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Great news for Sprague Pond on the Hyde Park/Dedham line

The Department of Environmental Protection ruled today that Sprague Pond is no longer just OK - it's officially great.

In a letter to the Hyde Park Historical Society today, the head of the department's Waterways Regulation Program said that the pond, in its "natural state" would be at least 10 acres in size - and 10 acres is the minimum size for a Massachusetts pond to be declared a "great pond." The ruling means that Jamaica Pond is no longer the only official "great pond" in Boston.

The status has potential implications both for public access to the pond. "Great ponds" in Massachusetts are public waterways - via laws that date to the Colonial Ordinance of 1641-1647. The problem at Sprague Pond is that almost all the land around the pond is privately owned. Boston does own a thin, third-of-an-acre strip of land that runs between Sprague Street and the pond, which is the final resting place of a locomotive that fell into it in 1834, during construction of what is now the Northeast Corridor. The Historical Society adds there is a public way allowing access to the pond from Lakeside Avenue, where it has a sharp curve.

The designation could potentially affect the status of plans for three attached condos proposed for the Hyde Park side of the pond, next to the easement. Developers won city approval for the Lakeside Avenue site, but now worry that if the pond's historic water boundaries reach far enough up the property, it could make it impossible for them to build.

Sprague Pond used to be officially great - an 1899 Supreme Judicial Court ruling on ice harvesting on the pond hinged on the fact that it was - but somehow over the decades, it was dropped off the various official state lists of "great ponds."

At a state hearing in May, the Hyde Park Historical Society presented maps and other evidence dating back centuries to make the case that the pond, even if currently closer to eight acres, was historically great and so should be designated as great once more.

PDF icon Complete designation181.41 KB

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Besides this condo issue, what are the implications? Does this mean that the area of the water itself is now public? Before this ruling, did private owners claim to own it?

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Is now public (as it was in 1899, when the SJC told a Hyde Park ice harvester that just because he marked off part of the pond as its "property," a Dedham ice harvester did nothing wrong by carving out ice there because the pond is public under the great-pond doctrine, and so is its ice, up to the moment it's pulled out).

Don't know if the people around the pond had treated it as their own property up until now, but the fact that a) it's pretty well hidden and b) surrounded almost entirely by private property and the train tracks effectively limited access.

For a long time, the land where the condos were/are supposed to go looked like a waterside park (and it's even marked as such on Google Maps), but it was fenced off and the owner intended it be be used just by his neighbors.

Where it gets really interesting is in the areas that might have once been part of the pond, but no longer are, either because of natural forces or because they've been filled in (the train tracks once crossed the pond; now the other side is part of the industrial park where the Stop & Shop warehouse used to be). Are they now also part of the "great pond" and, if so, would future development be barred? You'd think there'd be an easy answer, but as recently as last year, the Supreme Judicial Court had to consider the matter (in a case involving the changing shoreline of that lake with the really long name that most people just call Webster Lake).

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It's hard to tell from the really old maps on mapjunction, but it's possible the filled in portion is now part of the Readville rail yard, rather than the industrial park further east.

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I am confused as to where this is. On the side of Spague with the train track or on the side with industrial park?

I live at the end of HP Ave and have never even seen it.

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If you're at the end Hyde Park Avenue, go up to the Father Hart Bridge (where the brand spankin' new traffic lights are) and then left at the end of the bridge onto Sprague Street. Cross the Sprague Street bridge, keep going. Turn left onto McDonald St (Tex's BBQ is on the corner) and go down a bit (it's a really short street) and you'll get a view of the pond across some company's parking lot on your left.

If you can, park on McDonald (and welcome to Dedham), then walk down Lakeside Avenue, which is between the parking lot you just gazed through and Sprague Street. There'll be two views. One is down somebody's driveway. Keep walking and Lakeside veers left. Right there, look to your right and there's another view of the pond (and the Great Blue Hill).

Or, if it's a nice day, and you're feeling like a walk, you could actually walk there.


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Thank you Adam. I was looking at the map in the previous post and my mind was blank.

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This street view photo shows some folks fishing in it.


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