CP&GC’s interest in Hell’s Half Acre and Greenough Boulevard dates to the 1950s when the Plant Club opposed the building of a highway through this rare urban wilderness. The last remaining piece of marsh in the Charles River Basin, Hell’s Half Acre is now 71⁄2 acres of urban wildland owned by the DCR. It is comprised of four distinct habitat types of wetland, woodland, riparian, and road’s edge. The wetland and woodland areas are losing the battle against many unwanted invasive plants including the tenaciously invasive phragmites. In 2017, CP&GC commissioned the New England Wild Flower Society (now Native Plant Trust) to undertake a three-season botanical inventory of the site, one we hope will inform the City of Cambridge and the DCR as they move forward on reclamation plans.
A three-year ecological restoration project to remove the invasive plants that currently choke the site will soon begin in the spring of 2020. The $150,000+ project is being spearheaded by the Charles River Conservancy, with major support by the City of Cambridge and the DRC, along with small private donations.
CP&GC’s interest in Greenough Boulevard and Hell’s Half Acre dates to the 1950s when the Plant Club, led by member Annette Cottrell, opposed the building of a highway through this rare urban wilderness. Originally 36 acres, Hell’s Half Acre was named by Bernard DeVoto, historian and conservationist, who loved the area despite the illegal dumping that occurred there. When construction of a wider roadway imperiled and isolated it, CP&GC members dug plant material from this marshland and moved it to Fresh Pond Reservation in the 1960s.
In 2012, the Lawrence and Lillian Solomon Foundation, a private foundation in Greater Boston that works to enhance greenways and public parks, proposed rehabilitating land along Greenough Boulevard. On the Charles River between the Eliot Bridge and the Arsenal Street Bridge, this prominent parcel was greatly improved by providing additional and safer recreational opportunities, beautifying a significant portion of river (including the finish line for the Head of the Charles Regatta) and improving environmental quality.
In 2014, the project got underway funded jointly by the Massachusetts DCR, the Foundation and private funding.
Current members saw an opportunity to support the Foundation’s efforts in a more concrete way by being supportive of their request for City of Cambridge Community Preservation Act funding. As the mitigation work to Hell’s Half Acre is consistent with hopes and goals of CP&GC for over 50 years, we were pleased that funds were granted and this portion of the project was undertaken. Members continue to be involved in the Greenway rehabilitation and we hope to contribute additional hands-on effort at this important site.