The School Building Committee for Wakefield High School has announced that they are siting the new high school in the middle of Lake Quannapowitt. The committee spokesperson said that they have every right to do so because the public voted for a new school. He went on to say that this siting information was available to everyone who attended the committee meetings. A resident who lives beside the lake said that, while she supported a new school, she assumed it would be built in the same location as the existing school. When asked why the public was not better informed about this siting decision, the committee spokesperson said, “We complied fully with the public process and the decision will not be revisited.” When asked about the millions of additional dollars that it will cost to prepare the site, which entails filling the lake with soil and creating a new channel to the Saugus River, he declined to comment.
Fortunately, this is not true. However, imagine the outrage if it was!! Lake Quannapowitt is considered our town’s most valuable natural resource. We value it as a beautiful backdrop to our town, a place to walk, run, kayak, sail, or just take a break from a busy day. The lake defines our town and we have spent millions of dollars over the years to protect its shores and water quality. To fill it would be unthinkable, a loss that could never be undone, a permanent change in the character of our town.
But do you know that we have another natural resource of equal or greater value than our lake? You may not be as familiar with this resource because it is less visible than our lake. This area includes 30 acres of forest located on the hill to the right of the entrance to the Metro Tech and Breakheart Reservation. This forest earned the highly prized state designation as “forest core habitat,” a designation reserved for the most intact forests least impacted by development and essential for animals and plants dependent on remote habitat. (For information on Core Habitats, see MassGIS Data: BioMap.)
This 30-acre hilltop forest is part of 60 acres of Breakheart that was transferred in 1965 from the state to the Metro Tech. As a school district, this land is public and not private as Metro Tech Superintendent-Director David DiBarri continuously states. Only individuals and corporations can own private land. Metro Tech cannot build on this land without public consent because taxpayers are paying 100% of the bill. If it were private, as with other private properties, the owners would foot the bill.
The Metro Tech is located on the lower 30 acres of this transferred land. Many don’t know that their vote in January 2022 for a new Metro Tech was also a stealth vote to destroy the hilltop forest even though an excellent alternative site (C-2) is available on the existing developed land. In fact, on their website, the Metro Tech Building Committee stated that “If approved, the new school will be located on the same site as the existing school”(archived website available upon request).
While Lake Quannapowitt is a prized community asset, its water and sediments are polluted by nutrients, salt and other contaminants that flow into stormwater drains. There are few wetlands near the lake to filter out pollutants. The lake is not a habitat for endangered species and does not capture carbon from the atmosphere. While the lake helps to control flooding, it does not slow stormwater runoff or use its water to nourish a high-quality ecosystem. Yet, we rightly value the lake and are willing to expend hard-earned money to protect and enhance it.
The Metro Tech Forest (as we’ll call it although it’s public land) may not be as visible, but it serves our environment well. This hilltop forest is home to a vast array of species, including endangered insects, plants, and birds. It is home to macroinvertebrates, salamanders, and other animals that live in healthy wetlands and vernal pools. Many of its trees are mature oaks, keystone trees that provide food and shelter for hundreds of wildlife species. The forest prevents erosion and absorbs rainwater, which filters through the soil to provide purified water to wetlands and vernal pools and to streams that replenish larger streams, including the Saugus River. The forest provides air-quality benefits by absorbing air pollutants and its trails provide much needed relief from our busy daily lives.
This forest also plays an important role in mitigating the effects of climate change by storing carbon as biomass and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. According to a UMass report, current forests about 100 years old store 60 to 80 metric tons of carbon per acre. As forests age, they store more carbon, up to 100 to 120 metric tons per acre (Catanzaro and D’Amato, 2019, “Forest Carbon: An Essential Nature Solution for Climate Change,” UMass Amherst).
So breathe a sigh of relief that Lake Quannapowitt will not be filled in for the new Wakefield High School, but consider what you can do to stop the needless destruction of our only forest core habitat and Wakefield’s only other natural gem. For more information, go to NEMTforest.org or “Save the Forest and Build the Voke” on Facebook.
Alison Simcox, PhD