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Metropolitan Park System of Greater Boston facts for kids

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Charles River Esplanade - IMG 3777
Pedestrian bridge, Charles River Esplanade, Boston, Massachusetts
Metropolitan Park System Boston
Metropolitan Park System map

The Metropolitan Park System of Greater Boston is a system of reservations, parks, parkways and roads under the control of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) in and around Boston that has been in existence for over a century. The title is used by the DCR to describe the areas collectively: "As a whole, the Metropolitan Park System is currently eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places", as outlined on the department's website. The DCR maintains a separate Urban Parks and Recreation division to oversee the system, one of five such divisions within the department—DCR's Bureau of State Parks and Recreation manages the remainder of Massachusetts state parks. Direct design and maintenance functions for the parkways and roads within the system are provided by the DCR Bureau of Engineering.

The park system consists of coastal reservations and beaches including Revere Beach, river reservations along the three major rivers in the area, such as the Charles River Reservation, and woodland reservations exemplified by Blue Hills Reservation south of the city. In addition, parks focusing on local history are located in Lynn and Roxbury. The DCR also manages a system of parkways which serve to connect the urban public to the open spaces; among these are busy streets such as Jamaicaway in Boston as well as secluded park roadways in uninhabited areas such as the Blue Hills Reservation Parkways.


The open spaces of Boston in 1892 and 1902 compared
The open spaces of Boston in 1892 and 1902 compared in an illustration from a biography of Charles Eliot

The improvement of areas of undeveloped land, detrimental development, and polluted land in and around Boston for a system of interconnected parks was first conceived and promoted by landscape architects Charles Eliot and Warren H. Manning, as well as Sylvester Baxter, a Boston newspaper writer and city planning enthusiast. Eliot and Manning had apprenticed with Frederick Law Olmsted and Eliot later assumed leadership of Olmsted's design firm in 1893, with Manning leaving the firm in 1896. Olmsted had been responsible for the development of Central Park in Manhattan and with Eliot had worked to create Boston's Emerald Necklace, a string of connected parks and waterways. Eliot and Manning were instrumental in the founding of The Trustees of Public Reservations (now The Trustees of Reservations) and the public Metropolitan Parks Commission in the 1890s and envisioned an expansion of the parks network to areas surrounding Boston.

The Metropolitan Park Commission was established in 1892 and appointed by the legislature. It consisted of Charles Francis Adams, Jr., Philip A. Chase and William B. de las Casas. The commission hired Baxter to serve as secretary and Eliot as landscape architect.

The first five areas acquired by the commission for the system in 1893 were the Beaver Brook, Blue Hills, Hemlock Gorge, Middlesex Fells and Stony Brook Reservations. By 1900, the system had expanded to include several constructed or planned parkways and added beach reservations at King's Beach in Lynn, Nantasket Beach in Hull, Quincy Shore, Revere Beach, and reservations along the Charles, Mystic and Neponset Rivers. Architect William D. Austin designed many buildings for the commission.

In 1919, the commission was renamed the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) after merging with the Metropolitan Water and Sewer Commission. Through the next 80 years the MDC became increasingly politicized and known as a haven for political patronage. Following a series of failures within the commission resulting in the pollution of Boston Harbor in the 1970s, the City of Quincy sued the MDC and the separate Boston Water and Sewer Commission in 1982, charging unchecked systemic pollution of the city’s waterfront. That suit was followed by one by the Conservation Law Foundation and finally by the United States Government, resulting in a landmark court-ordered cleanup of Boston Harbor. The lawsuits forced then Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis to propose separating the water and sewer treatment divisions from the MDC, resulting in the creation of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority in 1985. Charges of political corruption and patronage continued to follow the MDC, while the loss of revenue from removal of the payments brought in by water and sewer services created a need for increased funding from the state legislature. The situation resulted in calls for the dismantlement of the MDC, which was realized when the MDC was dissolved by legislation in 2003. The Metropolitan Park System and other operations of the MDC were merged with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management to form the current Department of Conservation and Recreation. In 2009, a study concerning the transfer of DCR managed roadways to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation was begun, following the transfer of all DCR non-pedestrian bridges as part of a major transportation reform law enacted that year.

