Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Going Organic in Wellesley, MA

John Hancock Charles River Walk
by Trevor Smith

The rising sun peeks over the Charles River, golden rays explode through the towering oaken canopy.  The heavy sweet scent of Clethra perfumes the air with undertones of fresh water and earth. A heron is fishing for breakfast just off shore, a deer walks up the bank from the water as turkey’s root around in the leaf litter.  The high pitched squeak of a startled chipmunk pierces the air alerting the wood of my presence.  A mother duck ushers her ducklings into the water, the white tail of the deer is all I see crashing into the brush while the turkeys just keep foraging. All of this and I haven’t walked more than 60 feet down the newly constructed permeable Wellesley Office Park Walking Path.
The half mile path was recently constructed in back of the Wellesley Office Park on William Street with two boardwalk bridges and multiple vista points overlooking the water.  The land is owned by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR); however the walkway was funded by John Hancock Real Estate USA.  The walkway was installed using Porous Pave™ a durable pervious paving material and was designed to have little to no effect on the delicate hydrology of the area.  Porous Pave is made from recycled truck tires that are ground up and combined with a fine aggregate and a urethane binder.  The mix is then spread like concrete and hardens into an extremely durable, highly permeable surface strong enough for low speed auto traffic and comfortable to walk on.  The Wellesley Office Park Walking Path diverted 6000 tires from the landfill and can absorb 5,800 gallons of water per hour per square foot.  In addition to the recycled content and high permeability, the surface is freeze and frost-heave resistant and provides significant traction. Normally such a permeable surface is used to reduce flooding and the impact of storm water. It is great for driveways and walkways because if resists freezing and cracking in winter and allows maximum return of water back into the ground.  In this case however, the pervious surface is designed to provide a safe comfortable walking path through the woods without disrupting the normal water flow to the river and its inhabitants.

The Wellesley Office Park Walk is the largest Porous Pave installation in the northeast.  John Hancock, in funding the project, has demonstrated the sustainable mission many companies are implementing.  Since many companies are adopting creative strategies to improve the work environment for their employees, this scenic escape could also be viewed as an added employee benefit. 

We have all heard about tech companies installing game rooms, “bring your pet to work” days, etc. and this scenic escape falls right in line with these.  It may even be better, because it gets you outside of the working world and immerses you in the natural world.
The practice of Shinrin-Yoku, Japanese for Forest Bathing, is becoming the latest fitness trend in the United States.  Forest Bathing is simply connecting with a natural space, often wandering through forest paths.  Extensive studies have been done on Shinrin-Yoku and have shown marked reduction in cortisol, the stress hormone, as well as reduced blood pressure and an improved immune response and cerebral blood flow.   

As the science between health and nature continues to grow and more companies begin to look for workplace amenities that match their sustainable mission and as cities and towns continue to convert old railways to bike and walking paths it is increasingly important to do so responsibly.  Fortunately, there are low impact solutions to address these challenges that maximize people’s accessibility and connection with nature without disrupting or significantly altering the delicate balance of the natural world.