Tuesday, August 10, 2010

We may not hit them all by "52" but we're still working!

Well, with all that's gone on with life in the past 8 or 9 months, we didn't want to PLAN on it, but we have decided to admit that we won't get to all 52 parks before I turn 52. Alas, vacation time, singing commitments, family stuff, illness, and all the rest has prevented us from being able to actually dedicate at least one day a weekend to visiting parks. We have clumped two and three parks into a trip, and we're still determined to finish the list this year, but if you're following us, just keep on! I've got two more parks to post about, Taylor Saw Mill and Fort McClary, and we've got to go BACK to Lowell, since the Folk Festival kept us hopping and didn't allow time to visit the actual park, but we'll get there.

To date we've visited 23 parks as well as 1 or 2 that weren't on our original list. We've also been at a few that we haven't really gotten to visit so we'll have to go back! But this has truly been a great experience and we've enjoyed it so much, we're already making plans for next year's blog sites! Stay tuned for more and I'm sure we'll get back on the Park visiting bandwagon by September!

Robert Frost Farm Historic Site

Lots of interesting facts about one of our best loved poets!

Maybe it’s only true if you live in New England, but Robert Frost seems to be one of the best-loved, and most well known poets in the US. And multiple states seem to claim him, from MA (we saw his high school years documented at the Lawrence Heritage State Park), to Vermont (he was named poet laureate of that state and also has a museum there) to NH with the Robert Frost State Park Historic Site. Stopping by the farmhouse in Derry, NH is a nice chance to catch a glimpse into this poet's life as well as that of his family. His turn as a poultry farmer, the health and education of his children, and the decisions he and his wife, Elinor, made about their lives together.
  • Our Rating: 2.5 wags Not because we didn’t like this place, but it’s not really one we feel the need to visit again. Definitely worth seeing and we’d recommend it if you’re in the area, but “been there, done that” is probably more the case for us. Unless they have a special event like a Christmas Homecoming or a special outdoor exhibit. An activity in line with seeing more of the way of life in the early 1900's. Especially a life lived and written about by someone like Robert Frost. We provided suggestions for both of these activities with the ranger when we were there.
  • Tucker’s Rating: 0 wags! Dogs aren’t allowed in the house or barn. And while he’d probably have loved the field, there are lots better fields around to sniff and wander through. 
  • Accessibility: Not really. People using wheelchairs or strollers would have difficulty here. The parking lot is nice and flat, and the ramp running into the barn is fine, but the bulk of this site is in the house itself and that is a standard old-fashioned farmhouse, complete with narrow stairs, and long-winded ranger talk with no place to sit even if you got into the house under your own steam but just aren't into standing still for long! More on that later, but suffice to say we can’t call this one accessible.  
  • Fees: FREE to NH residents according to the website. But on another site we saw a fee of $4 per NH adult or $5 for non-NH resident, still other sites state $7 for others with discounts for children and seniors. When we were there the ranger told us it was “free for NH residents and I’m not going to check to see where your license plates are from” but we did pay our fees, which I think were $7 for each of us. Seems a bit high but they have some great memorabilia, a really nice video and the house is pretty interesting so we thought it was worth it. 
  • Pet-Friendly: No. Dogs are allowed in the fields behind the house but not in the actual property.
  • Activities: Shopping in the barn store (interesting books, pictures, etc.) picnicking, hiking. They have a series of events here in the summer including a quilt show, classes, etc. See the website.

We’d seen quite a bit about Robert Frost when we stopped at the Lawrence Heritage State Park and we’ve driven BY this old farmhouse numerous times, so thought it would be a good place to check out as part of the blog. After all, my father used to quote from The Road Less Traveled:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –  
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Only the last three lines of the poem, and I’m not so sure my father TOOK the road less traveled, but I also think the nuns who forced him to memorize poetry had a leaning towards what was very modern poetry back in the 20’s…. because this poem was written in 1920. I’m not sure kids are learning poems today that were written in 2000…. But then maybe they are, what do I know?

In any case, the previous weekend, Mother’s Day, had Beth traveling in one direction and I in another (our own "two roads in a wood.... " I guess) so we waited til the following weekend to take our respective mother and step-mother, out for a Sunday drive to Robert Frost’s Farm in Derry, NH. It's easy to find, right on Rt. 28, and plenty of parking! They’ve also got a really nice tree for photographs just behind the house, so definitely bring your camera if you want a pastoral scene for family photographs.

Entrance to the home is through the barn to the right of the house. The barn is filled with memorabilia, sculptures, children’s poems and drawings, photos, and a seating area where you can watch video of Frost himself reciting his poems, and his daughter speaking about growing up in the Derry homestead. Definitely take the time to watch the video. It's a treat to see and hear the actual poet recite his own work. And to hear his daughter talk about life in the farmhouse and New England in general takes you back to a time quite a bit different than today's busy life, but in it's own way, VERY busy. I can’t remember the name of the film itself but it was a PBS documentary produced locally. After sitting through that film, we were asked to pay the appropriate fee and then enter the house with the Park Ranger to start the tour!

