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Hidden Gem: Jamaica Plain's Nira Rock

Discover a hidden gem in Jamaica Plain that you may have never known existed. Or maybe you have not visited this interesting spot in years. So take a little trip with Patch...we’ll show you the way.

Rock climbing, watching outdoor movies and enjoying a little-known orchard meadow are among the hidden joys of .

The urban wild, snuggled behind the , has seen a rebirth in recent years.

According to the Friends of Nira Rock Web site, 300 million years ago (when Jamaica Plain was on the Earth's equator and connected to what is now Western Africa) conditions were ripe for a very particular brand of stone. When early Americans settled Jamaica Plain they noted it looked like a fruit-infused Christmas pudding popular in England, and as a result dubbed it puddingstone.

The area it was found in was named in its honor. "Rocksberry" later became what is now known as Roxbury. In 1933, as the country climbed out of The Great Depression, the National Industrial Recovery Act -- NIRA -- set out to put Americans back to work, and the puddingstone was quarried. It took the name of the legislation that put it back to work.

All that remains today are the "hidden gems" off Nira Avenue in JP.

Through much of its modern history, Nira Rock was a neglected symbol of an underdeveloped, unappreciated, unwelcoming place. In the 1970s and 1980s Nira Rock was, as Friends of Nira Rock Co-Director Will Crosby , "a place where people go to do what they can't go anywhere else." At best, it was a place kids went to drink and have sex. At worst, it was home to horrifying acts of inhumanity: muggings, drug abuse and rapes.

"What I've realized is public space like that either makes a community feel lousy about itself or makes a community feel great about itself," Crosby said. "We've sort of spiraled up, which is really cool and it's been very exciting to be a part of."

The tide turned late in the 1980s, when the Boston Natural Areas Network looked into redeveloping the rock and eventually had it officially classified as an "urban wild" – essentially land owned by the city that it didn't have the money to develop. Today it's still an urban wild, but through the work of groups like the BNAN and Friends of Nira Rock, along with grants from the city and from corporate sponsors like REI, it's a burgeoning inner-city nature haven.

One of the best signs of the site's rebirth is Verizon's agreement finally to remove an old telephone pole with wires that hung within arm's reach, according to the JP Gazette.

Aside from the two rock walls, there's an orchard with cherries, apples, plums, pears and blackberries. Friends of Nira Rock holds rock-climbing events, , yoga in the mornings and a winter solstice observance. Since Nira Rock is a public space, climbers are welcome to scale the puddingstone whenever they like. REI donated anchors that stay in place year round.

People are often found walking their dogs and babies, meditating or just simply enjoying the space for what it is: a little piece of nature tucked away in the heart of an old, historically rich city.

"Sometimes I think, 'Well it's just this grubby little place, why do I care so much about it?'" Crosby said. "And then I think … 'Well, what if it wasn't here and this was just 18 more houses?' I think the difference is hard to quantify, but if it was 18 more houses the neighborhood would just feel more buried. More anonymous, more buried, less connection to something besides just people and density and houses and dirt and graffiti and trash."

Last summer a rabbit made the Nira Rock property its home. A coyote also briefly did the same. Monarch butterflies can be spotted landing on the milkweed plants. And then, of course, there's the orchard with its bounty of fresh fruit.

All of this just serves as more compelling evidence about where Nira Rock is, how far it has come, and what a sunny future lies ahead.

So if you've never visited, consider planning a trip to one of JP's best-hidden gems.

Mellincoly July 26, 2011 at 12:53 AM
Mission accomplished! I've lived in JP for more than 20 years and did not know about this place. I look forward to further articles.
Jack Weiland July 26, 2011 at 02:20 PM
Despite having lived mere blocks from there I'd never heard of it either until I worked on this story. Definitely a very cool place. The history of the rock itself is almost impossible to comprehend. 300 million years. I mean, ya know. Wow.

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