1979Committee: Louise Ahearn - Jean Smith - Nancy Goodwin Phyllis Stearns - Margie Lamar - Fran VerPlanck Alice Osgood - Sally Wund Revised and Updated - 1986Committee: Louise Ahearn - Eva Arnott - Majorie Moore Jean Smith - Evelyn Trageser - Betty Vanderbilt Fran VerPlanck - Nancy Wilde Addition of Vinson-Owen Science Park - 1993Committee: Louise Ahearn - Margaret Messenger Jean Smith - Donna Ravn Graphics: Bert VerPlanck
Winchester has several beautiful woodlands where anyone can walk, picnic, or study nature. This online booklet provides a map and brief description of the history and natural features of each of the woodlands in Winchester that is open to the public. We hope that you will relax and enjoy a walk through these woods and fields that are close to home.
So that every one can appreciate these lands, please remember that on conservation land no one shall: 1) operate a motor vehicle, 2) light a fire, 3) litter, 4) pick or dig up plants, 5) hunt or fish, 6) consume alcoholic beverages or disturb the peace, 7) destroy the property, or 8) be present at night.
A once great river carved a mile-wide valley through the central portion of the Town. Geologists believe that long before the glaciers, the White Mountains towered to spectacular 15,000 foot heights and that the drainage from such lofty peaks carved this impressive valley through the 400,000,000 year old granite bedrock that now flanks the eastern and western portions of Winchester. Then the glaciers vastly altered this giant river valley. The Aberjona River and the Mystic Lakes are all that remain of this once mighty system.
The river left its flattened flood plains and fertile valley for the agriculture-wise Indians. The glacier left a generous supply of kettle ponds in the Winchester area (causing it to be called Waterfield at an earlier time) and rounded the river bank granite ridges, fluting them with striae which run from north to south as the glacier traveled.
Water power from the Aberjona was first used to run grist mills and forges which processed Winchester's own bog iron. Later, water power supported a huge tanning industry, and the flatlands supported prosperous market garden farms. On both west and east river banks stone walls in the woodlands attest to the farm and pasture uses of the hillside lands in colonial times. The Indian habit of burning the underbrush each year to encourage the growth of blueberries (to entice bears) and of "fire grass" (to entice the deer) make us suspect that the wooded areas appeared more open in the past.
On the east side of this six square mile town, before the Fells were set aside under the MDC administration, cranberry bogs filled tne hollows where now the reservoirs stand. Underbrush and trees have obscured impressive views of the Boston Basin as seen in the 1930's.
Key to Mapped Areas
The Long Pond Nature Trail is a one mile portion of the public hiking trails within the 3,000 acre Middlesex Fells Reservation. The Fells, a hilly and rocky woodland, was first set aside for the public in 1894 and is now administered for the state by the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC). Most of the Middlesex Fells is open to the public for hiking, riding, or cross-country skiing.
Around 1970, members of Winchester Trails, assisted by members of the Winchester School Department, selected the Long Pond section of the Fells as a good place to take school children for nature walks. They mapped a trail and prepared literature for the public so that this could be a self-guiding nature trail.
If you start at the parking lot off South Border Road, the trail crosses a meadow, borders a pine forest, runs through a deciduous forest along the edge of Long Pond, and finally skirts a marsh before ending at Hillcrest Parkway. A side path leads to a rocky ledge (Indian Lookout) with a wonderful view of Winchester.
Walking is easy, but many other paths cross the nature trail; so it is helpful to use the map in the pamphlet, "Guide to Long Pond Nature Trail", and to watch for the numbered markers that corres- pond to the stations in the pamphlet. This pamphlet may be obtained from "Book Ends" on Winchester Terrace and the Town Engineer's Office.
If you want to do additional walking in the Fells, there is a map available in the Winchester Public Library. The Skyline Trail (marked by white dots) circles around the whole area and liter- ally covers the high spots; some of the paths are narrow and rocky, too steep for skiing, but great for blueberries. The central portion of the Middlesex Fells west of route 93 surrounds the Winchester Reservoirs and is not open to the public; the borders of this area are marked on the map.