Our first stop was just inside the door, in the “outhouse” of the property. Since it’s located inside, and attached to the house itself, it’s more like an “in house” but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a bathroom since there was no bathtub, no running water, and a two seater “necessary”! I guess that kind of “sharing” is something only real family members or true friends would allow. The ranger spent quite a while in this room chatting about the history of the house and land, how the purchase was financed, how many chickens were purchased, the paint on the walls, the implements hung from the walls, and after 20 or so minutes Lillian started to fade. She’s not the greatest at standing on her feet, and in the heat of the day she needed to SIT! She walked back into the barn and figured she’d be stuck there for the whole tour, because there really wasn’t anywhere to sit once inside the house. The ranger didn’t hesitate in his discussion, but told us we could grab a chair if we wanted. I think more than a few of us were wishing he'd take her needing to sit as a signal that he needed to either shorten his speech or at least move to a different room, but no, he kept on. Eventually we moved to the next room, a large, unfinished room where wood was stored and other farm implements were displayed, and he continued his talk…. This guy DID love to hear his own voice. He even commented on that himself a number of times. He also told us he’d been a poetry major in college. AH! That’s why they chose him for this park. He definitely knew his stuff and could wax forever on Frost, poetry and the history of this property. I wanted to ask him to recite one of his own poems, since I was curious to see just how great a poet he could be that he was working full time as a park ranger, but I also really wanted to get on with the house tour AND have Lillian join us. It didn’t take long though, and that problem had been solved.

As we moved into the kitchen of the house the ranger introduced us to his intern… actually his son who was learning the ropes of being a park ranger, and who was asked to do a bit of the presentation himself, specific to how laundry was done on a regular basis. He also pointed out the rules of bathing in the house, with the oldest person being allowed to take the first bath, and then the tub full of water being used over and over by each member of the family, down to the youngest. My guess is the youngest never was totally clean! Probably also didn’t have a clue what hot water was! At this point the ranger did allow Lillian to sit in one of the kitchen chairs and amazingly enough as we moved into the living room he told his son to carry the chair there so she could sit again. After that, he was very attentive to her having a place to sit as we went through the house, but she did have to climb the stairs to the bedrooms on her own power and there really wasn’t a place to sit up there. He just promised we wouldn't spend much time up there. We found the living room very interesting, complete with books Frost used to home school his kids. The selection included an eclectic mix with titles like The Pilgrim's Progress, and others you'd expect to see, and then some odd choices regarding religion, greek and roman history, exploration of the north pole and more! I diligently made a list when we were there, but unfortunately changed purses since then and the list is nowhere to be found! I wrote the park asking if they might share a title or two but so far no response. But suffice to say, the variety of books on those shelves would probably be a great start for a paper on home schooling in the early 1900s. 

We found the ranger's stories of Robert Frost, his wife, and children and their travels very interesting. It’s obvious that Frost loved to explore. He started life in San Francisco, but at an early age moved to Lawrence. He's also lived in NH, VT and England to name a few mroe. He also clearly had a control issue, but it may have only been control to allow himself time to create. And he also had a desire to allow life to take him where and how it would, within limits. He wasn't going to be forced to do anything he didn't want to. That may seem contradictory but listening to the stories told by the ranger had us laughing, and wondering how his wife put up with him. Had to be love, most definitely!

Frost ran the poultry farm in Derry with limited success, taught at Pinkerton Academy until 1911, and wrote poetry, a talent that started when he was a young man and just seemed to continue throughout his life with no sign of stopping.  When he sold the farm, he used the money to take his family to England where he began his real literary successes. Robert Frost didn’t want to be tied down and his wife seemed quite willing to live this type of life by his side. Her father was not behind the marriage, but was definitely a part of what kept them warm and fed in Derry. If you love Frost’s poems, or New England living in the early 1900s, or just want to walk the same land that a poet laureate has walked, to see where walls were mended and inspired the poem Mending Wall, a poem that features the line, "good fences make good neighbors", or to see the field that he stopped in on a winter's night in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, then check out the Robert Frost Farm in Derry, NH. It’s a nice place to spend an hour or two, and you might just find yourself checking out his poetry again! We still love it!

Other resources:

Alternate website with more resources for teachers, and Robert Frost history: www.robertfrostfarm.org

Frostiana: Seven Country Songs. A really beautiful piece of composition by Randall Thompson based on poetry by Robert Frost.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Moore State Park

The Essential Springtime Park. Flowers EVERYWHERE!!!
Looking for a dream setting to spend a gorgeous spring day? This is it!
If you love rhodendrons, azaleas and mountain laurel, winding paths around waterfalls and old stone buildings, this is the place for you!!!
  • Our Rating: 5 WAGS!!!! We hesitated only a minute to decide that we would definitely live here! In a dreamlike setting, with mill ponds, waterfalls, and amazing flowers everywhere you turn, only those who truly love city living would turn down the opportunity!
  • Tucker’s Rating: 5 wags! I’ve never seen a dog so happy. He was even rolling down the grassy hills then running back up to do it again! Anywhere he can meet another corgi AND have shady places to lie down, children to pat him, and big fields to play in is a dream destination!
  • Accessibility: Good. The healthy heart trail is a bit steep and root covered, but there are plenty of flat or only slightly inclining trails, nice, clean open fields and you can see the flowers from almost everywhere. The bridge across the dam near the mill house might be a concern, but seems safe enough. There are definitely parts of this park that wouldn’t be accessible, but in our opinion it is well worth the trip because this is such a huge park and there is plenty of area that IS accessible!
  • Fees: FREE
  • Pet-Friendly: YES (on leash)
  • Activities: canoeing, fishing, hiking, x-country skiing and picnicking.

 We picked this park because of the beautiful pictures they featured on the State Park website and we were not disappointed. We chose a weekend in mid-May because the website commented on flowers really being beautiful at certian times of the year. Well, we definitely hit it at that “certain time” because from the moment we arrived, we saw flowers! Every shape and size of rhododendron and azalea were there. Actually, the rhododendrons and mountain laurels weren’t yet in bloom but the azaleas were out and incredible! Pink, orange, cerise, yellow, white, spilling down hillsides, crowded around the base of trees, leaning over Eames Pond. This park is a gorgeous place to wander, photograph, paint, and picnic in. The Healthy Heart Trail runs next to an area of newly planted chestnut trees which the park has planted as part of a National Program . It's pretty much new growth at this time but seems to be doing really well.  As we’ve found in pretty much all parks, maps of the trails are NOT available, so print your own here! I highly recommend printing one since on our travels, we got a bit lost wandering around. Thankfully my inner sense brought us back to the parking lot eventually, but some of the signage is hidden, and the trails in the spring can blend into the forest floor and you wouldn't want to miss any of the marked archaeological or architectural sites.

