The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation sent its regional interpretive coordinator Amy Wilmot to Marion on Monday, August 15, to encourage area residents to take advantage of the abundance of nature, culture, and history the region’s state parks have to offer.
Wilmot, who has been employed by the DCR since 1995, said the talk organized and sponsored by the Marion Council on Aging was the perfect opportunity to tell the public about the wonderful state forests and parks within 30 minutes of Tri-Town, a few that are just a bit farther out, as well as a couple that would be considered day trips but nonetheless, on the must-do list.
Massachusetts, the fifth smallest state in the country, is actually ranked number nine out of 50 on the national list for most acreage of state park land. There is just about half a million acres of state forest and parks in Massachusetts that are open for all of us to enjoy.
“We encourage everyone to use our parks,” said Wilmot. “And it’s not just state forests and ‘parks.’ We have pools and we have golf courses, and we have skating rinks…. Great outdoors as well as history.”
When Wilmot says the DCR encourages ‘everyone,’ she means everyone.
Since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, Mass DCR has invested a significant amount of money and resources into making parks, recreational waters, beaches, and hiking trails wheelchair and ADA accessible for all to enjoy.
For example, at Horseneck Beach State Reservation in Westport, boardwalks have been installed and bathhouses modernized, and sand mats have been placed to help beachgoers cross the sand with greater ease.
“Walking on the sand can be difficult,” said Wilmot. In addition to beach mats, Wilmot said special beach wheelchairs are available for use at Horseneck Beach that feature larger “bubble tires” to traverse the sand. Accessible water floats can be used as well, which are essentially like floating stretchers, as Wilmot described them, which allow those with mobility challenges to enjoy swimming.
Did you know that the DCR offers Massachusetts residents age 62 and over a lifetime MassParks pass for a one-time fee of just $10 that entitles you to free entry into all Massachusetts state parks, beaches, and forests with free parking?
Although most area parks like Fort Phoenix in Fairhaven and Nasketucket Bay State Reservation offer parking for free, several others in the state charge a per vehicle parking rate, which is definitely money well-spent.
“The Nasketucket State Reservation is an absolutely fantastic place to explore all throughout the year,” said Wilmot. “It’s one of my favorite places.”
One of the parks Wilmot highlighted was Freetown State Forest with its free parking for family use of the wading pool and splash pad, which Wilmot said DCR recently invested in to upgrade. With the use of slides, Wilmot showcased attractions at Freetown State Forest, including Profile Rock and miles and miles of hiking trails.
Myles Standish State Forest also made the list of Wilmot’s favorite Southcoast spots, which offers not only hundreds of camping sites, but also 15 miles of paved bike path within the 13,000 acres of protected state forest. There is swimming there, picnic sites and parking for the day for beach use is just $8; however, seniors with a MassPark Pass – free!
“And fall is an absolutely beautiful time to visit,” said Wilmot.
Another of Wilmot’s favorites is in Foxboro, a bit farther away but worth your time, Wilmot said.
- Gilbert Hills State Forest is open year-round for passive recreation with no parking fee, and restrooms facilities are open year-round.
“It’s a great place to go hiking,” said Wilmot. “I always recommend this place. The trail maps are really great.” Lions Falls is a small but beautiful waterfall that Wilmot testified is a gorgeous 1.5-mile hike in the spring.
“It’s an absolutely wonderful place,” Wilmot said. “There’s a hill … and that’s the highest spot between Blue Hills [Reservation] and Diamond Hill in Cumberland, Rhode Island.”
- Gilbert Hills is also a location of an active raven’s nest, a rarity in this part of the state.
Wilmot also encouraged listeners to visit Mount Greylock in Lanesborough, as well as Walden Pond in Concord next year to experience a number of upgrades and improvements the DCR has done to the two locations, including more ADA accessibility to the sites.
The Boston Harbor Islands, also part of the state and national park system, are a highly recommended day trip, with $18 giving you full ferry access to all the islands and back for the day.
One of the state’s most recent acquisitions for the eastern Massachusetts region is Sweet’s Knoll State Park in Berkeley alongside the Taunton River abutting Dighton Rock State Park.
Sweet’s Knoll, acquired in 2010, is a smaller park of roughly 50 acres, Wilmot said, and there are three miles of abandoned railroad bed that can be explored and hiked. Parking is free.
“We want people of all abilities to come in and enjoy our parks,” said Wilmot. Some parks even offer special hiking wheelchairs that come with straps that those accompanying an individual with a wheelchair can pull up to lift the wheelchair and its occupant above more challenging areas of a hiking trail. “I want to stress the importance of sharing this wealth of natural resources we have.”
Whether it is a state park, a town park, or a community park, Wilmot emphasized how important it is to share them with the children in your life.
“If you do go visit one of these parks,” said Wilmot, “bring a kid with you.”
For further information, visit www.mass.gov/DCR, call 617-626-1250, or email Mass.firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jean Perry