Preserving tunes and trees

Fruitful Fells Part Two

Preserving tunes and trees
Preserving tunes and trees
Episode Trailer

In part one of the Fruitful Fells, we met modern and 19th century activists dedicated to making beauty available to current and future humans. In this episode, we learn how our heroes saved acres of woods and bushels of old ballads, and we follow enduring struggles in the crusade for preservation. As always, there’s plenty of beautiful music woven into these conversations with guests Mike Ryan, Alison Simcox, Douglas Heath, and Karl Alexander.


Thank you to everybody for listening. And a special thank you to this month’s underwriters: Gavin McNutt, Sharon Murphy, Brian Unitt, Ken Krause, the Irish & Celtic Music Podcast, John Sigler, Randall Semagin, Ron Kral, Isaiah Hall, David Vaughan, Susan Walsh, Matt Jensen, John Ploch, Tom Frederick, Paul DeCamp, Suezen Brown, Jonathan Duvick, Gerry Corr, Mike Voss, Sean Carroll, Isobel McMahon, Bob Suchor, Finian McCluskey, Rick Rubin, Ken Doyle, Chris Armstrong, Ian Bittle, and Chris Murphy

Episode 73-Fruitful Fells Part Two
Preserving tunes and trees
This Irish Music Stories episode aired July 18, 2023

* * * * * * *

Speakers, in order of appearance
>> Shannon Heaton: flute player, singer, composer, teacher, and host of Irish Music Stories 

>> Mike Ryan: former executive director of the Friends of the Middlesex Fells Reservation (2003 to 2014)

>> Alison Simcox & Douglas Heath: Environmental Scientists and history book authors

>> Nigel Heaton: young announcer for Irish Music Stories

>> Fred Laskey: Government official and Director of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority

>> Karl Alexander: Greenways Program Manager for the Mystic River Watershed Association

* * * * * * *

>> Shannon: I’m Shannon Heaton, and this is Irish Music Stories, the show about traditional music, and the bigger stories behind it. 

Like how saving bundles of old melodies… and acres of forest..  can involve lots of different players.

And how tracing an epic saga can take more than one podcast episode. Especially a story full of setbacks, discouragement, and challenges.

[ Music: “Woodstreet,” from Forthcoming

Artist: Assembly ]

Fear not, dear listeners: the music collectors and the woods warriors in this story did not hang up their harps. In Part One of the Fruitful Fells, I mentioned Olive Dame Campbell, Francis Child, and Francis Roche. They collected old ballads like Barbara Allen and dance tunes like Geese in the Bog to distribute this music to people of the day… and to make sure that this music would be around in the future.

Elizur Wright also set out to make beauty available to current and future humans by preserving acres of woods. 

[ Music: “Celtic Grooves, from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

He dedicated himself to the rescue of a massive forest when he moved to Medford, Massachusetts. 

And that’s what Mike Ryan did when he moved to Medford near Pine Hill, 40 years ago, right near where Elizur had lived.

>> Mike: In 1864, he buys this land up at Pine Hill. And he finds that, oh my God, this is a magnificent place. He looks around and he says, is the answer to what ails Boston.

Elizur Wright was an abolitionist and an insurance reformer. He was totally committed to fairness and equality. And by the time he’d moved from Boston to Medford, he’d lost four of his kids to whooping cough and smallpox. 

Walking around the woods near his new place, encountering all the trees, ferns, rocks, and birds in this 4000 acre forest sanctuary, he had an insight: THIS should be accessible to everybody. A respite with healthy air and natural beauty, where all people could feel refreshed and welcome. An antidote to disease. Restoration for crowded city residents.

For hundreds of years, these beautiful woods had been used by the Nipmuk, Pawtucket, and Massachusetts people. The first documented visit was in in 1632 by Boston’s first Governor, John Winthrop. He took a trip up here and wrote about the beautiful pond where he stopped for a snack of cheese (his party had forgotten the bread). He named the rock Cheese Rock, overlooking what he named Spot Pond.

Back then Spot Pond was much smaller than it is today. Local environmental scientists and authors Alison Simcox and Douglas Heath have written about that pond, and about the brook that ran from Spot Pond down to what became a busy mill site.

>> Alison: Spot Pond was not the way it is today. It was a natural, glacially formed pond. It ran through a ravine which was formed pre glacial age, but it was carved out by the glaciers.

>> Shannon: It was a fresh, abundant water source. And a beautiful spot. 

Limerick musician Frank Roche included a tune called The Beauty Spot in the first volume of his music collection. It’s a moody little reel in the key of A minor. Patsy Touhy recorded it on the uilleann pipes in 1919. It’s a pretty tune. But there’s plenty to cut into, to grab onto. Here’s a version of The Beauty Spot played just a few days ago, by Michael Clarkson, a fine musician from Belfast.

[ Music: “The Beauty Spot,” from Living Room Demo

Artist: Michael Clarkson ]

Frank Roche also collected this old jig, Geese in the Bog. 

[ Music: “Geese in the Bog,” from Living Room Demo

Artist: Joey Abarta ]

These tune names, the Beauty Spot, the Geese in the Boy—and the melodies that go with them—really paint a picture. Especially hearing them on the pipes (this is Joey Abarta playing). You can imagine the little goslings taking their first swim. A bit tottery, they crank into it, and then they’re just in the flow. 

[ music swells ]

I watch goslings learning how to swim every summer around here, at Wright’s Pond and Spot Pond and the reservoirs around the Middlesex Fells Reservation. Mike Ryan was the executive director of the Friends of the Fells for 13 years. In Part One of the Fruitful Fells, I told Mike about an encounter I’d had with a family of geese. The birds were trying to to cross the road near Spot Pond, and an impatient driver tried to mow them down with his big SUV.

>> Mike: Tried to hit them? Wow!

>> Shannon: If that driver knew more about how those lovely, winding roads connect the different sections of the Fells… if he knew how the parkways and this metropolitan park came together with Elizur Wright and his posse… If he knew how much work and care it had taken to make something beautiful for all of us today … would he enjoy his commute just a little more, and drive just a little slower?

Just in case, I’ll pick up the story of the Fruitful Fells, with some help from Mike Ryan, Alison Simcox, and Doug Heath.