The park itself was originally an old mill village built back in the 1700’s drawing power for various mill buildings from Turkey Hill Brook. It encompasses 671 acres of history, archaeology, waterfalls, ponds, old stonework, fields and forest. Pretty much everything you’d want in a park, combined in a way guaranteed to remove you from the hustle and bustle of life in the 21st century, and with plenty of space to just sit back and relax, or wander and explore to your heart’s content.

In the 1930, a family from Worcester bought the entire mill village area, which was no longer profitable as a mill, and turned it into an estate. Florence Morton, a member of this family, and one of the first female degreed landscape architects in Massachusetts, is responsible for the general layout of the park and the beginnings of what is an amazing display of rhododendrons and azaleas. Her designs and work resulted in what was known back then as Glen Morton. In 1946 the property was purchased by the Spaulding family (another wealthy Worcester family who owned department stores in the area). Mrs. Connie Spaulding renamed the estate Enchanta. She was a member of the local garden club and gave her focus to continuing the plantings of various rhododendron and azalea plants, going to great lengths to achieve specific color variations and combinations, all of which could be viewed from her home. The state purchased the property from the Spaulding family in 1965 and it has remained a park ever since. To read more about the history of this spot, check out the website of the local American Rhododendron Society.

 We enjoyed the beautiful day, the gorgeous scenery and took lots of photos of flowers, and we're certain that this park will remain in our top 5 for a long time to come. It's just beautiful, with easy trails to hike, friendly people, but lots of space for solitude, a beautiful pond and opportunities for various other activities but all in your own good time. Those other activities include: canoeing in Eames Pond, fishing in Eames Pond and Turkey Hill Brook, hiking, cross-country skiing, picnicking, and PHOTOGRAPHY! Don’t miss the Artist Overlook marked on the park trail map. It’s the perfect spot for photos. The day we were there a woman was taking pictures of her little daughter dressed in her frilliest party dress. She’d been sitting there quietly posing until she saw Tucker bouncing along the trail. Suddenly she was up and exclaiming, “look at the doggy!!!!” I saw her mother's disappointed (or maybe frustrated) look and realized she'd finally gotten her daughter quieted down and sitting still!  We took a few quick shots and moved on so they could get back to what looked like some really beautiful pictures. I’m sure this is a popular spot with couples for wedding shots too. If you’re in the area and want a romantic setting (especially when the flowers are blooming) this is it! Our guess is during the fall this is also a totally gorgeous park to visit.

We headed home but not before stopping for lunch! A local favorite is Hot Dog Annie’s  in Leicester, MA. Local hot dogs, local potato chips (Wachusett brand) and even their own soda! While some people may not think this is a GREAT hot dog place, it is definitely local, with clean picnic tables, quick service and lots of choices if you’re looking for hot dogs. We thought they were pretty darned good for hot dogs, and the price was right, so stop by if you've got a hankering.

We considered this a very successful and memorable park trip and would recommend it highly to anyone, families, children, pets, individuals, and groups. We were thrilled with the scenery, found the trails easy to walk, Tucker enjoyed every minute of the day, and while there were people wandering the trails, you never really felt like the place was crowded. Heading out Worcester way? GO TO THIS PARK!!! Got it?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Minuteman National Historical Park

A park memorializing so many events it spans three towns!

But we had to draw the line at walking the whole way. We drove through them instead! Believe me though, if we'd had segways or bikes and a significant portion of the trails hadn't been flooded, we may have been tempted!
  • Our Rating - 4 wags
  • Tucker's Rating - 4 wags
  • Accessibility - excellent. Flat trails, accessible historic homes and visitor's centers, handicap parking, special listening devised at visitor's centers for films/slide shows, and even cell phone guided tours!
  • Fees - $5 to access the Wayside House, free for children 16 and younger. Group tours available. Wayside House wasn't yet open for the season at our visit. Access to all the rest of the park is free!
  • Other Activities - Biking, hiking, picnicking, historic reenactments, museums and historic homes, nature/viewing areas, colonial craft demonstrations and lessons, and lots more! Special date if you can plan ahead - Patriot's Day in April. That's when we went. It's a long weekend and the park has events going on the entire weekend! Check the park website for details on times, dates, locations, etc.
Well, we knew this park was on our list and we knew that this weekend was the SAME weekend as our contest in Springfield. It's also a holiday weekend in MA but since I work in NH I made a last minute request  for an extra day off. Then we crossed our fingers for at least sunshine rather than the rain we had at Wahconah State Park a few days before, and planned to get up at the crack of dawn, head to Lexington, and watch the reenactment of the start of the Revolutionary War on Patriot's Day. It'd be a dawn battle between the British regulars and the local militia. "Our side" lost that initial battle, but won the war. When we called Beth's brother to let him know where we'd been that day, he was quick to point out the "lost the battle" part,  but we were there and we know the whole story!

