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DCR answers questions about Fells plan

Posted by Matt Byrne  October 12, 2011 11:00 AM

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The Department of Conservation and Recreation released answers some frequently asked questions about the wide-ranging resource management plan it released last month for the Middlesex Fells Reservation.

The plan, the result of months of study and consideration by the DCR, makes recommendations for how people should best use the 2,575-acre space, and recommends some key rule changes.

Why does the RMP recommend closing 22 miles of trails at the Fells?

There are over 100 miles of trails at the DCR Middlesex Fells Reservation, including 22 miles of unauthorized, illegal, user-created trails. Many of these trails impact sensitive natural and cultural resources, and cause confusion for users of the Fells. The RMP, therefore, recommends many trail closures.  However, the RMP does not necessarily recommend closing all of these trails.  The current draft plan recommends closing approximately nine (9) miles of redundant, poor condition, and user-created trails that impact resources and lead people on to “posted” water supply lands.  Eventually, more trails may be closed, rerouted or restored.

Does the RMP recommend expanding recreation or development at the DCR Middlesex Fells?

No, the majority of the RMP’s recommendations actually seek to curb existing levels of recreation at the Fells, enforce rules, and better protect natural and cultural resources. Six (6) recommendations in Section 5 of the RMP specifically discuss reducing recreational access and closing trails. Eleven (11) recommendations discuss expanded enforcement of rules and regulations.  Ten (10) recommendations propose measures to better protect natural and cultural resources.  And nine (9) recommendations propose repairing degraded existing infrastructure.  Only six (6) recommendations propose some limited and specific changes to existing pedestrian, mountain biking and off-leash dog recreation at the Fells that might be characterized as expansions.

Does the RMP recommend allowing dogs off-leash on trails in the Fells?

No, the draft RMP confirms the establishment of a designated off-leash area at the Sheepfold only.  The draft RMP does not recommend any other off-leash opportunities at this time.

Does the RMP recommend any provisions for increased enforcement, fines or management presence in the Middlesex Fells?

Yes, the RMP includes ten (10) recommendations to increase staffing capacity and management presence and eleven (11) recommendations to increase enforcement at the Fells.  These include increased rangers and active enforcement, enhanced coordination with the State Police, and provisions to issue citations and fines for persistent and flagrant rule violations.

Does the RMP include any provisions for wheelchair accessible trails or fishing areas?

The RMP recommends developing two new “all-persons” accessible trails, one from Flynn Rink to Spot Pond via Quarter Mile Pond and a second in the Western Fells.  The draft does not current include a recommendation for an accessible fishing platform.

Does the RMP recommend that most trails in the Fells will be open to mountain bike use and only two short trails will be pedestrian only?

No, there are over 100 miles of trails in the Fells.  Currently, approximately 35 are open to mountain biking, mostly on fire roads. The RMP recommends opening, at most, an additional 13 miles of trails to mountain biking over the next few years.  It also recommends closing trails to mountain biking in the Virginia Wood and Long Pond areas.  The RMP recommends maintaining over 50 miles of hiking-only trails at the Fells including all trails in the Long Pond and Virginia Wood areas, the Skyline Trail, Cross Fells Trail, Crystal Springs Trail and portions of the Rock Circuit Trail.

Why does the RMP still restricted mountain bike access compared to hiker access. What is the DCR basing this decision on?

The DCR recognizes that the potential for recreational conflict remains at the Fells, especially between some pedestrian and mountain biking users.  The recommendations of the RMP seek to address this potential conflict using Best Management Practices for managing recreational conflict.  These include providing adequate trail access for each use, but also separating uses and minimizing points of conflict.  DCR has attempted to balance these principles in making recommendations through this RMP.

What is the purpose of avoiding activities around, or a survey of, all “level, well-drained areas around ponds or wetlands?”

These areas have a potential high sensitivity for below-ground archaeological resources. DCR must take precautions to protect these potential irreplaceable resources, and may need to restrict any activity which disturbs soil in these areas, such as new trail construction or invasive plant removals.

Will changes be made to the draft plan before it is approved?

Yes, based on public comment, on-going staff review and any new information that may become available, changes will be made to the final RMP.  These changes will be described in a final appendix.  Then, the final RMP will be submitted to the DCR Stewardship Council for their review and approval.

Many interest groups are concerned about the future of the DCR Middlesex Fells. DCR appreciates the interest and advocacy of these groups.  But DCR also appreciates the comments of individual users and stakeholders who take the time to review the RMP and comments, which can be submitted here.

Comments may also be submitted via email to or, via snail mail to Fells RMP Comments, 136 Damon Rd., Northampton, MA 01060, until November 14, 2011.

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