[ Music: “Huntsman’s Chorus,” from Dance

Artist: Lissa Schneckenburger ]

At this point it’s 1892. From the time he’d moved to Medford until his death in 1885, Elizur Wright had fought tirelessly to preserve his local woods.

>> Alison: At the time that Elizur Wright bought Pine Hill there was still quarrying going on. Yeah, there was quite a bit of operation there. There were steam shovels. And there were people banging and hauling loads of blocks.

>> Doug: Also the wood lots were still active.

>> Alison: Yeah. they had oxen wagons that would haul out these wagon loads.

>> Shannon: Despite all the disruption, huge sections of the woods were still untouched. Imagine protecting these woods, and creating one big metropolitan park crossing town lines! The park of the future. 

With fellow activists—two in particular, Wilson Flagg and John Owen—Elizur drummed up support for the Fells by writing appeals, taking people on walks in the woods, and hosting forest festivals. There are lots of stories about Elizur, Wilson, and John in Part One of this series. These guys were older when they took on the Fells cause, and they called on all their earlier professional contacts and their fellow abolitionist friends, and they spent the rest of their lives building a groundswell of support.

After they died, photographer George Davenport shared their message through slide shows. Ellen Wright assembled all of her dad’s writings, and added some of her own in her book Appeals for the Fells. Journalist Sylvester Baxter wrote articles to keep the public interested in protecting these woods. Sylvester was the one who first used the name Middlesex Fells. (Fells is a word in Old Norse that means rocky woods.)


Sylvester ended up working with landscape architect Charles Eliot. He was an apprentice and eventually a partner of Frederick Law Olmsted. It was Charles the landscape architect and Sylvester the journalist who brought Elizur’s dream to life. They helped pass the Trustees of Reservations Bill, which allowed people to donate private land to the public. And  Charles Eliot and Sylvester Baxter ALSO helped establish The Metropolitan Park Act. It was a temporary commission—but you gotta start somewhere.

>> Mike: What Eliot and Baxter needed to do, and they were commissioned to do this,  was to lay out the plan for the Greater Boston Metropolitan Park System.

>> Shannon: The initial plan they made was bound into a book, and actually became a bestseller in Boston. People were hungry for beautiful green spaces.

As the Landscape Architect to the new Metropolitan Park Commission, Charles Eliot ’s first move was to draft boundaries and designs to restore the woodlands. This didn’t mean ‘leaving the woods alone.’ And it doesn’t really today either. If you’re gonna make and maintain a woodland for public use, you need a plan.  

[ Music: “G Chimes,” from  Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

Charles’s plan included removing flammable brush; thinning out areas to help seedlings grow; clearing others (even some high woods) to create small scenic areas and enhance the view. The plans also included “broad and handsome boulevards.”

>> Mike: Pleasure boulevards. The whole idea was that yes, it’s one thing to build these parks. But you need to get people to them. And to get people to them, we don’t want them to be like busy arterial roadways. We want them to be, you know pleasure roads. 

>> Alison. They were built to enhance people’s appreciation of the Fells. That’s why they were built in sinuous fashion around the margins of the park, to protect, you know, the park. They didn’t wanna go right through the park.

>> Mike: The parkways idea was something that Baxter was especially keen on. Eliot wasn’t so sure. He’s a landscape guy. So he’s thinking, well we got so much to do.. you know, laying out  places and surveying and surveying. And so he was paying a lot. 

But a funny thing happened. There was a recession back then. And there was a lot of unemployment <laugh>. So they were able to use that as a spur to get the parkways built,   because they’re putting people to work. And then Eliot finally came around. 

[ Music: “Road to Garrison,” from  dearga

Composer: Maurice Lennon

Artists: Matt & Shannon Heaton ]

>> Shannon: These boulevards would connect the various reservations. And enhance their beauty. Curving roads, wide sidewalks. For any local listeners who know Woodland Road, Elm Street, the Fellsway, South Border Road, the Mystic Valley Parkway: I think it’s interesting to know that these weren’t built as highways meant for motorists only. They were intended to be shared and enjoyed by people on foot, on bikes, on horses, and in cars. So animals crossing the road might have been more amusing than inconvenient.

Charles Eliot also felt that the parkways would offer cleaner and more protective boundaries to the reservations than fences would. But for all the picturesque woodlands and connecting boulevards, and the comfort and shade of nature, water was the biggest part of the equation. The lakes, brooks, and ponds all play starring roles in Alison and Doug’s books.

>> Alison: The real reason why the park was put aside was the reservoirs. So if it weren’t for these reservoirs, the state probably would not have been able to convince the legislature.

>> Doug: A lot of water, yeah.

>> Shannon: It was all this water convinced the state AND the geese (and 180 other species of birds today) to commit to the Fells. The Winchester Reservoir, the high reservoirs, the ponds, the vernal pools—and big old Spot Pond that Governor John Winthrop visited in 1632. But Spot Pond wasn’t always this big.

[ Music: “Lakeside Barndances,” from Honk Toot Suite

Éamonn Coyne & Kris Drever ]

>> Alison: Spot Pond was quite shallow. On the north side of it they were actually growing hay. 

There were hay fields along the border of Spot Pond. And there was only one tributary. That was Spot Pond Brook.

>> Shannon: Spot Pond Brook kept an entire community working. By 1670 a busy sawmill surrounded the brook. After the American Revolution more mills and boarding houses went in. For a short time Elisha Converse ran an operation there.

>> Alison: But it’s not the same converse that makes sneakers. 

>> Doug: No, that was a, like a fifth cousin. Marquis Converse from 1908

>> Shannon: Marquis Converse was the sneaker guy. And his older cousin Elisha made rubber boots and aprons at the mills at Spot Pond Brook. Then Nathanial Hayward took over the Mills. He’d collaborated with Charles Goodyear earlier, before setting up at Spot Pond Brook.

>> Doug: Nathaniel Hayward had been doing all these experimentations using various rubber compounds and adding oxygen and carbon and sulfur with various amounts. Goodyear heard about his experiments.

>> Alison: The thing was that rubber before that time was too sticky in the summer and it was too brittle in the winter. So, you know, it was seen as being a potentially useful substance, but it wasn’t any good in New England because of our temperature changes. 

>> Doug: Right.