Two rustic bridges enhance Davidson Park. Throughout the Park the Aberjona River has been dredged and the banks rip-rapped to impede erosion, increase the flow and slow the growth of swamp plants. Where once the Park had a marshy appearance with cattails prevailing, now cattails are rarely seen and purple loosestrife is the most prominent swamp plant at the stream edges. Plantings of willows, sugar maples, Japanese cherries and the stately oaks that rise behind the Winn Factory on the western hill enhance the sweep of well kept lawns and the bike path enjoyed by the local residents.
The corner of the Middlesex Fells known as the Nike Site is a favorite place for bird watching and nature walks. Extensive fields merge into woods and woods into marsh. In the spring, wood anemone, trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit and other spring wildflowers of the woodlands are highlights of the Nike Site, while in the summer and fall, goldenrod, asters, and milkweed cover the fields.
Located near the south-eastern corner of Winchester, the Nike Site may be entered from the park land at Dennett Road and Southfield Road or from South Border Road at the Whitmore Brook Road entrance or from Town Way. Whitmore Brook Road (often very wet) runs through the middle of the mapped area. A brook, marsh and woods lie on the Winchester side of Whitmore Brook Road, while on the Medford side of the road are the fields that were the site of the old Nike missile base during the 1950's.
Paved roads and other paved areas still exist in the fields of the Nike Site. Be sure to search for the remains of the old basketball court and bathhouse to see how nature is reclaiming the land. Delicate new milkweed shoots can push right up through the middle of asphalt, making openings for other plants. This area is a wonderful example of field succession--field plants have replaced short grasses and are themselves being replaced by vines, shrubs, and sun-loving pioneer trees such as sumac, graybirch and cherry.
The Brooks-Parkhurst Town Forest consists of 28 acres of wooded terrain, almost completely surrounded by houses in Winchester, but to the south bordered by Medford open space and the Oak Grove cemetery. Access to the forest at present is from Ox Pasture and West Chardon Road.
The Town Forest was part of the land granted to the Brooks family by Charles I of England in the seventeenth century. After being in the Brooks family for about 300 years, most of the forest was acquired for the Town by a group of citizens including Mr. Richard Parkhurst who is still a neighbor.
There are reminders of the history of the area: the granite blocks in the stream bed were part of the Middlesex Canal, and some of them were used in the Brooks house foundation.
Trees that predominate here are oaks and pines. The hemlocks are some of the largest in eastern Massachusetts. An occasional really large tree with outspread branches grew that way because smaller trees and brush were cleared away when this was a managed forest. Now the newer trees have to grow straight up as they compete with each other for the light.
The woodland flowers (lady's slipper, anemone, Canada mayflower) bloom early before the tree leaves cut off the sun. Ferns and mosses mark the marsh and seasonal brook. Most paths provide relatively easy walking.
From these access points, signs direct the hiker to the Loop Trail, a flat circular trail marked with orange blazes on trees. This trail passes the hemlock grove, the canal stones, the brook and many wildflowers.
Glen Green is an oasis of wild open space amidst a very built-up area. This miniature wetland and meadow of 1-1/3 acres harbors a most interesting variety of plant life. The most primitive plants are the horsetails (north culvert and along the brook). Cattails, tussock sedge, sensitive fern, jewelweed, buttercups, purple loosestrife and other sedges attest that this is a wetland habitat. On higher ground willows, sumacs, milkweed, goldenrod and asters (to name a few) add their color and special delight each at its own season. The predominant plant on the eastern side of the small brook is the blackberry whose fine protection the rabbits of the Green enjoy. Interspersed with the blackberry are small willows, aspens, birches and a clump of tall silver maples. Sugar maples of a grand stature ring the Green on the east and south.