The Early Bird Sees the Battle
In contrast to our first dawn awakening, to visit our first park back in September, this time when the alarm clock went off at 3:30 AM we knew we needed to be up and out! It was freezing on Patriot's Day, or very near to it! And the moon was still out, so Tucker stayed home. He's NOT an early bird and loves nothing better than lying on the couch on a Saturday or Sunday morning watching old movies and snoozing. But this is a park he would love. Just not so early, and not with muskets going off all around, and not with soldiers yelling... and he wouldn't have been allowed into the visitor's center. But on a regular visit to this park, we'd definitely bring him along! We left the house right on schedule, bundled in layers and headed to Lexington Green at 4 AM. Silly us to think that would get us there ahead of the crowd! There had to be at least 1,000 people there at 4:30 AM! People standing 2 - 3 deep around the green, tarps spread out and covered with quilts, sleeping bags and kids drinking hot cocoa, indicated that the truly early birds probably SLEPT here to get their spots. Some even brought ladders to sit on to see over the crowds. That's what experience teaches you.

Have You Ever Met a Polite Crowd?
We parked our car in a nearby lot and hoped we wouldn't get ticketed because parking was tight even at this early hour! That, and the fact that some parking was blocked out on the main street in preparation for a parade later that day. Next time it might pay to just head to Lexington the night before, have a nice night out, then stake out our spot up close with all the rest of the "campers". But lucky for us we headed to a large group of children standing on the edge of the green, and positioned ourselves right behind them... we knew the number of tall people blocking our view would be minimal! Except for one father who had been sitting when we got there, but stood up shortly after we arrived... I quickly found myself standing on the edge of a curb, leaning backward to avoid this guy's back. If I tried to step backward OFF the curb I crunched the toes of the person behind me, who was snapping pictures with her cell phone CONSTANTLY. Did you know that when you have the ringer turned up, the snapping sound your phone makes is ALSO loud???  OK, so at 4:30 in the morning maybe we're ALL a bit more sensitive, but seriously, at a few points I had this woman's phone shoved in FRONT of my face and snapped... thinking I should have at least gotten a few copies of those shots! But we could see, and that was the point. And we had selected a spot right in front of one of the colonial soldiers... He talked about his "family" and the events of that day and asked questions of all the children and adults in the area. Religion, women's rights, labor and gun laws, he brought current issues from today's news back into colonial times and we learned that things back then weren't so "old-fashioned" as we thought. As the sun slowly rose, we noticed children sitting on rooftops, the steeple of the church gleaming white against the early morning sky and the crowd had at least tripled in size! And as time passed, people started getting colder, more territorial, and some children, products of the instant gratification generation, had suggestions for the solider on how things could be made "more realistic" or "more fun", and some families who'd staked out their area with blankets, began to stand up... which made people behind (including us) want to move closer since a family lying down that may have taken up a 6 x 12 foot area, now only took up 4 x 5... but no, these parents didn't want their kids rubbing elbows with others, so they kept hawk eyes out for ANYONE who dared to move into their blanketed territory! Funny when I think back, but when I was standing there watching my breath frost out in front of me, and wishing I could see just a teensy bit better, I did NOT appreciate this behavior. I understand it was the kids' first time... but it was my first time too, and somewhere deep inside, the younger Madeline was itching to step forward with hands on hips and DEMAND I be allowed to join the front line where there was obviously space! I mean how much does a blanket need to see? (But let me take a step back and return to my adult self!)

Time flew (the actual battle didn't start until 6!) and suddenly alarms rang out, colonial soldiers started to flee and were called back by their leaders, shots were fired, dogs barked, men fell to the ground and the battle with it's sulphur-laden smoke and early morning surprise was over. The British had won. I think this shocked a number of the children in the crowd, and some adults, too. The red coats ran back into formation and some people thought they were running scared, but it didn't take long to realize there weren't many colonial soldiers left standing. The "dead and wounded" were tended to by family, with bodies removed to the cemetery behind the church. Later the colonial soldiers gathered to play a memorial tune for their fallen brothers before their march to Concord. And we headed to find breakfast (heartless souls that we are!).

The Revolutionary Battle Road
It was still too early for most places to be open for breakfast. Starbuck's was standing room only, and Nourish, the natural foods restaurant that had people out on the sidewalk handing out flyers, wasn't open for another half hour or so, so we headed out of town... on the road to see Paul Revere's capture site, the Hartwell Tavern, the Visitor's Center in Lincoln, and onto Concord to see the Minuteman statue and the North Bridge.

Unfortunately due to all the rain we've had, we saw many signs stating that the road to the bridge was washed out and not easily accessed. Hopefully they'll get everything back into shape for the summer because this is definitely a great trail for biking, hiking, segwaying and everything in between. While we didn't catch EVERY stop along the way, this is a beautiful park that educates as well as providing space for appreciation of nature and history. We stopped first at the Minuteman Visitor's Center right on Mass Ave. It wasn't supposed to open until 8:30 or 9, but because of the day's events they'd opened early. Very nice center with a short multi-media presentation, an impressive mural depicting one of the battles, a gift shop, and on this day a fully outfitted British soldier for me to pose with! I did apologize to him for winning the war and ask that he smile for the camera rather than scowling. I'll let you decide if he cooperated. They've also got picnic tables, and a very large parking lot so this would be a good spot to start your trip if you're not stopping in Lexington first. The actual trail starts at Fiske Hill just outside of Lexington Center, off of Mass Ave and runs all the way to Concord (3 1/2 hours walking according to the website), weaving in and out of fields and woods along Mass Ave. For a good map, check here.

