THE SAWMILL - ACHUSHNET
THE SAWMILL - ACHUSHNET
The ecosystem along the South Coast of New England is totally unique – and very fragile. We’ve got salt marshes, bogs, weirs, ponds, rivers, vernal pools, inlets, and brooks. Seeing as we were the last stop for the melting glacier at the end of the Ice Age, we also have a lot of rocks, gravel, sand, and fertile soil. And, as a California-bred friend of mine once described our weather, it’s some kind of “lumpy fog” outside there every day of the year.
From Narragansett Bay to Buzzards Bay, we live in an enormous watershed region (we’re not called the “Bay State” and the “Ocean State” for nothing). The rivers powered the Industrial Revolution, coastal farms and shell-fishing have supported small businesses, and the ocean has provided a livelihood for generations of whalers, merchants, fishermen, and immigrants. The soil may be rocky and the weather may be harsh, but we have an innate reverence for our trees, our orchards and vineyards, our waterways, and our backyard gardens.
This is where the Pilgrims landed and carved their villages, commons, and farms out of virgin forest. And here we are, four hundred years later. Our colonial “villages” morphed into jam-packed cities with factories, shopping malls, and highways – and yet, we’re still all hemmed in by forests and wetlands.
Back to the Future
We’ve wisely put the brakes on further encroachment on our wilderness with robust conservation and preservation programs, and by re-introducing green-space commons in our cities. We tore down the paved parking lots to restore and preserve the Pilgrims’ Paradise.
Case in point: the 14,000-acre Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve spans the contiguous undeveloped land from the Freetown-Fall River State Forest and Copicut Woods to the Acushnet Saw Mills property. It protects rare natural habitats like white cedar swamps and pine-oak barrens, as well as many threatened species of trees, birds, fish, flowers, and other animals.
Much of this land is open to the public for passive non-motorized recreation – hiking, cross-country skiing, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking.
Likewise, nonprofit organizations promote the public health benefits of exploring and enjoying our natural resources. Southcoast Health and The Buzzards Bay Coalition joined together to create “Discover Buzzards Bay,” an initiative to promote active outdoor recreation.
Nature Abhors a Vacuum
It wasn’t so long ago that the South Coast was littered with empty mills, polluted shorelines, deserted buildings, vacant lots, neglected public parks, and shuttered storefronts. But the region underwent a transformation over the past few decades, with the influx of entrepreneurs, scholars, scientists, and artists. This was accomplished with venture capital, government/non-profit grants, enlightened public servants, and a whole lot of sweat equity.
The mills were repurposed as loft apartments and office spaces. Downtown streets were turned into shopper-friendly pedestrian malls. Start-up businesses and restaurants filled empty storefronts. Blighted city lots were turned into community gardens. An explosion of festivals and cultural events attracted visitors from near and far to our gathering places.
We collectively cleaned up our act – and now the South Coast is once again a very lively, affordable, and sustainable place to live.
In our own quirky New England way, we gentrified our low-cost-of-living cities and made them livable again by attracting new blood – millennial students, tourists, eco-warriors, and immigrants.
We created “innovation zones,” international marketplaces, cultural/historic districts. We cleaned up and transformed derelict waterfronts – like Riverside Park in New Bedford and the Fall River Heritage State Park – and restored neglected historical/cultural sites to create venues for public recreation and entertainment. And, along the way, we planted a lot of trees in our cities to replace the ones lost to hurricanes, disease, pollution, and vandalism. In New Bedford alone, 1,700 trees have been planted in public spaces since 2014!
From the Grassroots up
The South Coast is one of the most densely-populated places in the United States, ranging from 10,000 people per square mile in the metro Providence area to 5,000 per square mile in New Bedford.
But in-between the cities and towns are miles of forests and farms, and tucked away in each city and town are parks, gardens, and little nooks and crannies of public greenery.
These are the “commons” of old New England, the plazas and market squares of the Old World, where everyone could relax and mingle with neighbors. We did not pave Paradise here on the South Coast – we created a network of public green oases in between the urban jungles and highway jangles for everyone to enjoy.
Almost every town, village, and neighborhood has a town green or town square (oftentimes with a military monument), where local folk congregate on holidays and special events – from tiny Benoit Square in North Fairhaven (which is actually a triangle) to the Church Green in Taunton.
Some towns are blessed with sprawling public lawns and a gazebo, like in Onset and Mattapoisett, where there are free concerts and festivals, and a place to play Frisbee, work on your tan, read a book on your lunch hour, or go sledding in winter.
Some of these town/city green-retreats were created by ad hoc community initiatives – garden clubs, neighborhood improvement associations, and civic-minded volunteers. Some are maintained by the state, county, or each municipality’s Parks & Recreation Department, or else by nonprofit conservancy organizations like the Westport River Alliance, the Trustees of Reservations, the Audubon Society, or the Buzzards Bay Coalition.