Mt. Pisgah (also called Andrews Hill) formed part of the west bank of the great river that flowed through Winchester before the glaciers. The stone walls and cedars suggest that this land was used as pasture in the early days of Winchester. In 1903 the town acquired the land and built a water standpipe on top of the hill to provide water for the west side of town. The old tower now on top of the hill was built in 1912 and abandoned when the town joined the MDC water system in 1945. Today Mt. Pisgah includes 11 acres of open woods suitable for hiking and nature study.
Start your walk at the end of Andrews Road, where parking is available. A steep path climbs the hill to the old water tower. Notice the difference between the plants and trees on the slope and on the hilltop. Oaks and pitch pines, very tall at the bottom of the hill, become stunted on the summit. Woodland flowers, such as Solomon's seal and partridge berry, give way to field flowers on the drier, sunnier hilltop. Mt. Pisgah is a good place to study the effect of glaciers and weathering on the granite bedrock of Winchester and to observe the growth of plants on rocks. For example, beyond the tower is a most interesting, weathered granite ledge with glacial striae and with a two foot, dark granite dike. Watch also for the many kinds of lichens and mosses, both on top of the hill and along the path up the hill.
Sucker Brook Conservation Area
Sucker Brook, which was acquired by the Conservation Commission from 1969 to 1971, contains about 10 acres of swamp and woods. It is bordered by large tracts of private woodland that are being developed for housing.
The southern part of the land is mainly swamp, with vegetation typical of wooded swamps such as clethra, high bush blueberries, ferns, skunk cabbage and red maples. Heavy undergrowth at the edge of the swamp makes access very difficult. Sucker Brook itself flows out of the swamp and, after leaving town land, drops over a waterfall, winds through the woods and eventually drains into Horn Pond.
Providing a sharp contrast to the swamp, the land to the north is a rocky wooded hill that drops sharply toward Woburn. Several white birches are growing on the hillside and at the bottom is another branch of Sucker Brook.
Sachem Swamp, named after Squaw Sachem, the Indian leader who once owned much of Winchester, was purchased by the Conservation Commission in 1975. The land covers 6 acres, consisting largely of wooded swamp.
Although walking is hazardous in the swamp, the red maple, birches and ferns typical of many New England swamps may be glimpsed from Johnson Road. The part of the land next to Olde Village Drive is drier and over the years should provide an excellent example of how fields in New England tend to develop into woodland if left undisturbed.
Smith Pond, formed by glaciers, had dried up over the centuries and become farmland; but in 1910 Mr. Smith dammed the stream and turned it back into a pond. Today the pond is gradually getting smaller as marsh plants, such as cattails, turn the pond into a marsh.
Because Smith Pond Conservation Area provides brook, pond, marsh and forest habitats in just 6 acres, it is an excellent area for illustrating how land gradually changes from pond to marsh to forest (pond succession) and for studying the plants and animals of each community.
Shortly after the land was acquired by the Conservation Commission in 1966, Winchester Trails designed a nature trail and began to take school children to Smith Pond for nature walks. A pamphlet describing the highlights of the Trail ("Guide to Smith Pond Nature Trail") can be obtained from Book Ends and the Town Engineer's Office.
Locke Farm, acquired as conservation land in 1972, is a 10 acre woodland, marsh and swamp on the western edge of Winchester next to the 120 acre Whipple Hill conservabservetion area in Lexington. The name is a reminder that much of this part of Winchester was farmed for over 100 years by the Locke family, who bought the land around 1800. As on most old farmland, stone walls and old fruit trees can be found in the woods of Locke Farm.
The trail borders a marsh that merges into a wooded swamp. Because the edge of the marsh and swamp is open, the plants, birds, and animals can be observed more easily here than in many swamps. In the woods behind the swamp, large areas of the ground are carpeted with clubmosses, ferns and Canada mayflower. The trail ends with a boardwalk through a wet meadow. "Guide to Locke Farm Nature Trail" is available at Book Ends and the Town Engineer's Office.
