Community service and civic engagement by town youth

Salamanders, signs, sidewalks, and benches — recognizing recent efforts by town scouts and students

Above: Southborough scouts and students involved in projects and advocacy efforts.

I’m rounding up a few news items relate to young Southborough residents’ civic and community service. I received requests to share news about two recent scout project in town. I was also inspired to share news about students who took part in recent public meetings.

Town Forest Signs by Troop 92

The Town Stewardship Committee asked me to share their public thanks to Southborough Boy Scout Troop 92 for a community service project they recently completed. 

Troop 92 installing map board (contributed) Troop 92 installing map board (contributed) finished map board at Town Forest (contributed) Troop 92 at newly installed interpretive sign (contributed)

The Troop installed signs on the conservation land at the Town Forest. They included two large map boards to help visitors to the conservation land trails find their way on the trails.

[Editor’s Note: Reminder, you can sign up for a guided walks on those trails this Saturday. Click here for the details.]

Additional “interpretive signs” educate forest visitors about two species living in the habitat wood frogs and spotted salamanders.

Speaking of salamanders. . .

Students advocate for spotted salamanders

A few weeks ago, Southborough 4th grader Semona Peet asked the Select Board to support efforts to have the Blue-Spotted Salamander designated the official state amphibian.

Peet (with April Gibson), initially pursued getting a state bill passed as part of their Woodward 3rd grade advocacy project. They convinced State Senator Eldridge and then-Representative Carolyn Dykema to co-sponsor a bill and Peet testified in front of the State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee. Unfortunately, the bill was sent to study and never voted on in the 2022 session.

A new bill was filed this year, H.3096, which Representative Kate Donaghue signed onto and Peet says is also co-sponsored by Eldridge.

A few weeks ago, Peet asked the Select Board to issue a letter of support. Select Board member Lisa Braccio* introduced Peet, explaining the “little known event” called “First Night” they both take part in. [Note: Peet’s mother reached out to me to correct that it is called “Big Night” and share an article with more details here.] During one of the first warm rains of spring, a group of residents protect salamanders and frogs crossing the street. Peet described her enthusiasm as stemming from the tradition of putting on raincoats, grabbing flashlights, and searching for salamanders to guard from cars so they can get to the vernal pool where they lay their eggs. She clarified that the crossing can be multiple nights.

Chair Kathy Cook promised to hand their letter directly to Eldridge and Donaghue when they visit the board this June. Vice Chair Chelsea Malinowski* told Peet that she has been learning a valuable lesson about government and how long it can take to make things happen — that you have to be patient and persevere.

Semona Peet and April Gibson present their Salamander advocacy project to the School Committee in May 2022 (from Select Board packet) Peet at the April 25th Select Board Meeting (from YouTube) Blue-Spotted Salamander sign at Select Board meeting (from YouTube)

You can read more about the girls’ efforts here

Readers interested in learning more about spotted salamanders may also want to check out Southborough Open Land Foundation’s guest post from March about the “voracious predator and gifted swimmer” whose habitat in town includes Beals Preserve. 

And speaking of the preserve. . .

Eagle Scout Project at Beals Preserve

The next time you head out to hike on The Elaine and Philip Beals Preserve, there are two spots where you can now relax and enjoy the views courtesy of an Eagle Scout project completed by Cass Melo** of Troop 823 (the Boroughs BSA troop for girls).

SOLF asked me to share the news and their thanks for the “gorgeous oak benches”:

One is placed at the top of the Upper Pasture overlooking one of the town’s best views and the other in the former “riding ring” which is now a soft, quiet pine forest. Both benches provide a place to sit and rest in beautiful settings. She worked with SOLF Trustees to coordinate the various logistics. Many Many thanks to Cassie from SOLF and all the people who will enjoy your Eagle Scout Project!

Beals Preserve Map with parking(I’ve included a map of the preserve right which identifies where to find the Upper Pasture and Riding Ring.)

