Walking in Wenakeening

On Sunday afternoon, March 20, 2022, naturalists Ann Marie Pilch and Marc Connelly led a group of 20 like-minded men, women and children along some of the historic paths in Wenakeening Woods, a 108 acre preserve under the care of the Upper Charles Conservation Land Trust (UCCLT).

Ann Marie, above, is on the Board of Directors of UCCLT. Her expertise is in the flora while Marc, pictured below, concentrates more on the fauna found in Wenakeening and elsewhere.

Standing in front of an old homestead Marc talked of Kate Sanborn, a woman ahead of her time. She was an author, lecturer, socialite and farmer. She was well travelled and had many friends in high places. She left NY city and ended up in Holliston in 1888, renting an abandoned farm for “40 dollars for the first year and 50 dollars a year thereafter” on Summer St that she named Breezy Meadows (just down the road a piece from Wenakeening).

She wrote a book entitled Adopting an Abandoned Farm about her adventure. After three or four years she moved down the street, buying a farm just over the Medway town line and writing another book – Abandoning an Adopted Farm! She was a socialite, entertaining many famous people of the day and even President Grover Cleveland came by train to visit her, getting off at the train station located at Summer Street.

She employed several men to work the farm, apparently had quite a sense of humor and passed away at her farm in 1917.

Ann Marie explained that Beech trees, of all ages, are recognizable by their smooth gray bark and horizontal branching. Young trees, like this one, retain their pale tan leaves all winter, making them easy to spot from a distance in the winter woods. This trait is called “marscesent” leaves and is something they share with young oak trees.

This photo of the American Beech features their distinctive buds – thin, long and pointy; chestnut brown; with overlapping scales.

There are many trees in New England and Holliston that produce nuts, oak trees of several varieties being the most common. Acorns are an essential food crop for Deer, turkeys, squirrels, mice, chipmunks and a few other mammals. You can usually tell who was eating the nut by the way it is broken open. Gray squirrels break the shell into large pieces, red squirrels into thin strips, mice chew little holes on the ends, Turkeys often swallow them whole and grind them up in their gizzards. Native Americans harvested acorns and the much more plentiful chestnuts back then to make grain and add to soups and stews.

Holliston is home to a very large and healthy beaver population. Most live in lodges constructed from tree branches and mud. There is a lodge located closer to Cross street as well as beaver dens in the riverbanks along Chicken Brook.  Beavers literally eat themselves out of house and home. They are safe in the water and along the banks but subject to predation by fishers and coyotes when on land. Once they have eaten all the trees that can safely be chewed down, they move, usually upstream, in search of a new home.  

(Marc points out the beaver action above and shows how strong beaver teeth are below)

The White Pine shown above is the most common pine tree we see in Holliston’s woods. The soft long round needles are attached to the stem in bundles of 5 needles. Some trees like white pines grow a ring or “whorl” of branches each year so you can estimate the age by counting the number of whorls. You can also tell what good growing years (a good combination of rain and sunny days) were by measuring the space between whorls.

The Pitch Pine pictured here is more common down on Cape Cod because it tolerates dry sandy or rocky soils, but there are patches of them around town, including in this area of Wenakeening Woods. Their needles are about the same length as White Pine but are flat rather than round and in bundles of three. The cones on Pitch Pine are also shorter and rounder than those of White Pine.

Ann Marie explained that UCCLT owns and manages Wenakeening Woods and works to preserve open space in several upper Charles River watershed towns, including Holliston, Hopkinton, Medway, Millis, Medfield, Dover, Sherborn, and Natick. Wenakeening Woods is our largest property.

Please check our website http://www.uppercharles.org/ for more information. We will be having more events in the future, including a walk on identifying and managing invasive plants tentatively set for Sunday, May 15, 2022 (please check our website for confirmation).

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Paul Saulnier


  1. Shaw Lively on April 1, 2022 at 7:41 am

    Great coverage of this insightful outdoor experience. Thanks to Ann Marie and Mark for sharing their knowledge

  2. Paul Saulnier on April 2, 2022 at 5:19 pm

    Ann Marie and Marc make these walks so interesting and informative. The details in this article were provided to me by both of them.