Our stop at Paul Revere's capture site was quick. Very nice memorial and a lot of joggers along the path that runs behind it. We drove a bit further and came upon the parking lot for the Hartwell Tavern site. The tavern is a short walk from the lot and at the early hour we were there, the costumed staff had just started to arrive. We caught a couple photos of one "colonial woman" carrying her cup of Starbucks coffee, and another wearing sneakers rather than her traditional shoes. She asked us whether we could cut that out of the photo, but we try to report it as we see it, so....But this is definitely a part of the trip not to be missed. The tavern itself is beautiful and includes raised herb beds, barns, and the chance to watch cooking and musket firing demonstrations, ranger guided tours, and a chance to chat with costumed guides. There is also a short hiking trail across from the tavern.

Parades and Authors 
We had planned on driving into Concord and then out to the North Bridge, but due to the holiday parade which was starting shortly after we arrived, we didn't quite get there. Parking had stretched all the way out to Wayside House and many roads were actually closed off. Wayside House, home of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, and Margaret Sidney (author of Five Little Peppers), is not open year round. Margaret Sidney and her daughter are the ones responsible for the preservation of much of the history in the area including Wayside House itself. If you want to catch this literary site and Orchard House (just down the street from Wayside, and the setting for Little Women), check the linked websites for visiting hours and activities.
As we said when we visited Walden Pond, this is an area FILLED with authors and historic homes. Definitely a destination you could fill a week with, if you wanted to walk in your favorite author's footsteps, or imagine the settings that inspired these classic tales. We headed home after taking a few photos of both Wayside and Orchard House, but will definitely be back.

That's the best part of this entire blog project! We're finding all kinds of places we can run to for a quick day trip or weekend getaway! Hopefully you'll find them a handy guide for your own family, friends, pets or for just a solitary day on your own!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Wahconah Falls State Park

An Idyllic Setting in Western MA

  • Tucker’s Rating – 4 wags. Although he didn’t go, he would have loved it!
  • Our Rating – 4 wags.
  • Accessibility – It’d be tough with any wheelchair or stroller. There is a path but it’s not flat and has lots of roots, etc. various trails are also VERY steep and the day we went they were wet and slippery!
  • Fees – FREE
  • Pet Friendly – Yes
  • Other activities –This is primarily a nature area with bbq grills and trails around the local water supply. The waterfall is gorgeous, and about 40 feet high. You can hear it from the parking lot! But signs everywhere state no swimming. I know people do it, but not on the rainy, cold day we were there!

Beth and I were out in Springfield for our annual Sweet Adeline Competition. My quartet was singing Friday evening, and then the choruses had their contest on Saturday. Since Beth and I are now associate members of the chorus, meaning we weren't singing in contest, we had the full day to ourselves while the chorus prepared. But we needed a park that was close enough to Springfield for us to return to Symphony Hall in time to see the ladies of Merrimack Valley strut their stuff. The contest schedule said 4:30, so we knew we’d have plenty of time… and after a bit of meandering to get ourselves headed in the right direction (Springfield CAN be tricky to get around), we were headed north and west…. For QUITE a while! The sky was overcast and rain came and went. It was probably below 50 degrees and we hadn’t packed heavy duty outerwear and here we were heading into the Berkshires for a hike in what appeared to be a very remote location. I've READ about people like that and always thought, "how stupid were THEY??" And now here we were doing exactly the same thing, but probably with far less adventurous plans in the making.

The park itself is 30 miles from Northampton, just off Rt. 9 and we found the EXACT place we want to live when we grow up on that drive! Haydenville, just outside of Northampton, is a gorgeous village that is actually a section of Williamsburg. I’d never even heard of EITHER of those towns and have pretty much lived in MA all my life… Northampton is actually a “city” compared to Haydenville and Williamsburg, but while they’re small, we were taken by the shops, restaurants and sculptures we found and photographed. The Brewmaster Tavern is beautiful and features their own Opa-Opa Brews. Beth picked up a six-pack while I wandered around the downtown area taking photos of some amazing sculptures made of recycled tools, car parts, axe heads, and more! As I was returning to the car I noticed all the stained glass around the top of the building (obviously a library or ex-library) and it was amazing, books, ink wells. Even a home-made bird house hanging off the local bank caught my eye.

This place may be buried in snow in the winter, and the winding river may flood every hundred years or so, but the amazingly colorful mansions and historic homes were a sight to see. We pulled up and down little streets so I could snap a few photos of the gorgeous old mansions lining the main street. Some looked like southern plantation houses, some like Victorian cottages, and a few are indeed bed and breakfasts. Especially on a dark and rainy Saturday, they brightened up our day! Definitely we’re going back here, if not to live, then certainly to visit. Our next blog plans involve breweries so it’ll definitely be on that schedule in any case!

We also discovered an incredible bakery, Bread Euphoria, where we picked up lunch (and would have stopped for dinner too if we weren’t heading back to the concert!). The place is easy to miss since it’s located behind a house, in front of a barn, and is connected to a great pottery, Andrew Quient Pottery. With these two treasures alone, and the flat out gorgeous little golf course across the street, Beaver Brook, we just wanted to stay and explore the town but we had places to go! Specifically, Wahconah Falls.

As my ears started to block from the altitude we knew we’d reached the heart of the Berkshires… Are we there yet? But we kept driving until we were near Pittfield State Forest and the MA/NY border! To think we drove all that way in my Saturn VUE which breathed it’s last breath just two weeks later, and thank GOD it hung in there for us rather than leaving us stranded in the mountains in the very cold rain!