>> Shannon: So these two guys—Charles Goodyear and Nathaniel Hayward put the chemistry together and figured out how to make more stable rubber by heating it, by ‘vulcanizing’ it. But Charles Hayward alone bought the mills at Spot Pond Brook. Alison and Doug have a whole book about the industrial village at Haywardville, which finally closed in 1894. The Metropolitan Park Commission bought that property. And two years later they tore down the buildings, sheds, and stables. Then Charles Eliot set that portion of the Fells, just past Virginia Wood (which was the first public land trust in the world), on a restoration path.

[ Music: “Grupai Ceol Theme,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

This is not unlike the work of a music collector—when setting out to preserve a sampling of oral culture, one must select which versions and melodies to include. And how to connect all of it. It’s very subjective. Very hands on. And when notating oral cultures, it’s nearly impossible to indicate rhythmic nuance, or variations. The act of putting a colony of tunes into a book is a bold initiative, and it doesn’t necessarily capture tunes exactly the way they breathe in the wild.

Music collector Frank Roche had the idea to assemble tunes like Geese in the Bog and The Beauty Spot not just for the use of traditional musicians but for classical composers. It does seem like what has endured is a collection that is used by traditional musicians. But anyway, without his efforts, we may have lost a number of dance tunes and airs. Because his collection includes music he wasn’t seeing in other collections by Francis O’Neill, William Bradbury Ryan, and the others. 

No matter the motivation, seems like it’s  challenging and intrusive to put living tunes in boxes. And some are particularly tricky to catch, especially if the players associated with them are more guarded or protective of their music.

[ Music: “Dark Low Jig,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

Preservation is delicate dance. And sometimes the tunes you really want can’t be caught.

When Charles Eliot was drawing boundaries and trying to figure out how to connect and preserve The Fells, he pushed hard for the property across from Spot Pond. This was the place where the rich amateur architect William Lang had his stone mansion. And beside it, George Butterfield and his two business partners built the fancy Langwood Hotel. They sank 200 thousands dollars into the place and took down an old grove of hemlock trees in the process. 

>> Alison: Yeah. That was one of the things that kind of sparked the preservation movement was the cutting down of the hemlock trees.


>> Shannon: The Ravine Road Massacre. The clear cutting of the hemlock grove was deeply unpopular. And Charles Eliot leaned in to the public sentiment and urged the state to secure the remaining trees and woodlands on that hill overlooking the pond. He tried his best to get the the land for the Fells instead of a sprawling hotel.

>> Alison: It’s so sad that the state could have bought that land when they bought the rest of the parcels.

>> Shannon: They couldn’t afford it though, I guess.

>> Alison: That’s what they claimed. I mean, there may have been some reason why that piece was not purchased that was kind of behind the scenes. But you know, political influence is just everywhere. So…

>> Shannon: The State did not get that land. And then in 1902, just a few years after the Fells boundaries had been drawn, The Langwood hotel was destroyed by fire. It was, as they say around here, a three alahmah.

[ Music: “Rockabye by Firelight,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

>> Alison: I forget what sparked it

>> Doug: It was a flue in the 2nd story. They tried to pump water from Spot Pond, but pressure was low. So basically a total loss. Except for the Lang’s mansion.

>> Shannon: The fire took down George Butterfield’s hotel. But William Lang’s old mansion—the old house on the property—was spared. The Adventist church bought the land next, and they built The New England Sanitarium, a holistic healing center for people who were convalescing from the types of illnesses that Elizur Wright’s family had suffered in crowded Boston. 

The Sanitarium focused on hydrotherapy, herbal remedies, and the fresh air and tranquility of the nearby forest. The very woods that Elizur Wright thought would be such a tonic for everybody.

Drug medication eventually took over the holistic practices. In the late ‘60s the name changed to New England Memorial Hospital. And right before a major renovation of the facilities, in 1986 by dark of night, someone took down Lang’s historic mansion.

>> Alison: It was slated for preservation

>> Doug: The developer of the new hospital.

>> Alison: They, somebody just, they just did that. And of course nobody was charged with the arson, but…

>> Shannon: The new facilities went up. And the name changed again. This time it was called the Boston Regional Medical Center. And after just a few years in business, they transferred their last patients to other facilities and filed for bankruptcy. 

That was back in 1999. And since then, on those 40+ acres overlooking Spot Pond (the land that Charles Eliot had hoped so dearly to protect), the Gutierrez commercial real estate company has been mucking about. Their first plan was to build a lavish 914,000 square foot office park.

>> Mike: The freshman representative Paul Donato lived not too far from that site. The Friends of the Fells connected with him, and he said, stop calling at 914,000 square feet. It’s a million square feet. And he says, you know, we’re gonna do something about that. And he filed his first bill, which was to prevent the building of such a large development that would change forever the configuration of the historic Spot Pond area and parkways, the historic parkways. 

>> Shannon: Opponents numbered in the thousands. Gutierrez finessed a plan B: they’d mix residential and commercial space. This provoked the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act.

>> Mike: When that large development was first proposed, it triggered MEPA guidelines for environmental impact review. So the Gutierrez company had to submit its plans. And MEPA reviewed them and issued a number of rejections. And every time there was a new iteration, there was a comment period. 

>> Shannon: That’s when the Friends of the Fells built broad support from the public. They allied with Massachusetts environmental groups like the Sierra Club and many others.

>> Mike: We were a kind of a small organization back then. But it was a huge challenge. We started to build our board. We hired a consultant to do that. We needed some bandwidth, you know, to take on this big fight. And we hired a really good attorney. And Interesting. That’s exactly what Elizur Wright did. To take that fight, he built an organization, the Middlesex Fells Association. And he did an unprecedented thing. He built a media campaign that had never been done before. I always felt like we’re walking in, in Elizur’s shoes, you know, <laugh>. And there he is.

>> Shannon: There he is. Mike had brought some old photos of Elizur, You know, those old photographs, where people didn’t often smile? He’s got this amused look, like he’s focused on something in particular. You can really see the crinkles on the side of his eyes. He’s got cottony wisps of white hair flying out over his ears. And with his long beard and stash, he could pass for a Santa Claus. Or an artisanal cheese maker in Brooklyn.

Mike Ryan keeps his beard tidier. But the look in Mike’s eyes isn’t unlike Elizur’s.

[ Music: “Pound the Floor,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

It’s a look of determination. Amusement. Interest. And passion.

Mike is passionate about telling the story of the Fells. And remembering all the characters who helped build this public reservation. 

