Friday, August 27, 1999
Great Brook Farm State Park today and planning ahead for the future
If you plan on being around Carlisle these last days of summer, why don't you go take a hike? Turn off the PC, TV, and AC and hit the trail. Put on some comfortable shoes, hiking shorts, a T-shirt, your favorite hat for some portable shade, and off you go to the Great Brook Farm State Park.
Hit the trail,
over hill and dale,
get off the pike, and
go take a hike.
Walking through the countryside has been getting some bad press lately, when it gets any mention at all. Ticks are waiting on every blade of grass, bears may come bounding out of the woods, snakes are everybody's nightmare, mosquitoes run amok, and the sun will turn our skin into fried dough. But the biggest media disincentive of all is that hiking is free. No advertisements or sponsors.
If a commercial on TV raved about a new drug that helps you to lose weight, gives you a healthy complexion, strengthens your body, reduces stress, and works better than Viagra, we'd all run to the nearest CVS and buy it at any price. If it's free and accessible to everyone, we'd probably switch channels, convinced it can't be any good if it isn't scarce and expensive.
Not only is walking free, it's abundantly available right in our own back yard. Countless trails crisscross Carlisle in a web of adventure, but our favorite place is the Great Brook Farm State Park. Others may prefer the Towle Conservation Land, Carlisle Cranberry Bog, Estabrook Woods or the Greenough Land. Each has its advantages, but the state park features a perfect combination of fields, trees, and water to keep things interesting. It's also large enough so that you can walk for several hours in a loop, never having to double back and retrace your steps. Best of all, you don't have to dodge any cars.
Mark and Tamma Duffy, the resident farmers, live in the historic home of the Spaulding family (circa 1780). Approximately 150 Holstein cows (new ones arriving daily) are raised on the farm. The Duffys are also the purveyors of "turtle" and "mud pie," our favorites from their 58 flavors at the ice cream stand. There's a gift shop in the barn and a park interpreter who gives tours where history, farming information, milking facts and figures, and tidbits of interesting cow "moobelia" are covered. Sweet corn (not this year) and cranberries are sold in season.
Ideal for hiking
Park supervisor Ray Faucher and the Duffy family keep the place hopping. The farm's buildings, hay and corn fields, and grazing pastures add up to about 90 acres, a little under ten percent of the total park's 973 acres. There are fields, ponds, streams, and woods ideal for hiking, cross-country skiing, mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, canoeing, and bird-watching. Great blue herons, countless songbirds, various ducks and the ubiquitous Canada geese share the landscape with beavers, deer, and (gasp) rumors of an occasional bear. For the kids, Duffy provides for viewing a yard full of goats, chickens, sheep, rabbits, ducks, pigs, and one very tolerant and forgiving turkey.
There's evidence that the park was home to Native American tribes and early colonists. Several stone foundations, remnants of a 1600s "city," are scattered around the park. Some speculate that the Indian grinding stone on the Garrison Trail may have been a ceremonial rock and the bowl-shaped depression used for pouring of offerings. Colonists, who may have felt that drastic measures were needed to discourage persistent Indian visitation, later split the rock. Also of significance are the park's two large granite "turtles, one of which is aligned with the summer solstice sunset, while another, about a half mile away, is aligned with the winter solstice sunrise.
Seventeen miles of trails
The Farnham Smith family owned Great Brook Farm until the early 1970s. The Massachusetts Division of Forests and Parks purchased the land in 1974 and Carlisle's very own state park was born. Over 200,000 people visited the park last year, estimated from car counts in the summer and ski concession tickets in the winter (when it begrudgingly snows). The average daily rate is about 300 people, with peaks up to 2,000. Over seventeen miles of trails have been established within the park and Duffy's refreshment stand is waiting at the end to reward the hungry hiker.
Faucher has praise for the New England Mountain Bike Association. "They send out a crew four times a year to help with trail maintenance," he said. "They built the boardwalks on Deer Run and Tophet Loop. Recently they helped build a stone-reinforced switchback on the trail connecting Pine Point Loop to Heartbreak Ridge (Wolf Rock) that we relocated to reduce erosion." Faucher (369-6312) welcomes volunteers and there's always trail work to be done. Forest damage from the 1997 April Fool's Day ice storm has not been repaired due to lack of personnel, and painting and other maintenance projects have been deferred on the 36 buildings and structures in the park.