Thanks to embedded plaques, the benches also serve as a thank you to SOLF for over 35 years of dedication to the protection of local wildlife and to all of the town scouts that support SOLF and local wildlife.

Cass Melo and SOLF President Whitney Beal relax on the new bench at Beals (from Facebook) Checking out the view from the Upper Meadow bench (from Facebook) Delivering bench to the Riding Ring (from Facebook) Benches thank SOLF and scouts (from Facebook)

[Editor’s Note: For those interested in SOLF, reminder that the public is welcome to attend their annual meeting tonight.]

And speaking of volunteer projects on SOLF land. . . 

Clark Grove Cleanup

While on SOLF’s Facebook page, I found their thanks to young Girl Scouts who helped out at a much smaller parcel this winter:

Daisy Scout troop #64042 did some trail work at SOLF’s little “Clark Grove” property on Highland St. They even cleaned our sign! We love that we’ve been able to create a small trail for a neighborhood to enjoy. Thank you troop 64042 and leader Phaea Crede!

Daisy Troop #64042 cleanup of Clark Grove (from Facebook) Daisy Troop #64042 cleanup of Clark Grove (from Facebook) Clark Grove trail after cleanup (from Facebook)

You can find more info on the Clark Grove trail here.

And speaking of efforts to improve walkable spaces. . .

Trottier 8th Grade Civics Action Projects

As part of Trottier Middle School’s curriculum, 8th graders are required to take on a Civics Action project. One example of that this year is students that are trying to help get more sidewalks installed in town.

Students identified their issue as working “to make a change in the sidewalks/bike lanes/road safety” in town. (Among the topics they considered, it was the one prioritized by their class in ranked choice voting.) 

They conducted a survey and found that while 23.2% of the 271 respondents answered that the Town has enough sidewalks, 41.3% disagreed. (22.9% were unsure and the remainder had specific responses.) There was an even stronger call for bike lanes. Only 7% of respondents said the Town has enough while 63% responded no.

But when they asked, “Do you think that Southborough would most benefit from more sidewalks, or adding bike lanes?” 57.2% answered sidewalks vs 42.9% for bike lanes. They then researched what areas of town people wanted more sidewalks in and shared those results with CIPC. (Interestingly, the highest response was for “around Route 9”.) They did additional research including finding out from the police department where more accidents occur.

Select Board member Chelsea Malinowski* worked with some of the students, who ran ideas past her and got feedback about the process. Three students (Aleena Garge, Caity O’Hearn, and Wyatt Smith) representing two groups of students presented their findings at the Capital Improvement and Planning Committee’s April 24th meeting.

CIPC was charged this spring with coming up a recommended priority list for which new sidewalks the Town should install. (The Select Board has allocated $704,000 in ARPA funds for the purpose, but instructed the CIPC not to limit its list to use of that amount.) The committee welcomed the student engagement.

8th graders at CIPC meeting (from YouTube)Answering questions about the survey demographics, they acknowledged that 96% of responses were from ages 16 and under (most of whom would have been Trottier students) and only about 3.5% from ages 40+. Katie noted that the young skewing demographics could be seen as a benefit since most surveys completed in town are mostly by adults. She thought it was good to give younger people a say.

During the discussion, all acknowledged the challenge that is posed by narrow tree lined streets and the need to balance preserving trees with adding sidewalks for improved walkability.

The students’ plan is to continue to follow the CIPC’s work this spring and prepare a recommendation to share before the end of the school year.

*Braccio and Malinowski were still Select Board members at that meeting in April, though their terms ended with yesterday’s election.

**The last name isn’t a coincidence — I am Cass’ mother.

Updated (5/11/23 9:03 am): According to Jenny Peet (Semona’s mother), the annual amphibian migration/road crossing is called “Big Night”. You can find more details here in a 2021 article by Lincoln’s Conservation Director.

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