Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Take the Great Outdoors Expert Challenge!

The quarry pond at Halibut Point State Park in Rockport.
Last summer the White House, in partnership with various Federal Land Management agencies, kicked off an initiative to help children become more active and increase their time spent outdoors. “A Kid In Every Park” granted all children entering fourth grade for the 2015-2016 school year a complimentary pass to all national parks, national forests, and other federally-managed lands.

To align itself with this initiative, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) launched a parallel program, the Great Outdoors Expert Challenge. The DCR’s program, which includes free admission to state parks for every child with a Kid In Every Park pass, focuses on properties here in Massachusetts, and encourages children to aim for ten key experiences.

1. Explore Nature: Attend a nature program hosted by our park interpreters!

2. Play! Have fun at one of our playgrounds, courts or ball fields!

3. Get your Feet Wet or Go for a Swim: Visit one of our many lakes, ponds, pools, or ocean beaches!

4. Follow a Trail: Hike a Healthy Heart Trail, or pedal along one of our rail trails!

5. Camp Under the Stars: Stay overnight at one of our 29 campgrounds across the state!

6. Connect with the past: Visit a historical park and learn about Massachusetts’s rich history!

7. Hike a Summit: Visit a mountain in Massachusetts and hike to the top for a great view!

8. Picnic in a Park: Attend one of our Outdoor Kitchen Programs or make your own healthy recipe to enjoy at our parks!

9. Bring a Friend to a Park He or She has not Visited: Be adventurous, visit a new park and try a new activity!

10. Share Your Story (in video, pictures or words): Tell us about your experiences and the reasons you love our state parks! #EveryKidinaPark #MassParks

Even if you’re not eligible for free admission, our state parks are relatively inexpensive to visit (often there is no fee at all). And there are so many! Twenty four in the Boston area, 39 out west, 29 in Central Massachusetts, 31 north of Boston, and 38 here in the South Region. In all, we have 161 state parks in Massachusetts. Time to plan some summer adventures! Or if you’re not inclined to travel, you could apply the same criteria listed above to our local parks and conservations areas.

Eventually, I’d like to visit all of our state parks. I am very slowly making my way through the list. Last year it was Purgatory Chasm, the Cape Cod Rail Trail, and Wompatuck. The year before, Mount Greylock and the Blue Hills.

In June, I was able to check off two items: Mount Sugarloaf State Reservation in South Deerfield, and Halibut Point State Park in Rockport. So I’ve done my summit (#7) and also my trail (#4), and here I am sharing my story (#10)!

If nothing else, visit Mount Sugarloaf State Reservation for the view. Located at 300 Sugarloaf Street, just off Route 91, this park gives you a bird-s eye view of the Pioneer Valley. You can see the town of Sunderland up close, with UMass Amherst and points south in the distance. You have the option of driving (or maybe biking?) up the auto road, or you can hike an adjacent trail through the woods. My son (age 10) and I, along with another family with slightly younger children, spent about an hour climbing up. Once at the summit, we ascended the spiral staircase to the top of the observatory, where – it being a weekday, and thus not crowded – we could spend some time enjoying the panoramic vistas. The summit would be a great place for a picnic too. There are tables, and plenty of lawn on which to rest, plus clean restrooms!

A few days prior, I visited Halibut Point State Park on my own, having traveled to the North Shore for work. Situated on Cape Ann, Rockport is a beautiful coastal town and a tourist attraction, in part because of its shops, inns and restaurants. Just a couple miles out of the town center you’ll find both Halibut Point State Park and an adjoining property managed by the Trustees of Reservations. Together they offer hours of activity – walking paths, hiking trails, tide pools, local history, and spectacular views. The park centers around a 19th-century granite quarry. Look for the self-guided tour pamphlet and fill yourself in on its history. The rocky slopes that lead down to the ocean are inviting as well. Swimming isn’t advised, but I saw numerous visitors in beach chairs enjoying the sunshine and the sounds of the surf. Parking is limited, so if you’re visiting on the weekend, arrive early or make alternate plans in case you have to wait to get in.

For more information about Massachusetts State Parks, visit http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks/places-to-go/

by Kezia Bacon 
July 2016  
Kezia Bacon's articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 20 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com

Friday, July 1, 2016

Norwell’s Pathway and More

The Pathway at Donovan Farm

I mentioned Norwell’s relatively new Pathway in an earlier article this year as something I was planning to investigate for a more detailed report. Investigation complete, I’m back with great news about all sorts of options for outdoor adventure and fun!