“Those in power write the history, those who suffer write the songs.” That’s what Dublin singer and song collector Frank Harte used to say. It’s the songwriters and the storytellers who help us keep track of the wins and the losses.

Elizur Wright’s daughter Ellen understood that, too. She took people for walks in the woods with her dad. And she also understood the power of the appeal. Of broadcasting and documenting the fight for the Fells. The Medford Public Domain Club published her collection of Elizur’s writings in 1893. It’s a scrapbook of his work, with her own passionate pleas for the Fells. She was a hell of a writer.

Alison Simcox and Doug Heath have carried on this tradition of… education? Edutainment?

>> Alison: It’s like discovering the story. The story’s there. But you have to discover it, because it’s scattered in various documents and various sources. 

>> Doug: There’s a big need to educate people about how wonderful the resource is.

>> Alison: For me it was like a huge escape, to write these books, from all the woes of the modern world. Just to get some..

>> Shannon: Woes of earlier times!

>> Alison: Yeah, it wasn’t like we had this idealized view of the past. You kind of break through all the mythology. It’s just a wonderful way of just escaping our limited, you know, limited view of the world. You get to go somewhere different with a different sensibility. It’s…

>> Doug: It’s another land. And we’re both geologists, so we can go back millions of years, imagine how it was.

>> Alison: You know you’ve got millions of years of history. And you’re just like this little observer for this little period of time. You get that privilege of seeing all this.

[ Music: “Oak and Ash and Thorn,” from Bright as Amber

Artist: Keith Murphy ]

> Shannon: It’s a real privilege to tell these stories with old roots and consider how everything’s being used and enjoyed today. And it’s a pleasure to weave in beautiful music like this. This song’s on Keith Murphy’s new EP “Bright as Amber.”

Before I explore more tunes and before I unveil how the old Langwood Hotel site is doing today, here’s my kid Nigel to thank this month’s sponsors:

>> Nigel: Thank you to Gavin McNutt, Sharon Murphy, Brian Unitt, Ken Krause, the Irish & Celtic Music Podcast, John Sigler, Randall Semagin, Ron Kral, Isaiah Hall, David Vaughan, Susan Walsh, Matt Jensen, John Ploch, Tom Frederick, Paul DeCamp, Suezen Brown, Jonathan Duvick, Gerry Corr, Mike Voss, Sean Carroll, Isobel McMahon, Bob Suchor, Finian McCluskey, Rick Rubin, Ken Doyle, Chris Armstrong, Ian Bittle, and Chris Murphy.

>> Shannon: Thank you so much folks for believing in this project. I’m able to produce these stories—and make them available for everybody—because of your generosity. Please head to to help underwrite an episode and to find a playlist of all the music in this episode.

[ Music: “Bluebells are Blooming,” from Thousands of Flowers

Artist: Tomoyo Sugai ]

In 19th century Boston—just down the road from the Fells—the city’s population was exploding, in large part because of emigration out of Ireland. And for all the new residents, the water supply wasn’t adequate. This led to diverting water from other existing communities, which is a whole other story. But Spot Pond got involved when the Metropolitan Water Board took over and incorporated it into Boston’s water supply. Little Spot Pond Brook was cut off and became a much smaller stream. And Spot Pond got a makeover.


>> Alison: They actually hired the Olmsted brothers to reconstruct Spot Pond, so that it would still look natural. You know, being landscape architects they did a great job of, of keeping things looking very nice. They kept the islands that were in there.

>> Doug: It was also deepened by 12 feet.

>> Shannon: They almost doubled its capacity. That’s the Spot Pond I know today. And it’s no longer part of Boston’s public drinking water supply, it’s just backup. It’s big. And it’s beautiful. Even if you don’t know where it is.

>> Alison: We sell a lot of books at the farmer’s markets. People come by, and they’ll be chatting. And they’ll say, where is the Fells? And I’ll say well, how long have you lived in the Boston area? <laugh>? And they’ll say, well, you know, my whole life. And I’ll say, okay, did you ever drive from Boston North along 93? Oh, yeah, sure. Okay. Did you ever notice the big pond on your right as you go north? Oh, Spot Pond. Yeah, I know Spot Pond. I say well that’s in the Fells. Did you ever notice at night when you drive through that area, there’s no lights? It’s dark? It’s all dark as you drive through there. Oh! That’s where the Fells is.

[ Music: “Les Sirènes à Roméo,” from Horizons

Composers: Emmanuelle LeBlanc, Pascal Miousse & Pastelle Leblanc

Artist: Vishtèn ]

>> Shannon: That’s where the Fells is. And Spot Pond is a centerpiece of this public reservation. Back in the day, old stone mansions surrounded Spot Pond. And on the hill above the pond stretched The Langwood Hotel, then the medical complex. And when the Gutierrez Company claimed that land, Mike Ryan and the Friends of the Fells took up Charles Eliot’s plea from 100 years earlier. And they tried to protect it.

They sent letters, and letters, and letters to the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act Office. The public flooded MEPA with concerns about the potential harm to the Fells. There   worried that a large development would lead to excessive traffic around Spot Pond’s historic parkways. The case went to court. And dragged on.

Over the years, the state MEPA rulings required the developer to plan smaller and smaller projects.

>> Mike: Over the years the various iterations were whittled down. But with the election of governor Patrick, the developers and Patrick got together and gutted Environmental Review and ended it. They just ended it.

>> Shannon: Some lobbies and well connected corporations can be tough to take on. Gutierrez had sidled up to the Deval Patrick administration and got him to rewrite the rules.

>> Mike: They changed the whole parameters. And we never completed environmental review. And we spent probably a hundred thousand dollars, and we never finished it. 

[ Dark Low Jig reprise ]

>> Shannon: With the new relaxed guidelines, the judge on the Gutierrez case ruled that no imminent threat to the environment existed. 

Letter of the law at that moment. One decision, issued in a courtroom, that will have lasting impact to the trees, the birds, and people. Just like a recent decision in Medford to put in partial safety measures for bikers and walkers on Winthrop Street.

Like the historic parkways, Winthrop Road wasn’t designed for motorists only. It used to be a ‘rangeway,’ an old road that took people to the Mystic River. Today it’s a car commuter thoroughfare. It crosses over historic Mystic Valley Parkway and runs right past the high school. It’s challenging for walkers to cross the road, scary for bikers, and people have gotten hurt. A few community groups had been pushing to create bike and pedestrian infrastructure, especially near the high school, so parents could feel more comfortable with kids walking and biking to school. Which could also relieve some of the morning car congestion. 

