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Walks on Weston Conservation Land
Walk 17: COLLEGE CONSERVATION AREA
In 1977, the Town bought 146 acres of land from Weston College. Until this transaction, all conservation lands were bought with funds furnished from Weston taxes. In this single case, some funds were obtained from Massachusetts Self-Help Program. This land, commonly referred to as the Weston College Land, lies to the east of the present Campion Residence and Renewal Center. At the western boundary, the Town has constructed two soccer fields. The northern boundary lies along the line of Cherry Brook, the eastern is Merriam Street, and the southern is Concord Road.
In 1921, this area was occupied by two estates which were purchased by the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits built Weston College, a seminary for the training of priests. From 1924 until 1978, as many as 200 seminarians were involved in the seven year program. In 1978, the seminary program moved to the Harvard School of Theology and became the Weston School of Theology. The former Weston College became the Campion Center with a Jesuit Infirmary for retired priests and a Retreat House for interested persons. The Chapel at the Campion Center is known for its excellent acoustics and is used for recording both orchestral and vocal music. If you wish to view the Chapel, contact the receptionist at the Campion Center before your visit.
North of the Campion Center is the Weston Observatory, Department of Geology and Geophysics, Boston College. The Observatory was founded in 1930 by Michael Ahern, S.J. Its research programs have continued under the able direction of Daniel J. Linehan, S.J., then of James W. Skehan, S.J., and, at present, of Dr. John Ebel. The Observatory operates the 29-station New England Seismic Network to monitor regional earthquake activity. The Observatory records, locates, and computes the magnitudes of some 50+ regional earthquakes annually. At the Observatory, the seismographs are a part of the Worldwide Standard Seismographic Network. These seismographs record over 100 significant earthquakes over the world each year. The Observatory participated in the Joint Verification Experiment to develop methods to distinguish between nuclear explosions, small explosions, and earthquakes. This research was important to assure that verification of nuclear explosions was possible and lead to the 1988 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The staff has been actively involved in regional geological and plate tectonic studies of our region. There is an interesting display of rocks in front of the Observatory. If you contact the Observatory and a staff member is free, a tour of the Museum can be arranged which includes a viewing of the seismographic array.
The brick house at 319 Concord Road, now a part of the Campion Center, was built in 1906 for Grant Walker, a Boston businessman and investor, after the original wood house on the site burned down. The estate included 131 acres. A year after Mr. Walker's death, his widow sold the estate to the Society of Jesus and moved to Lincoln.
Merriam Street is named after Herbert Merriam. Herbert was a son of Charles Merriam who came to Weston in 1824 and operated a store across from the First Parish Church. Charles was a selectman in 1835, gave gifts to the library in 1859 and 1865 and, in 1865, established the "Merriam Fund for the Benefit of the Silent Poor of Weston." Herbert Merriam, a Boston businessman, built his estate at the corner of Concord Road and Merriam Street. His land extended on both sides of the two roads and to "College Pond" and was about 230 acres. East of Merriam Street were a horse barn and chicken houses. Along the road to the brush dump was a dairy barn that is said to have been "one of the largest in Middlesex Country." This barn was built in 1876 and burnt down on October 30, 1926. No animals were lost in the fire. Pictures of the barn can be found in the Weston Historical Society Bulletin, Vol. XVII, No 1 (October 1980) and No. 2 (January 1981). A dairy herd was housed in the big barn. The horse barn was on the east side of Merriam Street on the Municipal Purposes Land.
There are two parking areas along Concord Road. Starting from the junction of Concord Road and Merriam Street:
1) Drive 0.3 mile along Concord Road, on the right, there is a pull off by the Town's orchard.
2) Drive 0.4 mile along Concord Road and turn into the road going to the right. Once on this road, bear to the right and you will reach the parking lot at College Pond. This is the starting place for this walk.
