Conservancy, volunteers spend Earth Day creating pollinators’ paradise

Under an overcast sky Saturday, April 29, over 100 volunteers contributed to the Marblehead Conservancy’s ongoing effort to transform the Lead Mills Conservation Area into a vibrant wildflower meadow.

To that end, families, trail volunteers, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts partook in a variety of activities for three hours across the 4.5 acres of open space.

Julianna de Blij Marcy, far left, Kathy Breslin, Marisa Gwazda, and her daughter, Hazel, partake in Marblehead Conservancy’s Earth Day service event at Lead Mills on April 29. CURRENT PHOTO / WILLIAM J. DOWD

“We have piles of wood chips that were laid along the paths to make it easier to walk on,” said Maureen Ashley, who organized the day of service. “We’re doing some beach cleanup. We’ve got some strong Boy Scouts cutting up some tree limbs that we had to take down.”

She added, “We have some 250 flower plugs that we’re planting on the top of a hill.”

At the top of that hill, Nina Robertson oversaw the work of a dozen fastidious workers, who punctured evenly spaced holes for planting flower plugs. They packed soil and wood chips around each.

“We’ve chosen five flowers: world milkweed, New England aster, mountain mint, golden Alexander and goldenrod,” Robertson explained. “We’ve always selected flowers native to this area.”

The efforts will create not only a sea of vibrant colors for people to enjoy but also an oasis of pollen and nectar for pollinators: milkweed for monarch butterflies, goldenrod for ladybugs and moths, golden Alexander for sweat bees.

Volunteers shovel wood chips to spread out on worn-out trails along the Lead Mills Conservation Area during the Marblehead Conservancy’s service event on April 29. CURRENT PHOTO / WILLIAM J. DOWD

The variety’s bloom schedule will sustain pollinators — beetles, birds, honey bees, bumblebees — throughout the growing season. For instance, the goldenrod blooms in late summer and early fall. Milkweed’s peak blooming period overlaps with summer months. Wild lupine blooms from May to June.

“There are a lot of pollinators that only pollinate with a few different kinds of plants,” Morgan said. “And most of them are being endangered because we’re planting foreign plants in our yards.”

So, the Marblehead Conservancy’s efforts are restorative, too, cultivating native habitats and mitigating biodiversity loss from humans.

Volunteers build out trails with wood chips along the Lead Mills Conservation Area property on April 29. CURRENT PHOTO / WILLIAM J. DOWD

Bob French was heartened to see an uptick in younger families and people getting involved in the work.

“It builds ownership and awareness,” said French. “We’re trying to build ownership of our natural open spaces.”

Although Marblehead is a mere 4.5 square miles, the town boasts five miles of woodlands, wetlands, wild meadows and tidal estuaries, French noted.

“We want people to know that the town has all these conservation lands, many within walking distance of their homes,” he said. “To know them is to build ownership.”

The Lead Mills property sits on the Salem-Marblehead line. The two communities acquired the open space in the 2010s for conservation and recreation. Today, it abuts and links a rail trail, Forest River and Wyman Woods.

According to 2014 plans for the site, the property was once a hub of local industry, as a grist mill in 1734 and a lead manufacturing plant in 1831. The lead mills produced 6,000 tons of white lead per year, which was used for everything from paint pigments to Civil War bullets.

A 1968 fire razed the structures on the property to the ground, and the site lay dormant for decades.

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