Opponents didn’t want to lose parking spaces. And they didn’t want to lose any driving real estate.

There were a lot of people who attended the big Traffic Commission meeting. In the end, it was decided to get rid of just a few parking spaces and draw new bike lanes that zigzag around the remaining spots. And that’s the case closed .. for now they say. But it’s not like it’s gonna be redesigned in a year when more people feel ready. Or when more people (or geese) have gotten hurt.

And once you lose a lot of trees, it takes a long time to grow new ones.

That bike lane decision was made in a Zoom room, at the end of a very long meeting. Like the Gutierrez court decision, made in a little legal chamber. Would the outcome have been the same if everybody had been having a picnic of Brie and Parmesan, looking out over Spot Pond? Would the safety argument have held more sway if everybody had witnessed the SUV driver trying to mow down a family of geese?

[ Music: “Bb intro,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

Well, the City of Medford has gone on to draw a few new lines on Winthrop Road, which thus far most motorists seem to ignore.  And the Gutierrez Company has built a block of luxury apartments on the old Langwood site. There’s an ocean of grass in front of the complex. A tall chain link fence around the swimming pool blocks a clear view of all the amenities. But on the website for the Alta Clara apartments, it says there’s access to an indoor fitness room, a heated saltwater pool, an Outdoor Bar and TV Viewing Area, an enormous Outdoor Fire Pit, and a pet spa. 

[ Music: “Triumph Theme,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

The huge office park hasn’t been built yet.There are still a few practitioners in the old medical buildings on the property — a family practice, a cardiology care center, a pain management clinic. And there’s also a lovely little stone church across from one of the huge lawns. It’s boarded up and covered in yellow tape.

>> Shannon: I don’t know what the future of that is, do you?

>> Mike: It’s gonna be swallowed up. But the thing is, yes, they’ve built those condominiums up there. But the one thing that we did, the Friends of the Fells, we allied ourselves very closely with the Mass Water Resources Authority. When it came time for them to think about building a new covered reservoir, they were gonna build a new  20 million gallon covered reservoir somewhere in the Fells. 

I became part of that siting committee, you know, <laugh>. We looked at all the sites that they had laid out. And all of them would’ve taken green space. And we said, no no no no no. Take the land that’s right there. Build it there. 


>> Shannon: The Friends of the Fells worked closely with Representative Paul Donato and the director of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, Fred Laskey. Here’s Fred, speaking at Mike’s retirement party a few years ago: 

>> Fred: The first time I met Mike Ryan, we were trying to find a location for a covered storage tank. We needed about 7 or 8 acres of land up in the Fells. So he said, well.. And he very calmly took his finger and said, why don’y you put it right there? Right in the parking lot of the hospital!

After many years of back and forth, and up and down and around, the MWRA purchased that 7 acres of land. It’ll be the first addition of open space to the Fells since it was created. And it’s due in large part to the advocacy of Mike and the Friends of the Fells. And Rep Donato, and the others. And it really did help turn the tide.

[ Music: “Wisteria,” from Via Portland

Artist: O’Jizo ] 

>> Mike: It took that land out of development. Fred Laskey arranged with the Friends of the Fells to work with one of our botanists. He says, look, we wanna do native plants. So they collaborated with us, and we got the right kind of plantings and all that.

So, two things. One: by us fighting that project over these many, many years, we were able to get the footprint reduced. The second part of that whole thing is they were gonna tear that down, turn it into an office space. But there’s no market for office spaces anymore. So that development meant that he’s got this, you know, big giant building up there. And he doesn’t know what to do with it.

>> Shannon: Yeah. An enormous office building is gonna be hard to fill with more people working remotely, and with AI reducing staff altogether. That’s why the Gutierrez Company approached Stoneham’s Planning Board a year and a half ago for a special permit to allow them to swap their grand office park with a 150,000 square foot research and development (R&D) facility. 

Whatever, a big medical lab or grand office park would both interfere with the outdoor bar and TV viewing area at the luxury apartments, which might make it harder for the Atlanta-based real estate firm who’s selling these Stoneham, Massachusetts (not Boston) properties. Here the current pitch on their website:

“Nestled in the Middlesex Fells Reservation, and surrounded by protected land, Alta Clara at The Fells is the only community of its kind. With direct access to over 100 miles of mixed-use trails, you can hike, bike, fish, or spend your day exploring Spot Pond by kayak or canoe. Alta Clara at the Fells blends relaxation and sophistication to create the ideal Boston apartment. Live with clarity – that’s our motto!”

[ Music: “O Death,” from All is Well (instrumental excerpt)

Artist: Sam Amidon ]

Charles Eliot had amazing clarity. In just a few years, he helped secure support and legislation, draft plans, and protect acres of wood. He also designed Longfellow Park in Cambridge, Revere Beach Reservation, and was in the process of developing Fresh Pond and the Charles River esplanade, when he died from spinal meningitis at age 37, three decades after Elizur Wright had first settled in Medford.

The Trustees Committee said: “Charles Eliot found in this community a generous but helpless sentiment for the preservation of our historical and beautiful places. By ample knowledge, by intelligent perseverance, by eloquent teaching, he created organizations capable of accomplishing his great purposes, and inspired others with a zeal approaching his own. 

The year after Charles died, in 1898, the Massachusetts Forestry Association formed. This was even more comprehensive than the Metropolitan Park Commission. The Forestry group oversaw planting, woods management, and training to the different towns. 

[ Music: “E Minor Chimes,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

Over the decades, the landscape and habitats in these woods—and many of the structures—have altered. The old stone mansions around Spot Pond are gone, except for the Botume House, which is now the visitor center. And thanks to M ike Ryan, the little barn beside Fanny and Henry Tudor’s mansion remains. The one-room school house for the families of Haywardville was torn down in 1900. 

And around that time Canada geese nearly went extinct from overhunting. Which is why there were goose hunting regulations, and a goose relocation program. These worked almost too well. And the newer population didn’t develop the urge to migrate.

