The Arlington Reservoir site incorporates a variety of natural and recreational resources. Created in the early 1870s to supply Arlington’s municipal water system, the Reservoir has not been used for public drinking water since the Town joined the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) in 1899, yet the name “reservoir” remains in use. It is a 65-acre man-made recreational and flood-control pond on the Arlington/Lexington border in the northwestern section of Town. Less than half of the open water is in Arlington, yet the Town owns and manages the entire perimeter as well as part of Munroe Brook, its primary source whose watershed includes Reed’s Brook and Arlington’s Great Meadows (located in Lexington). Several Lexington storm drains also send water into this water body.
The Reservoir has a mile-long wooded walking trail around its circumference that is open to the public. At different times throughout the year, the Reservoir is a recreational resource for walking, birding, jogging, and cross-country skiing, and the Arlington High School cross-country team uses the trails for meets and training. The Reservoir provides a diverse habitat for wildlife, and nearly 200 species of birds have been sighted there.
In 1935, the Arlington Board of Park Commissioners engaged the national Works Progress Administration (WPA) to develop a sandy beach on the Reservoir’s eastern shore. The Town significantly improved this beach in the late 1970s, adding filters and an embankment to separate the swimming area from the rest of the Reservoir. The beach now includes a filtered/chlorinated swimming area with a ramp for people with disabilities, a bathhouse, vending machines, a concession area, and playground. The beach is supervised by certified lifeguards and other beach staff when open. Boston.com recently listed Reservoir Beach as one of the state’s top ten swimming holes.
The earthen dam around the southern edge of the Reservoir is some 600 yards long and as high as 14 feet, although the water level is kept much lower except during the swimming season. The water discharges into Mill Brook through a sluice gate.
In 1999, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management (DEM) expressed concern about dam safety and recommended that the Town cut down all the trees and shrubs along the dam structure and riprap the bank. Working in collaboration, Town officials, engineers from Weston & Sampson and members of the Reservoir Committee of Vision 2020 Environment Task Group partnered to accomplish three goals: improve dam safety, enhance recreation, and preserve the natural landscape. The work succeeded in balancing public health and safety with public interests and environmental issues and received two prestigious awards, from the American Public Works Association and the American Consulting Engineers Council of Massachusetts (ACEC/MA).
As part of the dam rehabilitation project, funding was committed for planting over 100 trees. An anonymous donor contributed additional funds toward the creation of a habitat garden of native plants, and volunteers from the Reservoir Committee, working closely with the Town’s DPW, began construction of a Wildlife Habitat Garden along both sides of the new spillway in 2010. The garden uses native plants that attract wildlife and provides an attractive and educational opportunity for the many people who visit it.
A serious water chestnut infestation is being controlled by manual and machine harvesting. The Conservation Commission, Department of Public Works and the Reservoir Committee are actively monitoring the water quality for additional invasive waterweeds. The Reservoir Committee maintains a website with both historical and current information: www.arlington2020.org/reservoir.
In recent years, the Town has lost storage space for winter snow removal and has been using the parking lot of the Arlington Reservoir for temporary storage. There is some concern that the continued use of the area for this purpose could have a negative effect on the recreational uses and water quality of this valued natural resource area.
In the summer of 2013, the Park and Recreation Commission conducted a survey of residents to determine the future needs of the Reservoir Beach area. Within the next few years, it is expected that a multi-year, multi-phase capital project will be needed to address the aging infrastructure of the beach and to upgrade the amenities. For the short-term, new picnic tables were added, along with fresh coats of paint to the facilities, and efforts to curb the geese from fouling the sand and water continue each season.
Hurd and Reservoir fields, adjacent to the Reservoir off Drake Road, offer two softball/youth baseball diamonds. Hurd Field is lighted and used for adult softball play in addition to youth baseball and softball. An open field area is used for soccer, and there is access to the Minuteman Bikeway. The Town received a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant for a Porous Pavement Education Project at Hurd Field, which funded the installation of a new porous parking surface at the field. A rain garden was also installed in 2013 with support from the Town and the Mystic River Watershed Association.
Size: 21.3 acres in Arlington (65 acres total in Arlington and Lexington)
Managing Agency/Owner: Department of Public Works/ Park and Recreation Commission/ Town of Arlington
Current Use: Passive and active recreation/Flood control/Conservation