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Dane Park: An Advocacy Primer

By Abby Coffin

For years people have driven by the 17.23 acres that comprise Dane Park without realizing that the land behind that broken fence on the corner of Woodland Road and Hammond Street is a park with a very rich history.

2000: There seemed to be little information available about Dane Park. Brookline Town Hall did not have the deed on file. A deed from 1953 was located at the Dedham Courthouse, copied and supplied to Town Hall, and thus began an effort to restore Dane Park, and make it open and accessible to everyone.

Late October 2000: Abby Coffin, Cissy Hutton, and Margie Greville went to the Park and Recreation Commission with a memo outlining the concerns and goals of the newly formed Friends of Dane Park. The Friends proposed the following initial steps to make the Park accessible:

  • Determine the boundaries of the land.
  • Clearly mark access to the Park at two existing gates—on Hammond Street near the corner of Woodland Road (used as an entrance route to Putterham Golf Course during the Ryder Cup), and a gate in a new fence installed near the entrance to the new town garage on Hammond Street.
  • Clean the Park. Areas of the Park have been used in the past for dumping; old metal drums in various states of decay and broken glass need to be removed.
  • Evaluate possible alternatives to the current drainage system of the adjacent town garage. A storm drain from the garage property empties into the southeast section of the Park. Father James W. Skehan, professor emeritus from the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Boston College (who has published several books about the area—The Geology of Newton and Puddingstone, Drumlins, and Ancient Volcanoes ), spent the morning with members of the Friends group and Erin Chute, Director of Parks and Open Space. Father Skehan pointed out the unique geological attributes of the Park—lava blocks, pillow lava, lava flows, volcanic ash rock, and the volcano dome. The visit also afforded Erin Chute the opportunity to view years of neglect—the old dump site and the storm drain from the Town Garage.

August 2001: A Dane Park sign at the Woodland Road and Hammond Street entrance is installed.

October 2001: The Friends of Dane Park joined the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance as an organizational member.

Late October 2001: Members of the Friends of Dane Park, Erin Chute, and members of the Park and Recreation Commission met at the Park. It was almost dusk by the time the group set out with maps and a brief history of the Park. They saw debris, significant impediments to passage, and evidence of the polluting storm drain from the town garage, and they considered the location of entrances to the Park.

October 2001: Roberta Schnoor, of the Conservation Commission, was contacted about the possibility of delineating Dane Park as a wetland area. Within a few days Tom Brady, Conservation Administrator for the Town, agreed to contact a botanist to look at Dane Park.

November 29, 2001: After many phone calls and inquiries, the obsolete telephone poles and wires that ran across the Park were removed at the instigation of the Town. This was the first visible sign of improvement for Dane Park.

November 30, 2001: a group from BSC conducted a field investigation to delineate the wetlands in Dane Park. One ILSF (Isolated Land Subject to Flooding) and one isolated wetland were flagged that day. The group recommended returning to the site in early spring for verification of a vernal pool. A second wetland site was, unfortunately, no longer in a clean state. With the building of the Town Garage, shrubs had been removed, wood chips had been dumped, and two culverts drain to this site. This section of the Park continues to be used by the Town Garage for drainage. The vernal pool has not yet been formally verified.

Spring 2002: Erin Chute and members of the Friends of Dane Park met and agreed to apply to the Massachusetts Historic Landscape Preservation Grant Program for a $15,000 matching grant to undertake a thorough topographical and horticultural/ botanical survey of the Park, an important step in preparation for 2005 and 2006 when Dane Park is scheduled for unspecified capital improvements.

Late March 2002: The Friends began fundraising to raise matching funds for the grant. A letter was sent to members of Friends of Dane Park and to area residents. The fundraising effort yielded approximately $6,250 and the Town committed $10,000 to the cause. The stated purpose of the grant application was to complete a Natural Resources Inventory.

June 2002: The grant application was accepted for funding.

September 23, 2002: The Director of the Bureau of Project Planning, Patrice Kish of the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), wrote Erin Chute “due to the constraints of DEM’s FY2003 budget, decisions regarding grant awards have been deferred.” Currently the matching funds raised by the Friends of Dane Park are being held by the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance (a 501c3 organization); there have been no further notifications from the Historic Landscape Preservation Grant Program.

October 22, 2002: Erin Chute wrote (in a letter to the Friends) “Wetlands delineation is supposed to be surveyed by Engineering once the leaves fall (the site visit already occurred).” It is the continued hope of the Friends of Dane Park that the survey and vernal pool certification will be completed in the year 2003.

In 2005, A Design Review Committee was formed and the first meeting took place. 
A Landscape Master plan was developed and by 2009, Dane Park was reopened with the master plan in place. 

 We have fast-forwarded through fifteen years of Dane Park history:  The Park is open, cleaned up and cared for by the Park Department and volunteers.  There are annual clean up dates supported by volunteers and the Parks Department.  Dane Park is now cherished in an area of Brookline that has continued to see great pressure from developers within Brookline and at our borders. Dane Park is all that is left of the area of Brookline that was known in the 1880’s as the Brookline Woodlands.  A 100-acre portion of this property became the home of Dane family in 1904.  In 1951, Edward Dane gave 18 acres to the town ‘for a playground’, and the Town of Brookline bought an additional parcel for nine thousand dollars to form Dane Park in its entirety of 27 acres.  In 1961 Roughwoods’ remaining 79 and a1/2 acres were sold to Pine Manor.  And as we all know this property continues to be carved up. The history of Dane Park is crucial to understanding the significance of this Park. 

Dane Park is an urban wild area that needs some remediation:  The wet meadow, Pine Path and slope surrounding the fifth hole of the golf course, have suffered from continued encroachment of invasive plants. The Bittersweet and Multiflora Rose is so pervasive that it is beyond the capability of volunteers to remove. A wet meadow is a unique ecological environment that has the capability to provide critical habitat and we should not ignore this potential. 

Our wildlife will not survive unless food, shelter, and nest sites can be found in our urban community.   For instance a meadow planted with milkweed species including swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) would create a beautiful display of color and is highly attractive to several species of butterflies including our endangered Monarch butterflies.  Recently a petition has been filed to provide the monarch butterfly with federal protection.  The monarch populations have declined by 90 percent since the 1990’s. Studies have shown bird declines in areas heavily infested with non-native plants.  

The World Conservation Union has estimated a 12 percent of all bird species are threatened with extinction because of habitat loss. Besides continued planting of the meadow with native plants that nourish our pollinators, the Pine Path should be carefully groomed to protect those trees and other trees judiciously planted to plan for the care of the path and its visitors in the future. 

Moving through the Pines to get to the other half of the Park is a special segment. The trees provide protection and also nicely set a perimeter.  These trees are currently threatened and actually listing from the pull of vines.  Should these trees be lost, a critical component to perimeter planting will be lost.  The slope past the Pine Path and abutting the golf course, should also be incorporated in the plan:  This slope could be planted with native shrubs, and ground covers that could provide food and habitat for our pollinators and take very little work in upkeep.   Additionally, if we look back at the Park from the Golf Course, the Park becomes a Park that is enjoyed both by the recreational golfer and the park visitor.