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Dispatch From Upper Falls - A Hidden Gem

Upper Falls' little known Charles River Path park alongside the Charles River is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.

Upper Falls has one of the city's favorite and most well known pieces of park land - Hemlock Gorge, with its waterfalls, woods, island and of course the iconic Echo Bridge spanning above the whole thing. 

Less than a mile upstream, Upper Falls has another park that's one of the best kept secrets in Newton.  The Charles River Path is a roughly 1/3 mile long stretch of lovely river front park land owned by the city of Newton. The park is so unknown that even many local residents, who have lived nearby for years, have no idea it exists.

The park is accessible from Oak Street. Turn down either Saco or William Street, go to the end and you'll see a footpath that leads down to the river. Once there, you'll find a very pleasant park with various lookouts on to the river.  The reason the park is so underused is that it's an "island". It's not big enough to be a destination on it's own and its not connected to any other park land or trails.

Ironically, this isolated park was created as part of a plan to link the entire Charles River waterfront together with walking paths.  Now, many years later, this isolated park exists but the connections to the rest of the riverfront were never followed through on.  

The Charles River Pathway was an ambitious plan put together by the Newton Conservation Commission in 1975 to create one continuous system of walking trails that would extend from West Roxbury to Watertown Square along the banks of the Charles River. In the intervening years, the state's DCR (Department of Conservation and Recreation) has done a wonderful job of building the portion of the Charles River Pathway that was under their jurisdiction.  You can now walk from Auburndale to Watertown Square on river front paths thanks to the DCR's hard work over many years.  In the other direction, you can walk on DCR trails from Needham St to Millenium Park in West Roxbury

Sadly, very little of the plan that was in the city's hands was ever built.  Sadder still, is that it was the city's own Conservation Commission who created the plan in the first place.  One of the few tangible results that you can see today of the city's work on the Pathway, is this isolated but very pleasant park in Upper Falls.

A few opportunities exist though for making some easy improvements and working toward the Conservation Commission's dream of connecting the entire river front together with foot paths.

*One end of this park ends at the base of a steep railroad abuttment.  That railroad line is the path of the future Upper Falls Greenway bike trail/walking path. It would be a simple matter to build a set of stairs down the embankment to connect the Greenway to the Charles River Path for walkers.

* On the other side of the railroad embankment there's about a 1/4 mile of land owned by American Towers between the railroad and Braceland Park.  The city already has an easement across this property that was acquired for just this purpose many years ago.  With a simple gate at the back of Braceland Park and a bit of pruning of the very rough trail that's already there, we could have a trail for walkers that connects Braceland Park to the Greenway and the Charles River Path park.

* To get from one side of the railroad tracks to the other, you need to climb up and down the steep embankment.  There was an interesting alternative proposed in that 1975 plan.  The railroad tracks cross over the river on a bridge. Under the bridge, there's a narrow (maybe three foot wide) concrete ledge.  By adding a railing to that ledge and doing a bit of trail work, a simple pedestrian connection could be made under the bridge.

Over the last thirty years or so, the DCR slowly and incrementally put together their portion of the Newton Conservation Commission's Charles River Pathway.  Those DCR trails are now some of the most popular and valued park lands in Newton.  It's time now for the city to dust off that old plan and start stitching together the river side trails on its own properties. With a few simple foot path connections, the underused and nearly unknown Charles River Footpath park in Upper Falls is waiting to be discovered.

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Tom Fay June 20, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Nice work Jerry!
Fay Tannenwald June 21, 2012 at 02:50 AM
Jerry, That hidden gem along the Charles River is land owned by our condominium association, not the city of Newton. Please do not encourage more use of this land. We get enough foot traffic as is. Ten years ago someone hiking the trail lit the woods on fire with a discarded cigarette. Luckily one of our residents was on his deck and called the fire department before any units ignited. But it came too close (within 6 feet of some of the buildings). Furthermore, if people drive to the trail head on either Saco or Williams Streets will they park illegally, clogging our very narrow street? - Probably. I appreciate your work on the rail bed project, and also enjoy your dispatches, but please get your facts straight before you publish them. Thanks
Jerry Reilly June 21, 2012 at 03:20 AM
Hi Fay, I did check the city's tax database (http://assessing.newtonma.gov/gisapps/browser.html) before I wrote the column. It showed that the property is owned by the City of Newton and managed by the Conservation Commission. If that's not true - my apologies, but I thought I had checked my facts, at least as well as I could. Yes, I agree about driving/parking there. Both Saco and Williams St don't need any parked cars. The main idea I was trying to get across was that we should connect our park lands with walking trails. If I unwittingly encouraged drivers down there, I'm sorry.
Tom Fay June 21, 2012 at 03:39 AM
Hi, So who owns it? Not exactly the out back Fay, one will encounter humans and accidents do happen.
Fay Tannenwald June 21, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Jerry, Thank you for your response. I used to believe the city of Newton owned the land, but when I tried to get them to clean-up the fire debris I was informed it was the condo's property. I looked at the assessor's map you mentioned. Only the parcel of land marked "Charles River Pathway" is city owned. Our land runs between Saco St and the railroad tracks. There are a number of easements on the property. American Tower has one; the City of Newton has one for sewers and another for the pathway. I am not opposed to connecting the entire length of the Charles River Pathway. I would love to go out my back door and have the ability to walk to Centennial Park or to Watertown through woods instead of city streets. I am however opposed to referring to this area as a park vs. a trail. To me, a park denotes a place where people gather. People should not be encouraged to congregate in others back yards. Quickly walking by is one thing -- having a picnic or playing ball is another. Anyway, thanks again for your reasonable response.
Jerry Reilly June 21, 2012 at 05:02 PM
>> Only the parcel of land marked "Charles River Pathway" is city owned Fay, Thanks for the clarification. I missed that when looking at the city map. I thought the Pathway extended all the way to the RR, rather than an easement. I think we're on the same wavelength. My interest is in the connecting footpaths rather than trying to collect a crowd down there. Just last Sunday afternoon, I walked from my house near Echo Bridge to a friend's house in West Roxbury. Remarkably, about 3/4 of that 6 mile route was on very nice footpaths through woods along the river (Needham St to Millenium Park). It was disappointing a major chunk of the city street portion of the trip was in our own neighborhood - especially since the city acquired rights of way for just this purpose years ago and never used them.
Fay Tannenwald June 21, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Tom, If someone walking in your backyard were to burn your house down, I doubt you'd pat him on the back and say "oh well, accidents happen!". Your flippant and dismissive attitude is offensive. Obviously this area is not in some hinterland, but the more people who visit, the more opportunity for mishap.

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