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Friends Having Breakfast

Boston's Emerald Necklace | A Day Away

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

By 4Squares Residential Group in Partnership with Judi 411

Nature's Rich (Urban) Pageant

Pre-COVID, Boston in April centered around significant events and celebrations - the Boston Marathon, Patriots Day reenactments of the beginning days of the Revolutionary War, the start of Red Sox season, and the first signs of Real Spring: tree blossoms and perennials peeking out from the soil. While some of these events have taken different shape due to the pandemic, there's one aspect of Boston history hasn't changed: The Emerald Necklace, also known as "Boston's Best Kept Secret."

Maybe you caught the Lights in the Necklace this winter and enjoyed the views of the lit-up bridges from Back Bay Fens to Franklin Park from the comfort of your car, but now it's time to step outside and enjoy the beauty of Boston in the springtime.

What is the Emerald Necklace?

The Emerald Necklace is the landscape masterpiece of Frederick Law Olmsted, who coined the term "landscape architecture" and created the country's first park systems and greenways. His legacy lives on in the design of nearly 5,000 projects in 45 states, including Central Park in New York City and the U.S. Capitol grounds, and the West Front terrace, among others. Olmsted saw parks as the "self-preserving instinct of civilization" and believed that parks offer a level playing ground for people of all backgrounds and economic means.

While most folks are familiar with the trio of parks at the beginning of the Necklace -- Boston Common, the Public Garden, and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall -- the lesser-traveled places are where the hidden gems lie! Back Bay Fens, The Riverway, Olmsted Park, Jamaica Pond, and the Arnold Arboretum offer a spectacular combination of natural and man-made wonders for an afternoon out in the sunshine.

Some of the parks are MBTA accessible, but COVID-style traffic means a better chance at parking nearby. Also be sure to check out the social distancing guidelines for optimal enjoyment.

Back Bay Fens

A hop, skip, and a jump from the Museum of Fine Arts, the Back Bay Fens is an eclectic mix of formal and community gardens, ball fields, memorials, and historic structures. Birdwatchers will enjoy sighting Red-Tailed Hawks, Cedar Waxwings, and Indigo Buntings, among other creatures along the marsh.

4Squares Must-See: The Kelleher Rose Garden boasts 200 varieties of roses and almost 1500 plants total, making it a year-round oasis. Plan another visit in June or September, when the roses are fullest in bloom.

The Riverway

A few blocks from the Longwood Medical Area stands The Riverway, which serves as a border between Boston and Brookline. Stroll along the meandering course of the Muddy River while singing "Love that dirty water" and marvel at how the most "designed" portion of the Necklace looks so natural, despite being man-made.

4Squares Must-See: Some of the most beautiful bridges span The Riverway, and many were designed by the firm of H.H. Richardson, the same architect responsible for Trinity Church in Copley Square. But our Riverway Must-See is the historic Bridle Path, once used regularly by equestrians. Time your visit right and you may be lucky enough to see a member of the Boston Park Rangers Mounted Unit patrolling on horseback!

Olmsted Park

Featuring hiking, walking, biking trails for all ages, Olmsted Park was designed as "a chain of picturesque fresh-water ponds, alternating with attractive natural groves and meads." Waterfowl flock to Wards, Willow Spring, and Leverett Ponds while people are drawn to the athletic fields and the wildflower meadow. Don't miss the three islands on Leverett Pond that Olmsted designed to provide shelter and seclusion for nesting birds, including Great Blue Herons.

4Squares Fingers Crossed: We're hoping that the Summer on the Emerald Necklace concerts at Allerton Overlook will return this summer. In the meantime, we encourage readers to subscribe to the Emerald Necklace Conservancy's email newsletter for up-to-date developments and future events.

Jamaica Pond

The budding geologist in your family will find Jamaica Pond fascinating as a local example of a "glacial kettle hole" that's now stocked with trout raised in state hatcheries. Visitors can fish by permit, and swimming is prohibited, but the 1.5-mile path around the pond is perfect for tuckering out Fido. Fields to the north are the ideal place to picnic or play a little Wiffle ball with your family.

4Squares Must-Do: Have an aspiring sailor in the family? Let them learn to sail thanks to the Courageous Sailing program! Housed in the Boat House at Jamaica Pond, Courageous Sailing offers sailing lessons and rentals on their 17ft Cape Cod Daysailors, as well as rowboat and kayak rentals. For news, updates, and COVID-19 precautions, follow Jamaica Pond on Facebook.

Arnold Arboretum

The Arnold Arboretum's tag line is "Open every day. Free every day." So why wait another minute to visit? As North America's first public arboretum and a National Historic Landmark, it is owned by the City of Boston and managed by Harvard University under a 1,000-year lease signed in 1882. Today, the Arboretum is both a beautiful, 281-acre landscape of mature plants and a site for vital scientific research, much of which is done on-site at the research center at Weld Hill.

4Squares Must-Do: Venture up to the top of Peters Hill, the highest point in the Emerald Necklace, and take in the most magnificent view of the Boston skyline. You won't be disappointed!

Franklin Park

Depending on which way you're traveling, Franklin Park can be considered the first stop or last stop on the Emerald Necklace. Regardless, its rural scenery, rock formations, and woodland preserves will make you forget you're in the city. Named for Benjamin Franklin, the park brings together rural scenery, spectacular rock outcroppings, a woodland preserve, expansive pastoral vistas, and areas for active recreation and sports, including fifteen miles of both pedestrian and bridle paths.

4Squares Fun Facts: Olmsted designed Franklin Park as a "country park." At 527 acres, it's the largest park in both the Emerald Necklace and in Boston.

4Squares Must-Do: You know what we're going to say: visit the Franklin Park Zoo! But what you don't know is that you can see the FPZ from your couch, cocktail in hand!

Yes! Cocktails for Conversation, a virtual happy hour series where participants hear from Zoo experts about caring for animals, saving species from extinction, and inspiring action on behalf of wildlife and wild places. Plan a virtual meet-up with friends, and feel good about proceeds supporting Zoo New England's Franklin Park Zoo and Stone Zoo.

Now that we're beginning to emerge, what are some of Boston sights and sites you're looking forward to visiting? Are there areas you'd like to see featured on "A Day Away in MA"? Keeping current on ways to cope in quarantine is one way 4 Squares helps residents love the way they live in Medford and beyond! Reach out and share your ideas!

Photo credits: Red Panda, Franklin Park Zoo; Leverett Pond; Olmstead Park; Kelleher Rose Garden. Arnold Arboretum. Turtle, Franklin Park Zoo.

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