Many of the South Coast’s most beautiful parks were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the 19th-century “father of landscape architecture,” and his associates – Kennedy Park in Fall River, the Rockery Cairn in Easton, Buttonwood Park in New Bedford, and the Frederick Law Olmsted Park in Newport.
Others were designed by inspired urban planners and funded through state grants like the Gateway Cities Parks Initiative, like Bicentennial Park in Fall River, or with grants from nonprofit organizations like The Island Foundation, which is redesigning the Captain Paul Cuffe Park near New Bedford’s Whaling Museum.
Some of our public greenspaces grew around historic/cultural locations, like Dighton Rock in Berkley, Brooklawn Park in New Bedford, the Four Corners in Tiverton, or the Governor Oliver Ames Estate in Easton. Some are quiet places dedicated to famous citizens, like Founders Brook Park in Portsmouth (Anne Hutchinson), Pilgrims Memorial in Plymouth, or the Roger Williams Memorial in Providence.
Our many public bikeways and trails follow the old train lines. Even our historic cemeteries are beautifully maintained and walkable, like Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, Riverside
Cemetery in Fairhaven, or the colonial-era graveyards in Newport and Plymouth.
In addition, unique arboretums on the South Coast range from the Green Animals Topiary Garden in Portsmouth, the Allen G. Haskell Public Garden in New Bedford, and the Japanese Garden and Botanical Center in Roger Williams Park in Providence.
Pocket Parks, Parklets, and Streetscapes
Like our Pilgrim forebears in reverse, we’re carving out breathable green-spaces from the urban jungle and traffic. We’ve bumped out sidewalks on busy shopping streets to make room enough for a tree and a bench and a bicycle rack. We’ve covered graffitied walls with murals and added lighting, benches, fountains, and trees to waterfront streets.
We’ve restored historic buildings and gardens (like the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Custom House Square in New Bedford), and replaced paved roads with cobblestones and cracked sidewalks with bricks.
And then there are the inner-city sanctuaries that offer respite from the daily hustle-and-bustle, safe places to eat lunch amidst trees and flowers, play chess, or listen to street musicians. Some are tiny enclaves, like Wing’s Court in New Bedford, or revitalized neighborhoods, like Columbia Street in Fall River or Acushnet Avenue in the north end of New Bedford.
In the summer, we put tubs of flowers on highway median strips, along downtown sidewalks and outside restaurants, and there are window-boxes everywhere, even on the triple-deckers. We’ve reclaimed our towns and cities and turned them back into livable commons.
To paraphrase Herman Melville, the South Coast is perhaps the dearest place to live in, in all New England… nowhere in all of America will you find parks and gardens more opulent.
Shinrin-yoku (literally, “forest-bathing”) is the Japanese practice of walking through a natural setting like the woods or just stopping to smell the roses. It’s stress-reducing and meditative to take a leisurely stroll through a greenspace or park during your day (especially compared to a cardio-workout at an indoor gym).
Studies have shown that relaxing amidst greenery lowers the stress hormones in your blood, as well as your blood pressure, and clears your mind, leaving you refreshed and energized.
Trees are the lungs of any ecosystem (they suck up CO2 and fumes, provide shade, block out noise and breathe out fresh oxygen), whether you live out in the woods or in a city neighborhood. The closer you live to trees and greenery, and the more time you spend each day near them, the healthier and saner you’ll be.
Walks on the Wild Side
Depending on your mood, schedule, and the weather, do some “forest-bathing” on the South Coast!
Walk through the daffodils this month at Parsons Field in Dartmouth.
Stroll through stone walls and rural meadows at East Over Reservation in Rochester.
Explore the glacial rocks at Fort Phoenix in Fairhaven, then talk a walk along the hurricane dike (fabulous views). Or else walk through the town center when the cherry trees are in bloom.
Go on an Eco-Tour at the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown.
Hike through salt marshes and red-cedar forest at the Knowles or Wylde Reserves in Dartmouth.
Explore the coastal forest at the Nasketucket Reservation and the Mattapoisett River Reserve in Mattapoisett.
Walk around ponds, bogs, and woodlands at the Halfway Pond Conservation Area in Plymouth.
Visit the eccentric Green Animals Topiary Gardens in Portsmouth.
Wander through the amazing Allen G. Haskell Public Gardens in New Bedford.
Join a nature/history walking club, like walkfallriver.org, or the “Sunday Strolls” sponsored by the Buzzards Bay Coalition.
Discover hundreds of wildlife sanctuaries, coastal trails, forests, parks, and river reserves along the South Coast at savebuzzardsbay.org/discover, dnrt.org, thetrustees.org, massaudubon.org, westportlandtrust.org, savebay.org, riparks.com, nps.gov, stateparks.com/ma, and by contacting your city or town’s department of parks, recreation, and conservation.