There was a trolley that ran from 1910-1946, up into the woods, over bridges, through Sheepfold Meadow, near the shores of Spot Pond. An accident near Dark Hollow Pond, but mostly cars and highways, put an end to the Medford Stoneham trolley. There are still bridges at Sheepfold, Bear Hill Road, and one crossing a ravine.

During WWII and the Korean War, there was a small military base in the Fells: a training site with a mess hall, toilets, sleeping quarters. And weapons. Boston was never attacked, and the site was deactivated in 1958. Today it’s a pollinator meadow, with just a few remnants of the concrete foundation and old asphalt road.

And those handsome boulevards?  

>> Alison: Now look at them, now they’re becoming thoroughfares. I mean, if you go down Woodland Road it’s pretty. It’s lovely. It goes past Spot Pond. But they’ve widened it. They’ve made it easier for cars to use as a cut through. People race along there because they just want to go home rather than enjoy the vista.

[ Music: “Demon Ducks of Doom,” from In Transit

Composer/Artist: Jamie McClennan ]

>> Mike: You know, over the years since the historic parkways were created, they’ve been bastardized. They put in metal guard rails. There’s been no standards for what kind of maintenance. You know, the historic parkways initiative was created by Bob Durand, who was an environmental affairs secretary. It was a multi-agency endeavor to protect the historic parkways. They said, you know, we need to have guidelines for protecting the parkways. Those would become what the DCR would use, you know, to protect the parkways and upgrade them.


The Friends of the Fells—I was director then—we got involved with the very beginning of that movement, the historic parkways initiative. 

>> Shannon: Over several administrations, ending with Governor Mitt Romney, there was increasing pressure to consolidate departments and get the state to manage the historic roads.

>> Mike: They said, you know that was then, this is now. And there’s a lot more traffic on these parkways. And so we need to give it to the highway department. They know how to build roads. 

There were two bills, one was more pernicious than the other. I said, you know what, let’s put our forces in favor of the one that protects the parkways. I started to work with the engineers, their director and I, we put together a slideshow. We went to the Stewardship Council meetings. And they were talking about giving up the parkways. “We don’t have had enough bandwidth,” they said, “We got our hands full with the parks.”

They lost a vision of how the parkways and the parks are integral, you know? 


>> Shannon: How do you promote a vision? Write an appeal. Or do a slideshow. George Davenport’s lantern slide shows helped share Elizur’s vision—literally. With pictures. And a hundred years later, Mike and the engineers union representing DCR employees gave a presentation at the State House with images showing what these broad boulevards meant to the parks. How everything was connected. The environmental league was over the moon. They thought there was no way to keep the parkways from being managed like highways.

>> Mike: We found a way! You know, going out to the public. Publicity. Going through the legislators. And the parkways were not given over to the Highway Department. 

>> Shannon: Amazing. Congratulations!

>> Mike: That’s right!

>> Shannon: Saving the parkways (for now)? Great success.

Saving the parks? Great challenges ahead.

Alison and Doug have been trying to address rogue trails around Elizur’s old stomping grounds near Bellevue Pond. It’s a pilot project to figure out how to educate all of us about official versus casual trails.

>> Alison: Like some of these rogue trails now look like official trails and they’re not, they’re rogue trails, which means that they, they shouldn’t be there. Someone’s just tramped through there. And then it’s been, you know, exacerbated by more people tramping through. So they need to like somehow cordon off, or designate, or put signage that shows that please don’t walk on these trails because they’re not really trails. We need to, you know, restore those to the forest.

[ Music: “The Golden Gardins,” from The Salmon’s Leap

Artist: Randal Bays ]

>> Shannon:  I assumed that using unofficial trails was bad because of soil erosion. Which it is. But I’m also learning that when we all create new mini trails, they can be breeding grounds for invasive species. We track seeds in on the bottoms of our shoes , but DCR and volunteers aren’t monitoring and cleaning all that up (because these trails aren’t on the formal DCR map—they aren’t on the official radar)

Another bummer about the rogue trails, which I now realize that I have used, is that tramping around in these deeper woody spots harms a lot of animals. Because critters try to find homes and food farther away from people. But if we tramp around their safer spots, it stresses them out and makes it harder for them to get the resources and shelter they need.

Another huge problem — on the official and rogue trails — is all the garbage people throw all over the Fells. Because people dislike carrying their trash out of the park.

There are also piles of dog poop everywhere. And bags of dog poop just thrown on the trails. Dog walkers are supposed carry waste out, of course. And they’re also supposed to use leashes, partly because nearly a quarter of the park is covered with water, and dog poop messes up the water. But many people dislike the leash rules. 

The New England Mountain Bike Association disliked the trail restrictions that the Massachusetts Department of Conservation recommended.

>> Mike: They believed that for the peacefulness and safety of visitors, that mountain biking and hikers should be separated. Cuz they have different reasons for going to a conservation area like this.  And NEMBA didn’t like that. They thought basically that the bikers should be able to ride anywhere. And we felt, you know, it segregates out families people who like nature and quietness of nature. 

[ Music: “D Mutey Big Build,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ] 

>> Shannon: Well also more people have started using electric bikes in the woods. The power assist on the E-Bike makes climbing less strenuous, especially on the hills and bumpy little side (or rogue) trails. 


>> Alison: It’s so much easier to get in there with an E-bike. And it’s actually, it’s, it’s not only is it dangerous, but, um, it makes people think they can go, they can just go anywhere and, you know, they can go up hills. And it damages the environment.

>> Mike: There’s safety issues, you know? There’s erosion issues. 

>> Shannon: It is really interesting, isn’t it? Like, the NEMBA situation, the New England Mountain Bike Association maybe wreaking some havoc on the trails, causing some erosion. But also having many occasions where they would have members come out and help rebuild trails. It’s a difficult balance between accessibility and conservation.

>> Shannon: On NEMBA’s website, they note that e-Bikes are not   allowed in the Fells. But there’s very little budget for oversight. Without rangers to enforce park rules, without education and outreach, without open welcome centers and facilities, it might give people more space to make up their own rules.

But the Fells and other state parks don’t have adequate funding for reform.

>> Mike: This model—this metropolitan park system, this was Boston’s best idea. First in the country, first in the world. So what’s happened since? Well, we were first in the world. First in the US. And now the funding for Metropolitan Park System in Greater Boston is last in the country. Last. It’s behind Alabama, it’s behind Mississippi. Per capita spending on parks in Massachusetts is last. 