We took the left hand turn onto Wahconah Falls Road… pretty much a hairpin turn which leads you immediately into a trailer park. But never fear! If you keep driving, the paved road disappears all together and you’re on dirt (did I say never fear???)…. And you kind of start traveling upward…. If you’ve got a low slung vehicle you may bottom out so just be prepared. Thankfully it’s not far til you see the parking lot on your right and you’re there! And when you step out of the car, you’ll hear the falls! The area is extremely overgrown with moss, and along the right hand side of the path we noticed a field of miniature bamboo! I’m not sure of the species and it had no leaves yet but we noticed the segments and the deep green color as looking very out of place here. All research I’ve done indicate that this is not a naturally occurring plant for this park, and in fact is seen as an invasive species in the area. It had definitely taken over the entire valley next to the pathway heading to the river, but it did look beautiful and I can imagine it makes a beautiful sighing sound when it's full grown and has the mountain breeze blowing through it.

But the most important feature of this park is the waterfall, and you will not be disappointed. This is a very green, overgrown park that makes you think of fairies and elves. Lots of little nooks and crannies, miniature waterfalls, mushrooms, looming pines, and the bbq grills scattered around the clearing next to the waterfall don’t detract from that notion. Rocks near the water are covered with moss and are wet so be careful. Signs mention “no lifeguards” but also “no swimming” so I think this park, in it’s isolation, sees various activity, but on the day we were there it was cold and wet and very beautiful, with not a bathing suit in sight.

It’s not a big park, but there are trails that go uphill towards what we believe is a water supply, and may actually go right around the source of the falls itself. We were cold and not dressed for hiking through slippery hills and rocks so we didn’t explore further but had the place to ourselves to take photos and just listen to the soothing sound of water traveling over and around rocks, boulders and into a large pool below. If we could build a house by this place, we probably WOULD! Especially knowing that there is so much to see and do within an hour or so’s drive from here. It was a great place to get away from stress and work and never having enough hours in the day. Here it seems there are plenty of hours to just sit and soak up the serenity. (Why do I hear George's father yelling SERENITY NOW????? Guess it takes more than an hour or two to knock the dust of society off my brain!).

Making this a destination for a day might be tough unless you live in Western MA, or at least out in the Springfield area… and once you’re there you make your own fun because there is nothing in the park as far as facilities, but it would definitely be a gorgeous place for an Indian Summer cookout, and we’ll keep it near the top of our list of favorite parks! We had just enough time to drive back to Springfield to catch the chorus in the hallway of the hotel getting ready to enter the pattern for competing at Symphony Hall. We wished them luck and many broken legs, and then ran through the raindrops to the hall to watch them put their best on stage. No medals were won that day but the feeling of having put their best on stage, and enjoying singing together with friends was unmistakable. I guess we dedicate THIS trip to Merrimack Valley Chorus. A chorus Beth and I have sung with for a number of years, won medals with, practiced with, and consider part of our family! If you check out the link to the chorus before they switch out to the new picture, you'll even be able to see Beth and I in our sparkly glory from 2009's contest!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Lynn Heritage State Park and Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Some days life just takes you in a different direction!

