Lowell Elementary Microforest Project

Lowell Elementary Microforest Project

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The City of Watertown is partnering with Trees for Watertown, Watertown Public Schools, and Watertown Community Gardens on a “Miyawaki” Forest (Microforest) Project. This demonstration project proposes to plant a microforest -- a dense stand of tree and shrub species totaling about 3,000 square feet -- to help mitigate urban heat island effect and increase local plant biodiversity. The microforest, as well as proposed community garden beds, will be located at the southeast corner of the Lowell Elementary School grounds (the corner of Orchard and George Streets). This project follows recent local examples, such as at Danehy Park in Cambridge, and capitalizes on its value as a multifaceted climate resiliency and community education tool. Planting of the forest is tentatively scheduled for November 2024 and will involve lots of volunteers and students.

Check back for more project updates as the season continues or fill out this form to get involved!

What is a Miyawaki Forest?

The concept of a Miyawaki forest was developed by a Japanese botanist professor, Akria Miyawaki, during the 1970s.

The method has 5 key elements:

  1. 25 to 40 species of native trees and shrubs are selected for the specific site,
  2. neighboring community is engaged in forest planning and care,
  3. soil is loosened and made to mimic the soft humus of an old-growth forest,
  4. community plants 3 to 5 very young plants per square yard all in one day,
  5. and the community protects, weeds, and waters the forest for two or three years as it gets rooted. Then it's allowed to grow on its own, an independent, self-sustaining ecosystem.

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Figure 1: Example of the Miyawaki Forest method (source: https://bio4climate.org/miyawaki-forest-program/)

Microforests are one example of nature-based solutions to address climate impacts in urban environments where space is limited. They can range in size from several parking lot spaces to 4,000 square feet. Additional local examples of microforests include:

  • Natick High School, Natick, MA – planted in 2023 and 2,000 square feet in size
  • Somerville High School, Somerville, MA -- planted in 2023 and 1,400 square feet in size

Why are we planting one in Watertown?

We are planting a microforest in Watertown as part of the larger focus on reducing urban heat island effect due to a lack of open space and large concentrations of impervious surface. This project is aligned with several strategies in our Comprehensive Plan and our Climate and Energy Plan aimed at reducing heat, improving biodiversity, and educating and engaging residents on these issues:

  • Mitigating existing and prevent new urban heat islands:
    • Mitigate existing and prevent new urban heat islands in Watertown (Climate and Energy Plan, Action PH 2.2).
  • Protecting and enhancing forest and open space parcels:
    • Address climate change threats to open space and recreation resources by adding green infrastructure, native landscaping, and other nature-based solutions (Watertown Comprehensive Plan, Strategy 6H).
    • Promote biodiversity improvements to existing and new parks and open space (Climate and Energy Plan, Action NR 1.2).
    • Protect, enhance, and diversify the tree canopy by prioritizing tree plantings in neighborhoods at high risk for urban heat impacts (Climate and Energy Plan, Action NR 2.3).
  • Education and engagement:
    • Increase awareness and appreciation of the importance of the urban forest in mitigating climate change impacts (Climate and Energy Plan, Action NR 2.2).

Project Scope and Timeline

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The proposed project will include a 3,000 square foot microforest with a “ribbon” of pollinator plants surrounding it. Also proposed is a small number of community garden beds. Additional features may include paths, outdoor gathering/classroom space, and educational signage.

Figure 2: (L) Conceptual drawing of the location and size of the Miyawaki Forest on the J.R. Lowell School Property (source: Forests for Watertown). (R) Example photo of Danehy Park Miyawaki Forest project in Cambridge, MA (source: Danehy Park Forest - Biodiversity for a Livable Climate (bio4climate.org))

Staff and partners are designing the project site alongside the community and recruiting volunteers during the Summer of 2024. Planting of the forest is intended to take place in November 2024. Planting Day will take the form of several shifts of volunteers who will be trained on-site and guided on where to plant each tree.

Opportunities for Student and Community Engagement

Student Engagement

“What is a Forest?” indoor-outdoor classroom curriculum unit: In Spring 2024, all grades (K-5) at Lowell School will be invited to participate in a school-wide lesson unit designed by Watertown's Public School Garden Coordinator. While the Fall 2024 Miyawaki Forest Planting Day is the biggest forest event, the biggest forest impact is the ongoing, ever-growing experience of nature in the schoolyard. Students will observe and care for a selection of tree seedlings during school from Spring to Planting Day.

Community Engagement

Public presentations and tabling at farmer's markets and fairs will enlist participants from the community. Leading up to Planting Day, how-to workshops and materials as well as curriculum content and worksheets will be offered to teachers and others, in person and online, through social media and local news sources. Volunteers will be trained in photo and data collection, tracking the growth and environmental impact of this urban microforest. Adults volunteering to become trainers will attend workshops given by an experienced horticultural consultant. The trained volunteers then offer the workshops to the neighboring community and assist on Planting Day.