The Horn Pond Brook area has been left to its own devices for many years making possible a most interesting diversity of native plants all along its course, willows, alders, cattails, rushes, arrowhead, purple loosestrife, pokeweek, Joe-pye-weed, buckthorn, sugarmaples, large oaks and box elders, to mention a few. Jerusalem artichokes and jewelweed dominate the vegetation count by the bridge (opposite Clark St.). A book for identifying field flowers might greatly enhance this trip.
The Horn Pond Brook area also has two paved paths:
1. (Easterly) Brantwood Rd. to Horn Pond Brcok Road to Canal St.
2. (Going North) Lake St., right of DPW building and yard, Winchester to Horn Pond Brook Rd./Sylvester Ave. and paved bicycle path to Lake St. Woburn and Horn Pond.
This hilly path descends from Brantwood Rd. at the hillcrest between impressively tall pine groves and further down between exposed bedrock ledges etched by glacial grooves (striae). Mosses and lichens are at home here. (In summer you can view indian pipes in the leafy mold through the cemetery fence on the way to Canal St. off the path to the right.
PATH 2: Horn Pond Brook Bike Path
The junction of Horn Pond Brook Rd., Canal St., Sylvester Ave. and Middlesex St. marks the middle of the Bikeway. A private drive parallels the brook from Canal St. to the end of Horn Pond Brook Rd. Entering at Horn Pond Brook Rd., you may stroll along the paved bicycle path as far south as Lake St. Here you can observe the wonderful variety of wetland plants described above. You end up by the DPW yards and Headquarters on Lake St. Dense undergrowth and blackberry briars cover the large area betweer the brook and Middlesex St.
The junctions of these PATHS and roads were once busy locks, (Hollis Lock) and a passing pond of the old Middlesex Canal, (1793-1853). The pond was known to local skinny dippers as "Little Deep". Here the boats could wait their turn going through the narrow lock and the Stone Lock at the foot of Horn Pond. Also here was a sluice gate to let Horn Pond Brook water flow into the Middlesex Canal as an auxiliary source of water. (The main water source for the canal was the Concord River in Billerica). On Upland Rd. was a horse changing station and a granite post north of Canal St. is said to have been for tying up canal boats. Granite blocks on Sylvester Ave. bridge abutments are believed to have been taken from the old locks. Houses on the West side of Mliddlesex St. as far as Horn Pond Brook are in the bed of the old Middlesex Canal. The Canal bed then continues in the back yards of the houses on Sylvester Ave. (Private property).
At the end of Sylvester Ave. the paved bike path is a pretty walk along the brook and through gray birches and thence an open field to Horn Ponri, with the Middlesex Canal to the right.
The Vinson-Owen Science Park covers about 7 1/2 acres of land next to the Vinson Owen School. The land, which was part of the Thompson farm, was acquired by the school department in 1955. In 1988-1989, naturalists from Habitat Institute for the Environment, under the sponsorship of the Vinson Owen Parents' Association and with the encouragement of the principal, Mr. Young, designed a nature trail and prepared teaching materials. The parents and the DPW cleared the trail, built boardwalks and provided trail signs. As a result of this co-operative effort, the children and teachers have an outdoor classroom for the study of science, writing, history, and art; the town residents have a readily accessible, short nature trail.
The trail begins on the hill above Johnson Road, where the edge between the schoolyard and the woods provides habitat for pioneer trees, scrubs and plants. Next, the path drops to a large red maple swamp with a seasonal brook. At the edge of the swamp is a hill with large old trees and evergreen ground covers. From the swamp, the trail leads through abandoned pasture land up to a ridge with pitch pine trees and lichen. It then winds through a young woods and a meadow on the hill behind the school, ending in the back corner of the schoolyard near a stand of bloodroot and an old pear tree.
From the flowers of the bloodroot and the skunk cabbage in the early spring to the red leaves of the Virginia creeper that festoon the trees in the fall, the Vinson-Owen Science Park offers a natural workshop where the children and residents of Winchester can observe plants, birds and small animals in a variety of habitats.