Lynn Heritage State Park is first

  • Tucker's Rating - 0 wags (Pets aren't allowed indoors)
  • Our Rating - 2 wags. Mainly because their website wasn't updated!
  • Accessibility - Seems to be fine. They've got ramps and I think elevators
  • Fees - ????
  • Pet Friendly - No. But it's an indoor park. I think you can bring dogs on the walk along the beach.
  • Other Activities - This isn't the greatest of neighborhoods but IS a very short distance from the oceanfront so you could check out the beach, and they've supposedly got a mural along the boardwalk that outlines the growth of the shoe industry in the area.
Having worked in Lynn for a number of years back in the 80's for my uncle, John Meshna, Jr. (any ham radio junkies out there?), selling bank-owned property there in the early 90's and then working for the VNA for a bit and being recently involved in a restaurant development project in the downtown area, I knew we needed to be familiar with where we were driving when we headed to "Lynn, Lynn, the city of sin!" Not to put a bad light on the city, but it does have some areas where didn't feel all that safe walking around. But we checked the directions, checked the website to confirm the park would be open on Sunday, and headed out just after noon. Lynn is a very dense city that encompasses a very diverse community. Lynn is truly a league of nations, and you'll see people from every walk of life from young mothers pushing strollers, to older couples out for an afternoon stroll, to Hell's Angels on motorcycles and monks working outside a temple (we saw all of these and more!)... it's all here. Easy access via train, and the close proximity to beaches and other oean side towns make this a great location for a park, and compared to many of the out-of-the-way parks we've got on our list, this is an easy one to visit even if you don't have a car! Unfortunately, some people are actually afraid to GO to Lynn. It is a city with a reputation for high levels of crime, and has carried this reputation for over a century. Most people in New England know Lynn by the following poem:
Lynn, Lynn, city of sin
You never come out the way you went in
Ask for water, they give you a gin
The girls say no, but they always give in
Back in 1997 the city solicitor tried to change the city's name to Ocean Park to avoid this reputation but his proposal didn't pass and so we still have the City of Lynn.... home to General Electric (which grew out of Elihu Thomson's experiments with arc lighting and industrial motors, Lydia Pinkham and her amazingly popular women's tonic (used to dig up old bottles for this stuff in the backyard where I grew up!), and a number of firsts including: the first dance academy in the US, the first tannery in the US, the first ironworks, and even the first Roast Beef Sandwich! But this isn't a blog about Lynn, or cities trying to improve their reputation... it's about the parks, and Lynn Heritage State Park is not going on our list of favorite parks.... mainly because when we finally found a place to park and tried to get in, the wrought iron gates were locked and this park was clearly closed! Very aggravating since according to the website, it's only open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 pm. Not the easiest park visit to schedule. If you decide to go though, we'd suggest calling the day OF your visit to confirm that the park is open. the lot, while small and easily missed, is easy to get to (just behind the park building) and free. We drove around the block twice (hard to do since there are a number of one way streets) and finally decided to park in the lot for WFNX... not recommended but for the short time we were there to take photos of the outside of the building and the neighborhood we weren't concerned.
They do have displays of historic artifacts in the front windows, and at the back of the building is a very pretty park. One large tree had obviously blown over in the recent windstorms we've had, and there was some trash strewn around, but it looks like it would be a very nice place to sit and have lunch. The stained glass that appears around the top of the 1st floor is beautiful and features images from Lynn's history including shoes, and other items. We did get some pictures of this and the park, but it was a short visit and we probably won't go back. The online walking map doesn't provide anything more than an outline of the streets in the area and the name of the park. No trails or indication of how to get to the waterfront boardwalk and the murals that are mentioned on the website. But it is just a block away from North Shore Community College, and as we said, about a block from the train station, so it's easy to find. With the rest of our afternoon free, we decided to head up to Salem, MA (about 20 minutes north of Lynn Heritage) to see how that waterfront has changed over the years.
Salem Maritime National Historic Site
Salem's Pickering Wharf used to be a popular hangout for me and some friends after I graduated from college. There were plenty of waterfront restaurants/bars and a great breakwater for walking. One of my favorites was Victoria Station, and I'm happy to say it's still there, looking pretty much as it did back then, including great outdoor seating! But wow has the waterfront area grown up since then! We found our way and parked in a public parking garage and it became immediately clear that this area of Salem has changed in a big way since the 80's. But we were thrilled to discover that Pickering Wharf is also right next to the visitor's center for the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, so we'd get to visit a park today after all! We stopped in at the visitor's center so Lillian could sit for a minute and the ranger immediately asked if we'd like to view their free movie on the history of the Salem Waterfront. If you go to this park, don't miss this movie. It's not long but gives a great overview of all the buildings in the area, and the heyday of Salem, when it was the center of international trade. The visitor's center is just across the street from the Customs House where Nathaniel Hawthorne worked. A short distance away is a tall ship replica, the Friendship of Salem which is part of the park tour. There are numerous historic houses, shops and wharves that are all part of the park property and would make a full day of sightseeing if you're in the area. To be honest, this area of MA has so many historical buildings, parks, and tours that you could easily book a week here and not get bored. We only had a few hours so decided that this would be a park we come back to, even if it wasn't on our original list of 52! It's easily accessible, and while there is a $5 fee to get into all the buildings and onto the ship, you can see quite a bit just walking around, and taking advantage of the free film we saw at the visitor's center. Check out the Fees and Reservations page for a list of free activities if you really want a low cost day or two!
Other Historic Sites
Salem is most famous for it's witch trials, and there are plenty of historic sites to learn about that part of Salem's past, too. The Salem Witch Museum provides a great reenactment of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 through the use of stage sets, special lighting and narration. I remember going to this museum as a school field trip, and again with a college group and it brought history to life for me.
Historic Homes
Witch House, also known as the Jonathan Corwin House, is the only home left in Salem with direct ties to the Witch Trials. Guided House Tours are expensive ($10.25/adult) but they do allow a $2 discount for self-guided tours, and if you are interested in witch trials, this should definitely be on your list. Special tours are held during October.
House of Seven Gables (also known as the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion) is listed with the National Registry of Historic Places and is open to the public. Featured in Hawthorne's novel, The House of Seven Gables, it's appropriate that they've recently moved the home of his birth to the same property so you can catch two historic sites at once. The House of Seven Gables waqs built in 1668 and is the oldest 17th century wooden home in New England. It's treasures include a hidden staircase, hundreds of old photos and paintings, and approximately 2,000 other artifacts! Definitely worth stopping in, and when you're ready to step back outdoors, you can enjoy their beautiful Colonial Revival Gardens.
Also check out:
New England Pirate Museum
Peabody Essex Museum (one of my favorite little museums!!! check out the website and you'll see why!)
Many of these sites are located along the Heritage Trail, a red line painted on the sidewalk that takes you all over the city. Starting at the National Park Visitor's Center, you'll walk through historic neighborhoods, museums, the waterfront, shops and more. So if you're looking for something to do for a sunny day, head to Salem! We didn't put this on our original list, but it's there now and we're definitely going back! 4 wags from us most definitely! (None from Tucker since they wouldn't have let him into the buildings, bt we did get him a patch for his hiking vest!)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Purgatory Chasm State Park

You Take the Low Road, We'll Take the High Road

We headed out to Worcester and the Swedish Cemetery (aka All Faith's Cemetery) for Beth's father's 80th birthday. The day was beautiful and as we've said before, we've dedicated this blog and our travels to Ed and his statement to us to get out and do things because you don't know how much time you have left. So after leaving rose petals, tulips and roses on the gravesites, we traveled a bit south of Worcester to check out Purgatory Chasm State Park in Sutton, MA. This park really is just a hop and a skip from Worcester, and the crowd at the park attests to the fact that it's a very quick trip to a great place for a bbq, a picnic, and a spot for the kids to run around. BUT the main feature of this park, the chasm, isn't one you'd want little kids to play around on their own. When we arrived we were surprised by how many people were there. The parking lots are large and we did find a space, and an open picnic table (plenty of those as well) for Lillian to sit at while we explored the area.
  • Tucker's Rating - 2 wags. Way too rocky for his short legs, but if you've got a dog who likes to climb, this'd be the park!
  • Our Rating - 3 wags (and that's being generous)
  • Accessibility - Not really. While the Visitor's Center has a ramp, and the trails near the playground are easy to maneuver, Purgatory Chasm is about the chasm, and THAT isn't accessible at all. Not even for us since we weren't wearing real hiking boots and it's made up of all sizes of boulders.
  • Fees - Donation (they've got a donation receptacle near the Visitor's Center
  • Pet Friendly - Yes, on leash
  • Other Activities - Top roping (by permit only, year round except Sundays)
Another Citified Park
This park is definitely a favorite with families, couples, and college students. They were everywhere, as was the smell of BBQ lighter fluid, the sound of college students singing obscenity-laden drinking songs, and little children running everywhere! We could tell this was one of the first truly warm and sunny days after a very rainy and raw winter. Everyone seemed to be there, soaking up the sunshine, enjoying the warm breezes and checking the fit on their summer shorts and tank tops. We stopped at the visitor's center but they haven't really stocked the brochure or map racks yet (although they did have very faint copies of the trail maps available). To be safe, get yours here. In the center of the room is a case with various displays of nests, eggs, plaster footprint castings, and lots of bugs (on display, not running around the building!), with a guide indicating that all can be found in and around the park. This was a nice addition, but no one seemed interested in looking. Today was all about the picnic!

