Let’s cherish Reedy Meadow

Lynnfield enjoys a rural atmosphere and great schools but we are additionally blessed with a nationally-recognized piece of the past.

Reedy Meadow, aka Lynnfield Marsh, was declared by the National Park Service as a National Natural Landmark in 1972.  It is one of only 11 designated so-designated sites within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the only one in Essex County.  Just 599 sites have been designated as such within the 48 states, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands,  (www.nps.gov/subjects/nnlandmarks)

Long before the Pilgrims landed, Reedy Meadow existed no wonder it has a long and varied history. More than 400 years ago, the American Indians made their home here. They grew corn and beans, sang to their children, arrayed themselves in beads, feathers, and skins.

The used the waters of the lake for a looking glass; the forests for flower gardens, the hillsides for a lawn. They cooked hasty pudding or corn cake, or roasted the meat of animals that were trapped or hunted.

The Indians are gone,  leaving behind the streams, the woods, and Indian corn with various Indian names.  In 1633 smallpox wiped out the Indians in great numbers; whole towns were depopulated, so great was the epidemic that the living were unable to bury the dead, so that they were found years after above the ground.  

Since then we are constantly finding relics of the Indians  in the fields where they roamed and the streams near where they lived. No doubt many a string of wampum has been collected by the shores in this place, along with pestles, gouges, sinkers, multitudes of arrow-points, etc., which  attest to the Indian's footprints. Of special concern is Partridge Island where an Indian camp was found containing triangular arrow war-heads thus showing a preparation of hostilities there. These war-heads and other implements were given to the museum at the Harrison Gary Otis House in Boston.  While on Rabbit Island, Indian remains of tactile stones were found but not removed due to their size.

Reedy Meadow,  fresh-water marsh, is dominated by cat-tail containing the historic Saugus River noted for its serpentine course as it goes to the sea.  Thomas Wellman’s History of the Town of Lynnfield Mass., paints a nice vision; “It rises in Lake Quannapowitt; Reedy Meadow lies on both sides of it, is of gigantic proportions, and serves many uses, being covered with grass; cranberries are grown upon it.  It is flooded a part of the year, and makes a nice skating pond of miles in length. 

"The lots are divided by ditches, which used to furnish bog to the inhabitants of this and neighboring towns before the advent of coal, not many years ago.  The name of the meadow is derived from the large quantity of reeds with their elegant plumes growing upon it, one part, called 'Dark Swamp,' being literally covered.”  Once covering many acres of South Reading and Lynnfield before man built roadways and developments now only 540 acres remain.

Reedy Meadow is characterized by slow-moving almost still waters. The critically important ecosystem acts like a giant sponge to moderate the effects of flooding,  functions as a water treatment plant, filtering wastes and purifying water naturally thus providing a highly diverse ecosystem teeming with wildlife including many endangered,  threatened, and special concern species as classified by Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. A number of these species have moved from threatened in 1994 to being now endangered in 2019.

Although the water bodies within Reedy Meadow were a rich habitat for fish and have the potential of being again, they currently are not.  Pollution in the Meadow has degraded its ability to remain a viable habitat.   

In the early 1970, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife reported that the biological oxygen demand  (BOD) was so high that the reduced oxygen levels can no longer support large quantities of fish or other aquatic organisms. Less than a generation ago residents can remember great fishing just off Lynn’s water supply dam.  

Some small progress has been started by concerned groups such as the Saugus River Watershed Council, state Division of Marine Fisheries, National Park Service, and the Lynn Water and Sewer Commission to reverse the damage.  The Saugus River provides an important habitat for smelt spawning a major effort underway by these groups. 

However, Reedy Meadow still contains a wide variety of vegetation that provides food and shelter for its wildlife.  Being an exceptional freshwater march of predominantly cat-tail with sedge's, grasses, rushes and other species with emergent marsh vegetation along its edges.   A large forested area off Audubon Road in Wakefield is a red maple swamp interspersed with some birch, red oak, cottonwood and alders surround a 20-acre a giant vernal pool pond.   Many more of these important vernal pools exist through the Meadow including the 403 and 404 such pools certified throughout the State. At present a formal vegetation inventory has not been conducted however spot visits by various concerned groups have identified  dozens of plants, shrubs, trees, and vines some being protected.

The Saugus River along with Robinsons Brook, Bates Brook,  and Beaver Dam Brook flow into Reedy Meadow. Beaver Dam Brook drains some 50 percent of Lynnfield, while Bates Brook drains another 15 percent of Town and some 200 acres of Peabody.  The Saugus River is joined by Walkers Brook which drains 30 percent of Reading. All of this leaves by a single point, the Saugus River, which is used for Lynn’s drinking water before ending up in Rumney Marsh.  

The Meadow holds large amounts of water which are slowly released into the Saugus River, a drainage area of 17.6 square miles.  Although great in storage capabilities, surrounding developments decreased the Meadow’s capacity, thus causing serious flooding in the cellars of nearby housing.   

Homeowners responded in a 1985 to a study of facing an average of  $2,300 in basement and other property damage not to mention their failing septic systems.   Minor additional protection was added by raising the 100 year floodplain, 30 feet in Wakefield and 5 feet in Lynnfield, however homeowners even lost that minor protection in 2012.

As the major source of Lynn’s drinking water,  any pollution in the area surrounding the Meadow has a direct impact on their public water supply.  Although state and federal standards mandate supply areas be restored and maintained, no governing body exists to assure such action will occur so the downward trend continues. 

Reedy Meadow remains today as a top bird watching area in northeastern Massachusetts.   eBird has documented the sighting of 184 different birds in the Meadow. (https://ebird.org/hotspot/L207382).


Information taken from History of the Town of Lynnfield Mass. by T. Wellman, National Park Service,

Lynnfield Historical Society (Feb 1975), ACEC (1994), Partridge Island Report (May1981), and others.

Alan K Dresios, 

Former Lynnfield Conservation Commission and Planning Board member.


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