a new passive-recreation park in West Watertown is so exciting.

    I can’t wait to see how the pond and its visiting wildlife change with every season. I imagine birds singing in the canopies of its tall trees; squirrels rustling in dry leaves and wildflowers at those trees’ bases; a small grassy field for little kids to play tag or kick a ball around with their parents; and especially, a beautiful, sky-reflecting pond with pollywogs and migrating birds, bordered all the way around by a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk.

  8. Open green space, just as it was intended for, nothing else! Plain and simple. If the 3rd floor of City Hall can’t get that, than maybe they should be reminded who’s footing the bill!

  9. Hi Libby,

    Thanks for your contribution to this topic. Walk Pond holds so much promise for this community! I agree that Watertown needs to be a careful steward of this newly acquired land, and I think that the CPC has taken this responsibility seriously.

  10. Regarding George Skuse’s very thoughtful comment above …”I’m not confident that a firm primarily focused on structured park infrastructure can compete with a dedicated “landscape architect”, and commend the committee for pushing back.” I share his concern and the those of others who commented. Full disclosure, I am a member of the CPC .

    Here are two landscape architects who are working on CPC projects. Please check out their websites for some different perspectives.
    Our two cemeteries: the Old Burying Ground & the Old Burying Ground: https://www.raydunetz.com
    The Commanders Mansion: https://www.elmore-design.com/

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