Friday, December 12, 2003
Changes coming to Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
With a cup of coffee in hand, I found a seat in the Clark Room at Town Hall early Tuesday morning in time to attend the monthly Carlisle Conservation Commission Coffee. I had come to hear Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex Manager Elizabeth "Libby" Herland explain the proposed management plan for the Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge as it pertains to Carlisle.
The new management plan, which has been in the works since 1999, was completed in 2003 and released in July for public review. During the 45-day comment period leading up to Labor Day, Herland reported that 700 people from this area took the time to write comments or voice their opinions at one of four public meetings sponsored by the US Fish and Wildlife service. Decisions will not be made until a final draft plan goes to Washington and is returned. Herland wants a final document for the public by the summer.
Herland was in Carlisle on Tuesday to explain aspects of the plan, why they were proposed, how they could be instituted, and at the same time how some of the carefully thought-out ideas that had come from the public might be incorporated into the final plan.
In a relaxed, confident manner, Herland spoke clearly and honestly to her audience, explaining the proposed changes to the refuge including access for hunting (mandated by federal law but clearly unpopular in Carlisle), no dog walking (another controversial proposal with no definite decision), no picnicking, and the possibility of charging fees (overwhelmingly opposed except fees for hunters). Herland made it clear that national wildlife refuges are public lands where wildlife comes first and where her responsibility is to provide optimum habitats for native, threatened and endangered plants and animals. While the refuge provides open space, it is not a park, she explained.
Throughout the two-hour session on Tuesday there were questions from the audience concerning control of invasive plants and problems with some animals (Canada geese, deer, coyotes, and beavers). Concern was also voiced on how hunters would access the refuge (directly, not via conservation land, with parking on the O'Rourke Land), where they could hunt (at least 500 feet from any house), when (a very short open season), and weapons permitted (deer hunting by bow and arrow, wildfowl hunting by shotgun). If townspeople are truly opposed to hunting on the refuge, I might suggest contacting your representatives in Congress.
It was reassuring to learn that Manager Herland was aware of the concerns of townspeople regarding the refuge. At the same time it was obvious she had taken into consideration some of the better ideas she had received from the public and was finding ways of incorporating them into the plan.
Yes, changes are coming to the Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge, but we can be assured that the final plan will have been well thought-out with every effort to include concerns of everyone who uses the refuge.
As described in my last Forum essay, we undertook a house (and car) exchange with a German family for one month this past summer.
Some of the benefits of a house exchange are obvious: no expenses for hotels or car rental; cheap eating; separate bedrooms (complete with toys) for each of the children; and experiencing ordinary life abroad through grocery shopping, recycling, meeting neighbors, etc. Unexpected benefits included access to satellite TV and radio with a multitude of channels in various European languages. The neighborhood was extremely quiet, and both a playground and a small grocery store were within walking distance
We really liked riding the great network of countryside bike paths, using their excellent bicycles with ergonomic touring handles, easy-switching gears and kids' bikes with both gears and coaster brakes. Our children especially enjoyed the large and clean public pool, with an enormous, curving water slide, at a cost of only $2 each.
Our kids were able to meet German children and practice speaking German. At my request, our exchange family had arranged for our five-year-old daughter to attend their local public preschool for two weeks, at a cost of about $25. They also signed up our seven-year-old son for a few one-time local recreation programs, all free.
We took great advantage of their car, making side trips into Switzerland, Austria, France, and then through much of Germany. Higher (or no) speed limits and close borders made everything seem within our reach.
Many of the drawbacks of our house-exchange arrangement reflected our somewhat spoiled American nature and unfair comparisons to Carlisle. The Internet connection was only dial-up, and there was only a single phone line. In fact, just one telephone (non-cordless) served the entire house. Neither a microwave oven nor clothes dryer were available. (Fortunately the unusually hot and dry summer enabled quick line drying.) Closely spaced neighboring houses on all four sides made us uncomfortable, and we dared not eat out on the patio with our noisy children. Although their car was as old as ours, its air conditioning and tape player didn't work.
The exchange itself was not without some problems. At our Carlisle house, our exchange guests had a plumber make expensive repairs that my husband claims he could have done himself. Our garbage disposal no longer works, and the lawn was not regularly mowed. They claimed we put a scratch in their car and on their floor (which we deny), and broke an expensive toy model (for which we had to pay). Indeed, this particular family was rather difficult to deal with. However, we met two other potential exchange families during this trip, so the next time we will have the unusual advantage of knowing our partners in advance.
Sightseeing abroad is fun and educational. Living abroad, even for just a few weeks, is especially educational. We've learned how people in Europe of a similar socio-economic level can enjoy a standard of living very similar to ours, despite a lifestyle very different from ours. Neither is better, and to experience the other helps us appreciate and evaluate our own.
© 2003 The