Parks and reservations

The following table lists parks and reservations currently owned and maintained by the DCR Division of Urban Parks and Recreation, subdivided into sections based on environment as stated by the DCR, with year of formation, location within municipalities, site area and primary activities listed:

Metropolitan parks and reservations
Year formed
Area in
acres (hectares)
Belle Isle Marsh 1985 Boston 241 (98) Hiking, Scenery
Boston Harbor Islands 1970 Boston, Hingham, Quincy, Weymouth 404 (163) Boating, Camping, Fishing, History, Picnicking, Scenery, Swimming, Walking
Castle Island 1962 Boston 22 (8.9) Fishing, History, Picnicking, Scenery, Swimming, Walking
Dorchester Shores 1988 Boston 41.3 (16.7) Fishing, Picnicking, Swimming
Fort Revere Park 1988 Hull 8 (3.2) Events, History, Scenery
Lynn Shore 1896 Lynn 22 (8.9) Biking, Birding, Fishing, Playing Fields, Swimming
Nahant Beach ~1900 Nahant 66.5 (26.9) Boating, Fishing, Playing Fields, Swimming
Nantasket Beach 1899 Hull 26 (11) Biking, Swimming, Walking
Quincy Shore 1899 Quincy 86 (35) Biking, Fishing, Picnicking, Running, Swimming, Walking
Revere Beach 1896 Revere 84 (34) Fishing, Picnicking, Playground, Swimming
Rumney Marsh 1992 Saugus 600 (240) Birding, Fishing, Hiking, Kayaking
Webb Memorial State Park 1977 Weymouth 36 (15) Canoeing, Picnicking, Scenery, Walking
Weymouth Back River 1987 Hingham, Weymouth 35 (14) Birding, Fishing, Hiking, Soccer
Alewife Brook 1906 Arlington, Cambridge 120 (49) Birding, Hiking, Playing Fields, Running, Tennis
Charles River 1896 Boston, Cambridge, Dover, Needham, Newton, Watertown, Wellesley, Weston 870 (350) Athletic Fields, Boating, Canoeing, Concerts, Running, Sailing, Tennis, Walking
Chestnut Hill 2002 Boston 120 (49) Fishing, History, Swimming Pool, Skating, Walking
Cutler Park 1962 Dedham, Needham, Newton 700 (280) Hiking, Picnicking
Elm Bank 1995 Dover 182 (74) Birding, Fishing, Hiking, Kayaking, Museum
Hemlock Gorge 1895 Needham, Newton 23 (9.3) Hiking, Picnicking
Mystic River 1896 Arlington, Everett, Medford, Somerville 396 (160) Biking, Boating, Hiking, Rowing, Running, Sailing, Soccer, Swimming, Tennis
Neponset River 1896 Boston, Canton, Milton 750 (300) Birding, Boating, Fishing, Hiking, Kayaking
Pope John Paul II Park 2001 Boston 66 (27) Birding, Hiking, Kayaking, Running, Soccer
Squantum Point Park 2001 Quincy 25 (10) Birding, Canoeing, Inline Skating, Running, Scenery
Beaver Brook 1893 Belmont, Waltham 59 (24) Baseball, Birding, Hiking, Picnicking
Blue Hills 1893 Braintree, Canton, Milton, Quincy, Randolph 7,000 (2,800) Camping, Fishing, Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, Rock Climbing, Skiing, Swimming
Breakheart 1934 Saugus, Wakefield 640 (260) Biking, Fishing, Hiking, Skiing, Swimming
Hammond Pond 1938 Newton 59 (24) Fishing, Hiking, Rock Climbing
Middlesex Fells 1894 Malden, Medford, Melrose, Stoneham, Winchester 2,575 (1,042) Canoeing, Fishing, Horseback Riding, Kayaking, Mountain Biking, Rock Climbing, Skiing
Quincy Quarries 1985 Quincy 22 (8.9) Hiking, Picnicking, Rock Climbing, Scenery
Southwest Corridor Park 1987 Boston 52 (21) Basketball, Biking, Tennis, Walking
Stony Brook 1894 Boston, Dedham 475 (192) Baseball, Biking, Fishing, Hiking, Picnicking, Swimming Pool, Skating Rink, Tennis
Wilson Mountain 1995 Dedham 213 (86) Birding, Hiking
Lynn Heritage State Park 1990 Lynn 4.2 (1.7) History, Scenery, Walking
Roxbury Heritage State Park 1992 Roxbury 2.2 (0.89) Architectural History, Community Programs, History
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