WARNING: The restrooms were NOT clean. That's all we're saying on that account. Hopefully in the summer when they have a full staff (there was a ranger on site involved in cleaning outside) they are better able to keep up with the crowds.

When is a Path Not a Path?
When it's covered with boulders the size of a VW Bug!!!! Beth and I crossed the street from the visitor's center to find the picnic pavillion (packed with people and with an ice cream truck parked in front!) and lots of bbq grills ringing a parking lot filled with cars... Kind of reminded me of muscle car night at the local Dairy Queen... but shortly we saw the sign to the chasm. We took one look at the path down to the bottom and decided pretty quickly that today wasn't the day for this hike. Who knew? I had on my hiking sneakers and Beth had on rubber soled comfort mocs... usually perfectly fine for most of our hikes, but the gravel, stone, rock and on up to full-fledged boulders we'd be hopping, crawling, and climbing across combined with the sheer number of people who were all scrambling across the same, had me picturing a slip and my ankle caught between two rocks with either a sprain or a break lurking just below the surface.

Never fear! We decided THIS was a "high road" day... as in when you wear ankle supporting hiking boots you take the low road (read "chasm"), and when you wear lightweight walking shoes you take the high road (read "Charlie's Loop Trail") which takes you along the northern edge of the chasm, with plenty of opportunities to climb up on the edge of sheer cliffs, look down at the people scrambling through the rocks below, and hopping over and around brooks, rivulets, and tiny waterfalls. Really pretty actually, and it would have been an enjoyable and nature-filled break from the city if it weren't for the fact that the city had followed us to the park! We had to squeeze past small children chasing each other, excuse ourselves when we happened upon couples looking for a romantic spot alone, and tourists snapping photos of each other on the edge of the chasm... and the random small groups of college kids with their "to-go" cups, their short skirts and sandals, wandering through the woods on a surprise warm day in March. This reminded me of Walden Pond and our thought that it would be a much nicer place if it were less crowded (oh no, am I turning into a crotchety old woman so early???)

We're definitely coming back to this park but no doubt off-season. Maybe in the fall, although mostly we saw oak trees so not sure how much color there'd be. It would be a nice place for a cool autumn bbq, and there are plenty of open areas for Frisbee, blankets and a nice nap or a book to read, and if you're quiet and still long enough I'm sure you'd see some of the birds showcased in the visitor's center.

We caught plenty of good shots along our route, but the park is very monotone at this time of year (mud season), and due to the height of the trail, and the heaviness of the underbrush and the trees, it was difficult to get a photo of the chasm itself that actually shows it's size. At some points the gorge is 60 feet wide, with some walls rising to 70 feet (wouldn't want to fall from THERE!) and there are also small caves and channels with water running through (although that may be more the result of all the rain we've had lately). It also appears to be a good place for beginner level rock climbing since you've got some sheer rock faces, but height is manageable.

Kids and Rock Climbing

 This park is recommended in the Best Hikes with Children series. To quote, "Families with small children may need a good deal of time and effort to get from one end of the gorge to the other, but you will enjoy every minute. You will no doubt meet a number of folks following the same trail but somehow, on this adventure, it doesn't matter. In fact, it's fun to trade incredulous comments with other, equally awestruck people." But we're thinking if your kids aren't the rough and tumble type you may want to pick one of the other parks we've recommended. I know I'd have a heart attack keeping kids away from the edges of the chasm, and every excitement filled shriek would sound to me like someone had fallen and broken a leg! Maybe I AM turning into an old lady! 

This park also has a Healthy Heart Trail which in length is definitely healthy and do-able, but in difficulty we'd judge this one to be more "medium" than "easy". And there are websites that list this park as a good destination for top roping. This requires a permit from the park's visitor's center. Permits are free, and are good for a full year but no climbing is allowed on Sundays.

What Else is in the Area?
Colleges! Worcester is home to College of the Holy Cross, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Anna Maria College, Clark University (Beth's Dad's alma mater), Assumption College, Worcester State College, and UMass. No wonder we found some guides that stated this was primarily a picnic site for urbanites and suburbanites. That's definitely what we felt, and while it is a beautiful space, it's just plain not our idea of a place to enjoy nature's beauty, except perhaps in the true off-season when most people are home staying warm and dry.

We do have a recommendation for a great place to grab a cup of coffee and something sweet though, the Crown Bakery, an authentic Swedish bakery that also sells yummy sandwiches and soup. If you go near a holiday, don't be surprised to find the place filled with people standing in line to buy their marzipan and fuit cakes, fruit pies, irish soda bread, cookies, and more! We always get the twisted rolls with saffron and cinammon! So make sure to stop on your way out to the park so you've have some energy for the climb!