Update on Breakneck Hill (vandalism has caused setbacks) and an invite to learn more about the Conservation Land on Saturday

Above: On Saturday, you can get a walk through of the important work being done at Breakneck Hill, including the pollinator garden and grassland habitats to protect bird nests. (images contributed by the Stewardship Committee)

Hike Southborough Day is coming up this Saturday, September 23rd. The Southborough Stewardship Committee is inviting the public to join them that afternoon at noon for a guided trail walk. Highlights will include the pollinator garden, grassland bird habitat, old quarries and scenic vistas. Interested participants are encouraged to bring binoculars to look for birds along the way.

Whether you plan to come out or not, this is a good time to get an update on the 90 acres of conservation land property. The Committee asked me to share their news. It’s mostly positive but it did contain some upseting information. According to the update:

vandalism and thefts of signage on the property have represented a setback for the Stewards, who designed and installed signs to educate the public about the fragile habitat and new trails. Many of those signs, which are Town property, have been damaged or stolen.

Anyone who has information on the that is encouraged to contact Southborough police. Despite that, the updated indicates the committee has accomplished a lot at Breakneck Hill.

Now, here is the full update on what the Stewardship has been up to at the Conservation Land parcel and what challenges it still faces:

(from Breakneck Hill Conservation Land Management Plan)The Southborough Stewardship Committee continues its work on the Breakneck Hill Conservation Land. With the help of volunteers, Stewardship is working to fulfill its mission to promote conservation as well as passive recreation. For those interested, the Management Plan is available on the Town’s website. (https://www.southboroughtown.com/southborough-stewardship-committee)

The conservation land is a popular spot for walkers, nature lovers, and dog owners, and also hosts Southborough’s community gardens every summer. Here are some highlights of projects the Stewards have undertaken at Breakneck Hill:

  • bunting (contributed photo)Improved Trails and Recreation Opportunities. The Stewardship Committee has expanded the trails and improved the parking area. Walkers may also have noticed rerouted trails recently. The Stewards shifted some trails in certain vulnerable areas to prevent further erosion. To preserve the conservation values of the property, walkers and dogs are restricted to the trails. However, when there is snow cover, snowshoers and cross-country skiers have access to the entire property.
  • bobolink (contributed photo)Established Grasslands. For over a decade the Stewards have been working to establish about 10 acres of the 90-acre property as dedicated habitat for grassland birds. In exchange for a federal grant to address what was called the worst infestation of oriental bittersweet in Metrowest, the Stewards agreed to manage a section for grassland birds. Grassland birds are in global decline due to loss of habitat. These birds nest on the ground, making them vulnerable to predators. Walkers may have noticed some new signs alerting them to the fragile habitat for these birds and the temporary closure of one trail that bisects the grasslands. This summer, visitors to Breakneck Hill reported seeing bobolinks and savannah sparrows, two grassland species!
  • (contributed photo)Pollinator Gardens. The trail from the parking lot takes walkers by two gardens featuring native plants that are important for pollinators. This time of year they are teeming with butterflies and bumblebees! In fact, the Breakneck Hill Conservation Land is considered a Monarch Butterfly Weigh Station by the local chapter of the Xerces Society, which promotes invertebrate conservation. Native pollinators such as bumblebees, butterflies, wasps, and flies pollinate 80 percent of all flowering plants. Anyone can learn about native wildflowers and pollinators by volunteering to help out at the pollinator gardens. Contact the stewards for more information (https://www.southboroughtown.com/southborough-stewardship-committee).
  • bumblebee project (contributed photo)Bumblebee Survey. The Stewards have been working with Dr. Robert Gegear of Worcester Polytechnic Institute since 2015, supporting his important research on bumblebee populations. His cadre of trained volunteers and graduate students haven been surveying the property to identify bumblebee species and their preferred sources of pollen. This effort has already led to changes in the Massachusetts Wildlife Management Plan because it identified bumblebees thought to be extirpated from Massachusetts. Contact the Stewards if you want to be involved.

The Stewards still face challenges. For example, the parking lot can become muddy in the spring and invasive plants—especially multiflora roses, bittersweet, and spotted knapweed—require multiple strategies (vigilance, mowing, targeted herbicide application by licensed professionals, promoting native plants) to battle. Also, recent vandalism and thefts of signage on the property have represented a setback for the Stewards, who designed and installed signs to educate the public about the fragile habitat and new trails. Many of those signs, which are Town property, have been damaged or stolen. The Stewards encourage anyone with information about that to call the Southborough police.

Despite the challenges and setbacks, the Stewards are optimistic about fulfilling their mission to promote conservation and recreation at Breakneck Hill. With the recent support of the Community Preservation Act, Eagle Scout projects, and the ongoing support of the Conservation Commission, they will continue to work toward making Breakneck Hill a favorite destination in Southborough.

The Southborough Stewardship Committee will lead a hike at Breakneck Hill Conservation Land on September 23rd at noon. Meet at the trailhead parking lot. If that lot is full, park at Community Gardens and walk over. The trail walk will include a stop at the pollinator gardens with a short talk by native plant expert and author Ellen Souza. The walk will continue on and include highlights of the 90 acre property, including grassland bird habitat, old quarries, and scenic vistas.

Participants may wish to bring binoculars as we will look for birds as we go. We will have a shorter, easier walk for families with young children or strollers.

For a reminder of other hikes taking place on Hike Southborough Day, click here.

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