While doors closed and gates shut during the height of COVID-19’s sweep across the state, one nonprofit remained opened for the duration, quietly ushering the weary into the woodlands and open grasslands of Southeastern Massachusetts.
Peak times for hikers span the fall and spring, typically, Wildlands Trust Outreach and Education Manager Rachel Calderara said, but a significant hike in hikers hit the trails this past spring as vacations abroad were canceled, and quarantined residents struggled with cabin fever.
“This year with everything going on, our preserves were some of the only things open,” Calderara explained. “In the spring, we had a huge uptick all across the region.”
Wildlands Trust trails didn’t need advertising this year either, she added. People holed up in their homes saw hiking as a wonderful way to beat the blues and give the family a breather. Many a family and extended family could be seen hiking Wildlands Trust trails in area towns.
During the summer, the numbers dropped off a bit, Calderara said, as they always do, due to the humidity and heat. However, as the weather cools, more hikers are appearing on the trails. Calderara cautioned them to wear bug spray as the eastern equine encephalitis, or EEE, season is also upon us.
Wildlands Trust volunteer staffers monitor the trailheads and parking lots; that’s how the nonprofit determines busier seasons than others. This past spring, cars overflowed lots and lined streets in some cases, prompting staff members to erect signage to prevent illegal parking. Trash cleanups were needed as well, as some hikers are comfortable tossing trash on the trail.
Calderara said she’s delighted more people are using the trails and enjoying nature.
“For me, I wish people would just use them more,” she said. “I like to get everybody out onto the trails. That means different things in different communities. It’s a free resource for the public, and people should be out enjoying it and taking care of it. And see what that means for you and what that does for you. The more people appreciating it the more support we’re going to have for this work.”
She shared some of the most beautiful Wildlands Trust trails in the region.
Stewart-Person Preserve, 24 Sylvia Place Road, Kingston
“This is a small preserve with a two-car parking lot, but it’s beautiful for a one to two mile hike, depending on which way you take. There’s a fish ladder. It’s a small hike especially for people in that area.”
Willowbrook Farm, Route 14, Barker Street, Pembroke
“Willowbrook Farm has a big open field with tons of different types of habitat, including this fastest disappearing habitat – natural field habitat. We don’t let it revert back to forest. We maintain that habitat for wildlife. There’s also Atlantic white cedar swamp habitat. If you did the whole thing, you could hike four miles. It’s a bigger one. It also connects to a town of Pembroke’s Misty Meadows Conservation land, and features a 10-car parking lot. It’s super popular.
“If I could, I would also like to recommend Tucker Preserve on the Indianhead River, on the Hanover/Pembroke line on West Elm Street. We are working with the three towns in that area to make a four-mile river loop trail. The Tucker Preserve has a rambling brook reminisce for going to the mountains of New Hampshire. There’s plenty of parking.”
Halfway Pond Conservation Area – Halfway Pond Road, Plymouth
“The Halfway Pond Conservation Area is 400 acres, with over five miles of trails. It’s a big one that runs right along Halfway Pond. The pond is closed due to a cyanobacteria bloom, but it’s a nice place to walk, with a nesting place of bald eagles out there. Believe it or not, the most popular time for guided hikes here is in the winter. People are looking to get out of their houses.”
Wildlands Trust Headquarters and trail head – 675 Long Pond Road, Plymouth
“The Wildlands Trust Headquarters on Long Pond Road is a beautiful place to park and hike. There’s a wide-open field with trails that total over three miles. You start at the headquarters there and hike on David-Douglas Farm, walk the crosswalk on Long Pond Road to more than three miles of wooded trails.”
Great Neck Conservation Area, 34 Crooked River Road, Wareham
“This is a wonderful preserve. You get, I think, three-plus miles of trails that link with The New England Forestry Foundation trails. Parking is limited. We are looking at ways to expand that and to connect those trails to other future tails. We’re hoping to connect this to a larger system.”
Stephen C. L. Delano Memorial Forest, Marys Pond Road, Rochester
“I would recommend Stephen C. L. Delano Memorial Forest in Rochester. That’s a really nice little preserve with a small parking area. It’s a 1.2 mile loop trail with cool rock formations and a vernal pool. It’s along the Sippican River, and there’s all kinds of different wildlife habitat. Even though it’s small it’s really interesting.”
The Brockton Audubon Preserve at Pleasant Street, Brockton
“We have this absolutely hidden gem in Brockton, which is so important in an urban environment.”
By Emily Clark