With the increasing attraction of a working dairy farm and seasonal ice cream stand, visitors may have noticed lately that the area around the duck pond and immediate farm is beginning to suffer from wear and tear. Faucher has noticed it, too and enlisted the Department of Environmental Management and others to review the park's major capital needs. During working sessions held at the park during the spring of 1997 and 1998, they discussed alternatives and agreed upon the following prioritized course of action.
Plans to upgrade park
First is to construct a new building in the farm complex with a septic system and well providing: 1) public toilet facilities, and running water for hand- washing and drinking; 2) an area for park interpretive staff; 3) a place for storing and servicing maintenance equipment; and 4) an open-air pavilion for the orientation of visitors.
Faucher hopes to relocate the main parking lot away from the duck pond and install a more stable surface. This would allow associated site work to improve pedestrian circulation, restore the duck pond, and install picnic areas. The lot was originally designed for about 25 cars, but due to the soaring number of visitors, it has sprawled out to accommodate about 175 vehicles. The lot is not clearly delineated from the surrounding lawn and cross winds blow sand and dust from the lot into the surrounding grassy area as well as the pond. The sloping lot channels rainwater straight into the small, scenic, popular duck pond located 60 feet away, leading to erosion and siltation.
The dairy barn is scheduled to get some timely repair as is the Hart Barn, which would receive upgraded toilets and seasonal drinking water for the public. The dairy barn is the physical centerpiece of the park, with its calves and cows and working dairy operation. It has significant structural problems, including a decomposing north wall and crumbling sill.
Other plans are to upgrade the park's directional and interpretive signage. One of the more popular greetings on the trail after a friendly "Hi" is "Where am I?" Faucher wants to replace the ski trail bridge at the canoe launch area on Meadow Pond, and maintain a canoe channel through encroaching exotic water chestnut. The old ski trail bridge was washed out and users of the Pine Point Loop trail are now routed out onto North Road, an unsafe arrangement given the road's layout, in order to cross the stream. Canoeing has become physically impossible in the shallower portions of the pond near the launch area. The water chestnut creates a mat on the water's surface, changing the water chemistry and habitat of the pond and slowly turning it into a wet meadow.
Funding for these projects is presently being held up in the state legislature. If these improvements sound worthwhile to you, call state senator Susan Fargo (D-5th Middlesex District), (617) 722-1572, and state representative Carol Cleven (R-16 th Middlesex District), (617) 722-2692 and let them know.
Tours on weekends
Barn and nature tours are offered at the Great Brook Farm on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the summer. Barn tours are held at noon and 2:00 p.m., and guided nature walks begin at 3:00. All tours originate at the bulletin board next to the duck pond and parking lot. Also, the milking tours are back! Through August 29th, tours are held every Saturday and Sunday evening at 6:00 p.m. After August, the tours are scheduled for Sunday evenings only. Large groups should request reservations.
Workbooks for children
Park employee Rebecca Markey (369-6312) tells us that they offered the Junior Ranger Workbook program to families with children 8-12. This program promoted exploration and discovery for the entire family. Workbooks with instructions for individual study were facilitated by a park ranger on a weekly basis every Thursday morning from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. July 15th through August 26th.
The program consisted of self-guided activities. Kids were able to examine tree rings, animal tracks, natural history, Native American history, even optional night activities. After completing eight of twelve activities, kids received a certificate of achievement and a colorful patch from the Massachusetts Junior Rangers. The entire program was free of charge.
Anniversary in September
This September marks the 25th anniversary of the state park and they're going to have a party! It will take place on September 18 from 12-5 and everyone from Carlisle and the surrounding communities is invited. Events will include hayrides, square- dancing, family picnics (bring your own), Morris dancing, fiddling and banjo playing, and a traditional cake-walk. There will be displays of typical farm life of the past, canning exhibits (4H), traditional quilts, and demonstrations of old farming procedures.
Faucher and Markey urge everyone, "Come help us celebrate our anniversary, with fun for the entire family!" Bring your walking shoes and while you're here with the family, hit the trail. Grab your tyke and take a hike!
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito