The current administration of Boston of Mayor Walsh has turned an entirely new leaf in terms of dealing with Mary Cummings Park. While past administrations have attempted to break the will of Mary Cummings and to sell the park for development, Mayor Walsh's administration is working with the Trustees of Reservations to put the park into permanently protected status, with The Trustees acting as park managers. Those negotiations are ongoing in the summer of 2016.
The following chronology details a series of often very problematic actions by previous administrations. This list constitutes an important historical document about the park.
- In 2008, The Friends of Mary Cummings Park filed a complaint against the City of Boston's handling of the Trust. Download a PDF of the complaint.
- In 2007, $13,344.72 from the care and maintenance trust fund was spent on unspecified “legalservices” and $4560 was paid to R.E. Cameron and Associates which is a professional surveying company. No money was spent on park maintenance and care.
- In 2006, an astounding $77,073.07 and $63,796 were spent from the care and maintenance trust fund on legal and surveying services related to the filing of residential subdivision plans with the registry of deeds, on land designated under the trust as a public pleasure ground. This was done to grandfather zoning changes which were made that year, zoning changes which did not impact the lands legal use as a public park, but would prevent residential development. Revenue from trust principal for that year was just $22,829.63, so such a large unwarranted expenditure was only made possible by the lack of spending on maintenance and care in previous years.
- In 2004, a negotiation for a lease agreement for the Town of Burlington to create and operate a baseball field, additional to Marvin Field, at no further expense to the City of Boston, broke down. But during the negotiations the Collector-Treasurer insisted that the five year agreement include a 180 day notice to quit clause "in the event the City has entered into an agreement for the sale of the Cummings Estate. Without this provision, the City would not be in a negotiable position to solicit nor entertain a sale of the property with a temporary restricted use (the lease)"
- In 2003, $2,940 was spent from the trust fund in order to install No Trespassing signs ("install signs blanchard rd"). These signs read in large red letters “No Trespassing”, and in smaller letters “Unauthorized Vehicles Prohibited” and “Police Take Notice”. These were posted at numerous places where vehicle entrance was not possible, giving the impression that even pedestrian access was prohibited.
Simple access to our public parks is a constitutionally protected right under Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution. Nor can discouraging public access be justified under the simple purpose of the trust, notably the part of the instruction in the will to keep the land“forever open”.
Despite assurances that "The City of Boston does not prohibit anyone from enjoying this public pleasure ground that Mrs. Cummings left to the City", these signs combined with purposeful neglect, lack of clear indications of what was permissible public use, and misleading public statements by Boston City officials, had a negative effect on the maintenance and care of the park and also led to a climate of fear, uncertainty and doubt about the public right of access.
- In 2002, $7500 from the trust fund was paid to Merideth & Grew Inc to prepare an extensive, approximately 100 page, appraisal of the "combined area of 216.547 acres", which focused on “three different scenarios"
A) Single-family Residential Development
B) Multi-family Development
C) Office/R&D/Industrial Development
- In 2001, in yet another scheme to derive revenue for the City out of this park land, the “Cummings Estate Golf Course Action Plan”contained a proposed project schedule for creating a “high end golf course”on land which Mary Cummings left as a public park and playground
- In 2000, the YMCA of Greater Boston, made a requestfor “written approval for the use of the Cummings Trust property this year as a site for a day camp program” Children from Boston, Burlington and Woburn were to be involved in the program with no funding required from the City of Boston. The YMCA had used the park in previous years, but this letter expressed an expectation that the total number of children “will grow from 300 to 450 this year”. The fact of this lands continued use as a public park, despite lack of support by the City government, undermines the assertion that it is not suitable for park purposes.
- 1999 Boston Business Journal article entitled "Route 128 properties coveted by developers" spoke of the interest of "the former Boston city councilor and developer who spent time in prison for his part in a 1980s real estate deal gone bad" who "at one point looked closely at the Route 128 land owned by Boston, hoping to build an upscale golf community featuring a green surrounded by luxury homes." This is the same plan now being pursued by current City of Boston officials.
- In 1999, in a memo from Palmer & Dodge LLP, an analysis of the City of Boston's options under Article 97 were examined, with the conclusion that the land held by the City of Boston was for park and playground purposes, but that a golf course might not be considered a playground purpose as long as fees were not too high. However, the ultimate aim was to generate revenue for the city to be used elsewhere, contrary to the purpose of the trust.
- 1997, Response to questions from the Attorney General's office
- In October 1996, in a memo from Palmer & Dodge, from the same attorney that represents the Trust today, the following advice was given: “If we are successful in showing that Mrs Cummings had a general charitable intent to benefit Boston, the probate court should allow a modification of the specific purpose of the trust under the doctrine of cy pres, but only if the original purpose has now become impossible, impracticable, or illegal. Thus, we must also demonstrate that the land is not suitable for a park because of its current condition and because of its distance from Boston. Note that the difficulty of maintaining a park outside of the City limits may not be sufficient justification for selling the land without further evidence that the property has fallen into disrepair or is otherwise inappropriate for use as a public park. The absence of sufficient assets to support the park under the Cummings will or otherwise is also relevant. Based on our conversations to date, I understand that in fact the land is not suitable for park purposes and that we should be able to document that to the court.”
- 1993 was the last year of the “KIDS CHALLENGE”program, which was described this way in 1993 “Since the programs inception in 1988, the Cummings Trust Fund has been very generous in supporting KIDS CHALLENGE, thereby making the innovative summer camp a reality for over 650 disabled, disadvantage and able-bodied Boston children.” KIDS CHALLENGE was apparently the successor of the “Kamp for Kids” program which was of a similar nature. Here is the 1994 letter asking for continued funding
- 1991was the last year the Boston School department operated a farming program at the park.
- In 1987, cy press (little change)petition was presented to the Attorney General for comment and review, seeking to allow a sale of all of the park land held by the Cummings Trust in order to create a trust fund for recreational programs inside Boston's city limits. It appears that this effort failed to win the Attorney General’s support following revelations that the land “was in fact being used to provide summer outings and camping experience for inner city youth which was consistent with the Cumming will” and that “This is contrary to information provided to us by the Boston Trust Department” Also, notes obtained from the Attorney General's office file from about that time, show that "As a general matter Munic hold park land "Open to all comers", that the idea that the benefit should be to Boston residents alone simply based on the fact that she designated the City of Boston as the trustee was "itself not that pursuasive" and the last note on these pages reads "breach of trust"
- A memo written in 1985 by Mark Sweeney, Treasury Legal Staff, urges the City of Boston to stop referring to the land as "park" land and instead use the words "trust land”. “Because of the obvious political benefits, I would prefer to explore and develop an argument that this property is not "park" land at all, but rather is "trust" land not subject to the requirements of Art. 97, etc.”
- An undated summary page obtained from the Boston Parks Department shows a "Cummings Memorial Park" in Burlington and Woburn which was originally 234 acres.
- There are sufficient funds of over $400,000 in the principal account of the trust fund to provide basic maintenance and care of what is land left in a mostly natural state along the lines of the City of Boston?s "Urban Wilds Initiative". Additional funds could be raised if needed for some specific proposal. Also the YMCA, the Town of Burlington and other groups have made proposals to expend their own resources to benefit the greater public at this park, but they require a responsible trustee to determine which uses and programs provide the most benefit and are compatible with the nature of the park.
- Any perceived lack of funds in the principal account of the trust is the City of Boston's own doing. In 1929, before the trust fund was even accepted by the City council, the Boston Transit Department seized the main asset of the trust, which was an office building on North Market Street. The compensation of $118,000 was withheld from the trust fund account. By any conservative estimate, the principal account should have grown to millions of dollars over the past 77 years that this money and interest has been withheld.