Our hair should be on fire. Because all of the reasons why they built this park system, with great pride, and great enthusiasm, and awarded so many prizes and emulated…  We need them more than ever. Now we need these parks, you know? For all the same reasons that they needed them back then. And yet there’s no human cry.

[ Music: “The Breakfast Set,” from Across The Water

Artists: Alex Cumming & Nicola Beazley ]

>> Shannon: Well, there is an outcry. But it’s from pockets all over the state. Not very centralized. Mass Conservation Voters is one of the biggest groups.


>> Mike: Myself and the current director for the Friends of the Fells has been involved with Mass Conservation Voters for the last couple years. Before the election, Mass Conservation Voters had  a summit meeting. And there were like 50 different groups that got involved. 

>> Shannon: After the summit, Mike and the current Friends of the Fells director Chris Redfern worked with MCV. They wrote a letter—basically for the INCOMING governor—about how state parks are in crisis and need funding. They talked about the lack of rangers, no enforcement of park rules, closed and crumbling buildings, dirty bathrooms. And they explained how important conservation is for public health, social well being, and climate resiliency.

At the start of her term, Governor Maura Healey said she’s a big proponent of outdoor space through parks and is “absolutely committed to having the resources for the maintenance…and the staff to make sure we have the most robust park public space operation in the country.”  (Boston Public Radio March 2)

Her Administration Priority list doesn’t mention DCR. But the 2024 budget commits 150 million dollars to the Department of Conservation and Recreation. It’s more money than an earlier version of the budget, and it’s a big increase from the record lows of the last administration. 

But it’s not enough for all the work needed to revamp and maintain the parks. 

>> Mike: There was a resource management plan done by DCR. It’s a long plan. And it talks about what are priorities to carry out the mission of DCR. All those priorities have to do with more rangers, you know? Have to do with enforcement, restoration, invasive species. And they’re listed as priorities. But then it says due to lack of funding not a single one has been funded.

So what DCR decided to do was to have shortened RMPs so that they can fulfill the mandates for all of the properties. But they’re gonna cut off the toes to fit the shoes?

[ Music: “Bb Intro,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ] 

>> Shannon: The Friends of the Fells DID do an honest appraisal. A comprehensive to do list about what has to be done to protect the woods.


>> Mike: I think every DCR property should have the same thing and say, okay, this is what we need. Show the shortcomings and the consequences. And then turn it around. To do that we need to put together a messaging group that will talk about the vision that you and I have been discussing that is WHY, why do this?

>> Shannon: Getting Elizur’s original vision out into the streets feels like it could inspire pride and ownership of the woods. Learning more about his tireless crusade to offer an oasis, to help cure sickness and sadness–could this lead to more people carrying trash and dog poop out of the woods? Would fewer bikers barrel down fragile hiking trails? 

Maybe not. But after learning more about the historic parkways, I have found myself driving a little slower and more mindfully around these roads. Really appreciating the design. Seeing how they connect. Seeing it in a new way.  

[ Music: “The Thrush in the Bush,” from Larks & Thrushes

Artist: Laurel Martin ]

And after working on this episode, I’m psyched to get more involved in woods clean up days. But just picking up broken glass and other people’s dog poop doesn’t lead to funding… and bigger changes. 

When journalist Sylvester Baxter wrote about the creation of the Fells, the woods that he named and helped preserve—he called it a great wilderness reservation. But just as important, he said, it was as an example of the power of public sentiment and engagement. Of buy in and ownership by all of us. That’s how it worked back then. And that’s how it’s gotta work now.

Karl Alexander at the Mystic River Watershed Association manages a bunch of different greenway projects today (parks, walkways, waterfront paths). He gets grants, and he has support, a staff, a salary. But much of his work counts on engaging communities, so that people support and use these paths, and help maintain them in the future. 

I spoke with Karl for just a moment on busy Mystic Valley Parkway about the importance of small volunteer efforts and the bigger initiatives. They all gotta work together—just like the walkers, bikers, runners, drivers, geese, and the people beside us who were fishing and pumping out the jams.

>> Karl: It’s just critical… Because grassroots volunteers only have so much capacity. It’s focusing on that people to people connection while allowing larger organizations to focus on getting more funding directed, because they’re able to do that full time.

I found as a volunteer, if you’re gonna really dedicate your time, you might as well have fun in the process. Lobbying for funding and doing that isn’t that fun. So if you like doing trail days, do trail days!

[ Music: Demon Ducks reprise ]

>> Shannon: So pick up dog poop while pumping out the jams. God it. And leave the bigger work and fundraising to the bigger organizations. A new non profit, Mass Parks for All is hoping to consolidate a lot of the current projects. Determine what people really need from the park system today. And then go after funding to make it happen. But step one is to focus the vision.

To pull this off, MassParksforAll includes the current Mass Conservation Voters director and some of its Board members, plus some new and veteran players. Because it takes a village—and oftentimes a few well-connected white men—to push projects over the finish line, whether you’re trying to save a system of parks or you’re trying to preserve old folk songs.

After Olive Dame Campbell had gone from Medford down to the Southern States and collected all those ballads, after she’d made connections with all those families down there, she got in touch with Cecil Sharp to show him her collection. He was a respected published academic in London and was delighted to visit North Carolina and team up with Olive to finish collecting and then to publish English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians. This book is still probably the most important source of traditional Appalachian songs.

[ Music: “Pound the Floor,”  from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ] 

Olive got credit as one of the authors in the first edition. By the second edition, she’s demoted to contributor. And by the third edition, her name is gone. But the songs are out there. 

[ Music: “Maura’s Welcome to Medford,” from Living Room Moment

Composer: Shannon Heaton

Artist: Matt & Shannon Heaton ]

Maybe it’ll take a powerful woman, like Governor Maura Healey, working with Mass Parks for All, to renew, connect, and expand Massachusetts State Parks. Just in case, I’ve written a tune called Maura’s Welcome to Medford — a standing invitation top visit the Fells, with or without cheese snacks

The second tune in that set is called Abe Lincoln’s shoes.

[ Music: “Abe Lincoln’s Shoes,” from Living Room Moment

Composer: Shannon Heaton

Artist: Matt & Shannon Heaton ]

It’s true that walking as President, or governor, or lobbyist can really pave the way for a lot of projects.  When Abraham Lincoln approved funding for a national park system, it allowed Frederick Olmsted to create Yosemite. And that design led to the Metropolitan Park System. 