This walk requires about two hours to walk around most of College Pond, to visit the orchard and the Merriam Barn site, to follow Cherry Brook north before returning to walk over a bedrock outcrop.
After parking in the College Pond (now Burchard Park) parking lot, walk over to the tennis courts. Inset into a boulder in front of the courts is a plaque which reads:
Harold G. "Red"
Sept. 25, 1984
For many years, Red Travis edited The Weston Historical Society Bulletin.
Pass through the gate to the right of the tennis courts and walk along the road. Just beyond the tennis courts, on the left, there is a second commemorative boulder which reads:
In Memory of
Mr. Frank Gustic, Sr.
Dedicated May 5, 1984
Mr. Gustic was Commissioner of the Men's Softball League. He and his sons served in this capacity for about 30 years.
On the hill to your left is the main building of the Campion Center. Closer are a baseball field and soccer fields.
The road soon enters a woodland and comes to a road junction. At the junction, bear to the right. The road is now part of an embankment which separates College Pond on the right from the wetland to the left. On reaching the spillway, look over the pond. In spring and fall, ducks are often found feeding on the pond. In summer, the pond is overgrown with water chestnut, a very invasive alien. In August, the shrub growing along the shore is buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). The round, ball-like structures are flower heads formed from small white, tubular flowers about 0.3 inch long with a long, protruding style which give the flower clusters a fuzzy appearance. Its spherical seedheads form in late summer. Also, in late summer, there are sweet-scented water lily (Nymphaea odorata) growing in the pond and pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) with a spike of small purple flowers above its heart-shaped leaves growing near to the shore.
Continue along the road for about 80 feet before turning to the right and following a path along the shore of the pond. These woods are largely of mixed pines. Look carefully near the base of the trunks of the pine trees and along the ground where their roots might be found. You should see some clusters of stems rising about a foot above the ground with flowers at their tips. Most of the year, these stems and flowers are black; but, in moister times from July to October, they may appear to be tawny yellow to red in color. These plants are pinesap or false beechdrops (Monotropa hypopithys) and are related to indian pipe. These plants are members of the wintergreen family which during their evolution lost the ability to produce chlorophyll, the green pigment of plants. Authorities disagree whether these plants are parasites or saprophytes. However, there is little doubt that they tap the roots of other plants and steal the nutrients that are needed for their survival. Having no need to produce their own food via photosynthesis they have lost chlorophyll and their leaves have atrophied to tiny bracts which can be seen along the stem. Before fertilization, their flowers hang their heads down. Once fertilized, the flowers point upwards. Their seed is scattered when an animal brushes the plants knocking out the seed.
On the drier hillside to the left, the ground cover is mostly Canada mayflower or wild lily-of-the-valley (Maianthemum canadense). Along the pond shore are patches of marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris).
The path rises and bears left as it enters into a stand of oaks. Near the high point, go left on a path which leads away from the pond and into the orchard. This orchard is maintained for the Conservation Commission by Land's Sake. The path continues along Concord Road with the orchard on the left. At an iron pipe gate to Concord Road, turn left and follow along a buckthorn hedge. Turn right into the pine wood when you see a pine bearing an F & T arrow. This path soon ends on an old farm road. Turn left and follow the farm road.
Just as an open meadow appears on the right, you will notice, on the left, the stonework wall of the stock pens which were just south of the Merriam barn. As you continue along the road, you may notice the former stone foundation walls of a house. When you reach the iron pipe gate on the road leading into the brush dump and compost area, turn left along the dump road which also follows the route of an old farm road. In about 100 feet, you will be at the foot of the stone ramp supported by buttresses that led to the third story of the barn. This ramp was used by hay wagons to bring hay to the loft. Parallel and adjacent to this ramp is a second ramp without buttresses which led to the second story. Behind it you can see more stone work remains of the ground floor.
Continue straight along the road. When you reach the attendant's shelter, continue down the left side of the grassy slope toward College Pond. At the bottom of the slope, head back to the right toward the dam watching to the right for an F & T arrow. It is about 75 feet beyond the foot of the slope on a pine tree and a short distance before the spillway. Turn in on this path which follows Cherry Brook as it flows to the north.
This path is bordered on the left by cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) in the wetland and by evergreen, leatherleaf, or marginal woodfern (Dryopteris marginalis) on the drier and higher slope. It is useful to recognize cinnamon fern as its preferred habitat is damp and waterlogged locations. Avoid walking where this fern grows to keep your feet dry. The path passes through a stone wall into a wet spot and through another stone wall onto a drier area before coming to a road. Note the changes in vegetation as you move between dry and wet areas.
Bear to your left onto the road avoiding the road leading to the right and Merriam Street. Also, on your right, there is a pond. If you pass quietly, you may find either a great blue heron or green-backed heron feeding on frogs from this pond. In late April, this pond is a good site for finding pollywogs.
The road passes over the outlet from the pond and then comes to a junction. The path to the right goes to Merriam Street; take the path to the left. The path soon broadens and is bordered on the left by a line of very large white pines. The white birches at some distance beyond these pines are on the bank of Cherry Brook. Just beyond these pines, the path passes through a stone wall. There is an old dump along this wall — beware of broken glass. The path continues for about 300 feet before ending on a road. Turn to the left and walk about 30 feet along the road before turning to your right on a path leading into the pines. This path soon reaches a hemlock grove along an intermittent water course. Note that you pass through some cinnamon ferns just as you reach the hemlocks. As noted above, the change in vegetation warns you that this is a moister area with richer soil. The hemlocks form a dense canopy above you. One result of this dense canopy is that a hemlock grove is noticeably cooler than the surrounding woods and lacks the understory vegetation found in the surrounding woods.
The path rises out of the hemlock grove into a pine woods. Note how much more light reaches the forest floor. A result of the additional light is that the principal understory plant in this region is young white pine trees. If you look at the white pines, you will note that there is a ring of several branches, usually five, around the trunk, then a space, then another ring, and so-on almost to the top of the tree. Each ring of branches marks the end of a year's growth. Thus, one can tell the age of a white pine by counting the number of rings of branches. When white pines grow under ideal conditions, the space between the rings of branches is about 18 inches. Thus, if you count the rings of branches and make an estimate for the lower part of the trunk where the branches have been lost, your count times 18 inches gives you a good estimate of the height of the white pine. The number of rings of branches plus the estimate for the lower part of the trunk equals the age of the white pine. Many of the smaller white pines along the path do not show 18" of growth between branch rings showing the effect of competition with the larger pines for light and minerals.
Our path loops back to the right to the road through the pine plantation. Keep bearing right at junctions. There are two paths leaving to the left which you should avoid. Note the Bracken Fern along the path which indicates that this plantation is a dry woodland. You will reach a junction. Take the right-hand branch and you will reach the road in about 50 feet. Continue along the road passing the entrance to the paths just traveled and crossing Cherry Brook on a bridge. Beyond the bridge, keep right at the next two junctions. You will be passing through the site of a former piggery. Before 1965, Weston was the site of many piggeries. As these pigs were fed garbage from Waltham and Weston, the piggeries gave the town a distinctive bouquet in summer.
Soon the path reaches a fire road. Keep to your right, walking along the road, and avoiding a right turn just before reaching a field. Upon reaching the field, follow the path going straight ahead, cross a road which goes to the Campion Center sewerage beds, and head for a red oak at the end of a white pine hedge row. Pass by the oak heading for the vegetated edge where the path enters a woods. After entering the woods, go about 60 feet and take the first left. The path rises to the top of a bedrock outcrop. Avoid the path descending into an open field on your right by keeping to your left. This trail meanders to the edge of a soccer field. Keeping in the woods, turn left and walk about 70 feet before going right on a path. This path meets the road from the tennis courts. Turn to your right and return to our starting place.