Jamaica Plain, Including a Pond and Necklace

Hailing Distance: One of a series of great half-hour bike rides from campus

Text and photos by Vicky Waltz

Images of a bike ride from BU to Jamaica Plain’s Arnold Arboretum.

According to local lore, a 19th-century traveler once called Boston’s Jamaica Plain the “Eden of America.” Connected at four points by Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace, a series of nine Boston parks designed or improved by the 19th-century landscaper and urban planner, JP (as locals call it) remains one of the city’s greenest neighborhoods, a delight to discover on two wheels, an easy half-hour ride from the Charles River Campus.

Begin at Kenmore Square, turning onto Brookline Avenue and passing by Yawkey Way, home to Fenway Park and the Boston Red Sox. If a game’s in progress, there’s always a chance you could grab a ball hit over the famous Green Monster, Fenway’s left field wall.

Next you will pass by three members of the Colleges of the Fenway consortium: Emmanuel, Simmons, and Wheelock (the others are Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and Wentworth Institute of Technology). This six-college collaboration represents more than 11,000 students and comprises 16 percent of Boston’s undergraduate population.

The Longwood Medical Area, home to 21 hospitals, colleges, and biomedical research centers, is straight ahead. Along this stretch of road lie 4 of the nation’s top 10 recipients of National Institute of Health research funding, including Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Children’s Hospital Boston.

At 1.4 miles, hang a left onto Boylston Street, briefly passing through the town of Brookline, and follow signs for the Jamaicaway. You’ll soon enter Olmsted Park, a lush, wooded area interlaced with gravel running paths that circumnavigate three ponds: Leverett, Willow, and Ward. The mossy banks, dotted with seasonal wildflowers, are prime grazing spots for Canada geese.

Named in honor of Olmsted, the park is your first stop along the Emerald Necklace. The Muddy River flows through a narrow corridor to the north on its way to the Charles. Stone footbridges crisscross the park’s waterways and are worth exploring before passing by Daisy Field; a ballgame may be in progress most sunny days.

At the next trail junction, take Willow Pond Road to Pond Avenue and head south. Skirt around Willow and Ward Ponds, hanging a left at the Chestnut Street rotary. You’ll soon find Jamaica Pond, another jewel of the necklace — at 68 acres and 53 feet, it’s Boston’s largest and deepest body of fresh water.

During the 19th century, Jamaica Pond was best known for its ice-cutting industry, but today it’s used primarily by fishing, boating, and running enthusiasts. Every year the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife stocks the pond with trout, salmon, bass, and perch. Sailboats and rowboats can be rented from the Jamaica Pond Boat House.

The Boston Park Ranger’s Nature Center, next to the boathouse, offers an extensive collection of mounted wildlife species, including hawks, owls, and trout. Visitors can examine Native American artifacts and rock specimens that date back millions of years.

Continue along the Jamaica Pond running path until you reconnect with the Jamaicaway, which becomes the Arborway. The Arnold Arboretum, 265 acres of meadows, forests, and ponds, is directly beyond the Centre Street rotary. In 1882, the city of Boston leased the arboretum, the third of Olmsted’s jewels encountered on this trip, to Harvard University — for a mere 1,000 years. A collection of maples, crab apples, lilacs, and rhododendrons, as well as 4,000 varieties of other woody plants and 15,000 trees, shrubs, and vines, grows in this urban sanctuary. Scents of lilac and mock orange linger on spring breezes before giving way to summer wildflowers and blazing autumn foliage.

Enter the arboretum at the Arborway Gate, making a quick stop at the Hunnewell Visitor Center before continuing along Meadow Road. Weave among the open fields, woods, and streams as you begin a gradual climb up Bussey Hill Road. The view from the 198-foot summit is worth the effort, and you’ll coast all the way down.

Exit left at the South Street Gate (off of the arboretum’s Valley Road) and make your way toward Centre Street, JP’s main thoroughfare. A Civil War memorial, erected in 1909, looms at the junction of South and Centre. Distinctly Gothic, the granite edifice is topped by five towers and a Union soldier. Names of fallen soldiers are inscribed on a pillar of Italian marble within its vault.

Across the street is the Loring-Greenough House, one of Boston’s last surviving 18th-century homes. Constructed in 1760 by British naval officer Joshua Loring, the Georgian mansion was confiscated by Colonial forces during the Revolutionary War and used as a hospital. The Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club, a community organization founded in 1896, purchased the house in 1924 and has maintained it since.

Not ready to head back to campus? Duck into the Centre Street Café, 669 Centre St., for locally grown grub. If there’s room in the backpack, follow up with a side trip to Boomerangs, a funky secondhand shop whose proceeds benefit the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts.

To return to BU, turn left on Moraine Street and then right on the Jamaicaway.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.

Take more 30-minute trips from campus here.

This article first appeared in BU Today on November 12, 2009.

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