Legislators and leaders can really move projects along. And they can also dismantle a hell of a lot in a very short time. 

[ Music: “The Wood Thrush’s Song,” from Birdsong

Composer/Artist: Laurie Lewis ]

[ Music: “Little Bird Lullaby,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ] 


That’s Laurie Lewis singing The Wood Thrush’s Song. She wrote it about Elizur’s muses. It was the birds that first lured him to the Fells. After he had died, Elizur’s daughter Ellen Wright and her brother Walter donated their family home to the Fells. The house was demolished in 1924. The Civil Conservation Corps built a tower on the highest part of the Old Wright lot in the 30s. That still stands. But in 1959, many more houses near the old property, and trees, and dead bodies from the Cross Street Burying Ground were hauled away to make Interstate 93. They moved over 400 bodies to Oak Grove cemetery (that’s where Olive Dame Campbell is buried). And then they paved paradise to put up an interstate.

>> Alison: Shows you how if you don’t preserve things that they’re gone, for one thing. But also even if you do preserve things, they still get eaten away at the margins. Of course the Fells, when it was created, um, it didn’t have I 93 going through the center of it. So the federal government, you know, which takes precedent over the state government because it’s State Park was able to just, you know, run the line right through the center of it, regardless of the fact that it was set aside as a park. And they just, you know, sliced I 93 down the center of it, because Boston needed that access.


>> Shannon: Then and now. It’s whatever the law allows. And laws are always being changed to allow developers, refineries, energy companies, businesses to thrive—even when Boston was dying of cholera and smallpox and needed oxygen and fresh air. And even today while people are choking on smoke and pollution from wildfires, and sweltering in record heat, laws get adjusted. And often times big biz still calls the shots.

But the money, and the power, and the products don’t endure. And I don’t think they inspire all that much. The great poems and ballads aren’t usually written about apartment complexes and robust retirement accounts. 

[ Music: Wisteria reprise ]

Back in the lantern slide lecture days, George Davenport offered some reassurance:

”While we can become overshadowed by the depressing influences of daily life… when we go out into the grand temples of Nature and stand in the presence of her sacred altars, the divine sense of freedom comes over us and our buoyant spirits turn our feet into wings.”

When Elizur Wright first walked through the Medford woods and encountered all those little birds in nests, he might not have initially imagined a forest park spanning town lines, with private land donated for public enjoyment. Inspiration takes flight in erratic ways.

Flute player and instrument maker John Neal and his son William were the first ones to publish a collection of Irish music. Like Elizur, their crazy notion saved beauty for other people. And inspired many others to do the same. The Neals’ collection, published in 1724, starts with the tune King of the Blind. That’s the title track of Joey Abarta’s new album. I’m able to stream Joey’s performance on BandCamp, 300 years after the Neals included it in their collection.

300 years from now, the luxury apartments or office parks or medical research facilities… that used to be the Langwood Hotel… and then the Sanitarium… will probably change form. But I’m pretty sure the huge boulders and caves all around the Fells will still offer home and shade for the ferns and the wild animals, who are unaware and unaffected by any pool parties or bags of dog poop.

For the modern day pipers and woods warriors,

The legislators and lobbyists,

The hikers, and bikers, and runners, and SUV drivers, and geese,

The Fells is still much as George Davenport described it in 1893

“A succession of well clad rocky hills, rising and falling like the billows of a great sea, within whose hollow troughs lie hidden pleasant vales, ponds, cascades, ferny brooks, sylvan retreats, wild swampland, and fragrant groves. .. (page 8)

Huge boulders perched on high hills.. apparently deposited by the great Ice sea which swept over New England ages ago… mute witnesses of the glacial period when the tremendous forces of Nature were wrestling for supremacy over land and sea. (Page 15)”

[ Music: “Meals by Maurice & Le Miracle,” from Living Room Session

Artists: East Pointers & Vishtèn ]

>> Shannon: This episode of Irish Music Stories was produced by me, Shannon Heaton. And honestly, if you made it to the end and still haven’t heard Part One, go back and listen to the whole deal. Lots of good, juicy historical stuff that I was able to pull together thanks, in large part, to Mike Ryan, Alison Simcox and Douglas Heath. And thanks to Kyna Hamill and the Medford Historical Society, the Medford Public Library for all the hard copy resources, and to all the archivists who’ve scanned and made all these historical documents available to everybody, including Ellen Wright’s Appeals for the Woods. 

Thank you Karl Alexander and Fred Laskey for teaching me more about my local green spaces and local advocacy. Thank you,  Thank you, Ken Krause, for the Fred Laskey clip. Thank you Nigel for acknowledging this month’s sponsors. Thank you, Matt Heaton for the production music. And thank you to all the amazing musicians who appeared in this episode, including Michael Clarkson who played the Beauty Spot and Joey Abarta who played Geese in the Bog, especially for this episode. For a full playlist to all the music in The Fruitful Fells and to kick in to help make more Irish Music Stories, please visit

To learn more about the Fells, and to find out how to become a member of the Friends, head to We can work on a trail together, and sound the alahm.. It’ll be fun. Matt Heaton will tell jokes.


>> Matt: You know how there are words that are spelled differently but sound the same?

>> Shannon: Yes

>> You know what a lama, a one L lama is?

>> Like the Dali Lama

>> Matt: That’s right, the religious leader in Tibet. Do you know what a two L llama is?

>> Shannon: Like the little alpaca guy?

>> Matt: Yeah, the alpaca thing. You know what a three L lllama [three ah-lah-mah] is?

>> …

>> Matt: A wicked bad fiah in West Meffah.

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Bonus Content

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Companion Chapters

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Cast of Characters

Episode guests in order of appearance

Shannon Heaton


World-reared, Boston-based flute player, singer, composer, teacher, and host of Irish Music 

Mike Ryan


Former executive director of the Friends of the Middlesex Fells Reservation (2003 to 2014)

Environmental Scientists and authors of local history books (Lost Mill Village of Middlesex Fells, Murder at Breakheart Farm, Middlesex Fells, Breakheart Reservation, and Lake Quannapowitt)

Fred Laskey


Government official and Director of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority

Karl Alexander


Greenways Program Manager for the Mystic River Watershed Association

The Heaton List