“The Pathway” in Norwell is a project that has been unfolding over the past few years. A network of paved cycling/walking trails, sidewalks and boardwalks, The Pathway provides an alternative to crossing town via Route 123. If you park near the Norwell Middle School (328 Main Street), you can travel more than a mile in either direction – west to the high school or east to the Norris Reservation. What’s more, there are a number of conservation properties along the route, offering various diversions.

Last month I had an opportunity to jog the entire length of the Pathway. If you leave your car in the lot at Gaffield Park, the playground at the corner of Forest and River Streets, you’ll be perfectly positioned for a round-trip Pathway journey. The Pathway is essentially a sidewalk along Forest Street, but it’s a nice new sidewalk!

A short distance past the playground, more or less across the street from 83 Forest Street, is Miller Woods, a 45-acre conservation area managed by the Town of Norwell. There is a small (4-car) parking area, and a network of walking trails through pine forest and red maple swamp. You could take a short walk around the first loop trail, or a longer one, going deeper into the property. All told, the average visitor could walk all of the trails in Miller Woods in about an hour.

The Pathway crosses Forest Street twice – before Miller Woods and a short distance after it. As you approach the intersection with Circuit and Pleasant Streets, you arrive at another town-managed open space parcel, the Donovan-Wildcat Conservation Area. If you travel the back roads of Norwell at all, you’re probably familiar with the Donovan property: acre upon acre of green fields, along with an historic farmhouse. The farm’s fields are leased for agricultural purposes, but there is a short trail around two sides of the perimeter – plenty of space to amble along and enjoy the view.

Just up Circuit Street, toward the Council on Aging, you’ll find an 8-car parking area on the left. This is a great starting point if you’d like to explore the larger, more diverse conservation lands around Wildcat Hill. Past the parking area and across Circuit Street, just a little farther up the road, look for two wooden posts with painted blazes in Norwell’s town colors, blue and gold. This is one of several trailheads for the Wildcat Conservation Area. 

A bench in Wildcat Conservation Area.

For Wildcat, which offers a number of intersecting loops trails, I recommend you download a brochure and map from the Town of Norwell’s website (see link below). You’ll pass along the back side of the Donovan farm, and then into the woods. Route-wise, there are numerous options, and most of them are marked with blue or white blazes. There are even a few wooden signs with arrows.

On the day of my visit, the property was a sea of green, with the trees in near-full leaf-out and ferns sprouting up everywhere. The woodlands are diverse – some pine, some maple, some beech – and at a few of the trail intersections, you’ll find a wooden bench for rest or contemplation. Eventually the trails connect with Wildcat Lane, where there is another small parking area. The trails are rough at some points. While they are relatively flat (with the exception of those that climb Wildcat Hill), they can be rocky. There’s evidence that they can be muddy at times as well.

One of many old stone walls in Wildcat Conservation Area.

Getting back to The Pathway, the intersection of Forest and Circuit Streets is where it becomes a true cycling and walking trail. Wider than the sidewalk, with marked lanes, The Pathway continues to the Middle School complex. Along the way, it skirts the edge of the Donovan fields, and then snakes through woods and wetlands, and even over streams (thanks to some beautifully-built boardwalks). 

One of the aforementioned boardwalks.
Eventually The Pathway emerges at the far edge of some of the town’s soccer and lacrosse fields, continues past the Transfer Station, and dips back into the woods for its final leg. Additional boardwalks and paved sections lead to Cushing Hill Road, a residential street that intersects with South Street. Across the road and down a short distance is Norwell’s high school/library complex.

If you have young cyclists in your family – children who are learning to ride a bike, who would enjoy the adventure of leaving the neighborhood – I recommend the middle section of The Pathway as an intermediate step before attempting larger parks like Wompatuck. Park at the Middle School.

And if you enjoy jogging (walking too!), I’m pleased to report that The Pathway is a great place to run. Starting at Gaffield Park, you’ll pretty much be going uphill the entire way, but that means on the way home, you’ll be heading downhill. It’s a pretty path, safe underfoot, and an excellent way to explore the town of Norwell.

Norwell’s Conservation Commission’s website is an excellent resource for all of the town’s open space properties. Now that I’ve found it, I’ll be exploring more of them in the months ahead. Follow this link for more information, and to download property guides and maps. http://www.townofnorwell.net/conservation-commission

by Kezia Bacon, Correspondent
June 2016

Kezia Bacon's articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 20 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com