I’m a Florida girl who moved to New England to ensure I would see snow, (yes, I’ve seen quite a bit!), but I fell in love with the rocks and hilly terrain that make up southern New England, and I have never left. My enjoyment is perhaps a little different from that of many people because paralysis in my right foot and ankle have challenged me to find outdoor places I could visit and enjoy safely.
My professional work as a personal historian has taught me to create books—initially for individuals wanting to share family stories with the next generation. Now, with the publication of two walking guides to south central Massachusetts, I’ve written for a wider public. At first, “easy walks” for me were simply an assortment of local places that my family and I enjoyed visiting for short walks. I found many pretty spots; some offered views, others were simple loop trails around ponds, and still others were railtrails whose paved or crushed stone surfaces allowed my husband and me to ride our tandem bike. Two books later, I’ve catalogued 25 contiguous towns and 65 trails in south central Massachusetts. I’m still seeking out Easy Walks to enjoy and share with others. Here are a few of my favorite places near where I live.
Hopedale Parklands, Hopedale, MA
Hopedale Parklands combines the things I love best—history, water views, and easy walking. One hundred years ago, the town of Hopedale finished a carriage road around Hopedale Pond, creating a place for area residents to get out and enjoy the outdoors. The carriage road is hard-packed gravel, not paved. The wide path is a little rough in a few spots; there are boulders of various sizes along the way, with lots of spots to get great views of the pond as you travel through the woodland that surrounds the area.
Dogs are welcome, on leash at Hopedale Parklands; bikes use this path frequently. The town’s swimming beach is at the entrance on Hopedale Street, near the corner with Dutcher Street, and the town runs a kayak rental at the beach in the summer. On-street parking is allowed on both sides of Hopedale Street, with a few handicapped parking spaces available next to the boathouse adjacent to the beginning of the carriage road.
River Bend Farm in Uxbridge, part of the Blackstone River Valley National Historic Park, has a handicapped-accessible visitor’s center. Bathrooms are accessible, and there is an elevator to the upstairs activity area. Access to the historic tow path, part of the Blackstone River Canal system, is over a bridge. The bridge allows for wheeled travel, with no steps. The slope from the parking area to the tow path is rather steep—use caution.
The tow path is hard-packed gravel, only about eight feet wide. There is no railing between the canal and the tow path, which travels alongside the canal. Lots of trees offer shade along much of the path. Bring binoculars to get a closer look at the birds in the area, as well as sunning turtles that enjoy sunbathing on logs in the water.
Enjoy the craftsmanship that went into building the stone arched bridges on Hartford Avenue at the northern end of this section of the tow path. Then head south to the end of this stretch of the Blackstone Canal, about 1 mile. The southern portion of this section of tow path terminates at the former Stanley Woolen Mill on Route 16 in Uxbridge.
Franklin Sculpture Park
While both Hopedale Parklands and River Bend Farm offer glimpses of our history, sometimes it’s nice to see something quite new. Venture over to Franklin, MA to enjoy the newly constructed, handicapped-accessible outdoor sculpture park just behind the town police station on Panther Way, which is off Rt. 140 near Rt. 495 (and behind Franklin High school). Handicapped parking is available at the back of the park, off Edwards St. There is also parallel parking directly on Panther Way at the entrance to the sculpture park. Additional parking is available next to the police station.
A natural stream flows through this area, providing a sense of wilderness in the midst of a developed area of Franklin. Years ago the stream was dammed, and cement walls were constructed to create a “town pool” that was used to host swimming lessons in Franklin until the 1970’s. The area was abandoned in the 70’s until the sculpture park was created in 2014.
Franklin Sculpture Park has cement walls of the pool were incorporated into the design of the park, and the pathways are paved and wind through some quiet, shaded woodland. The sculptures in this delightful park, a cooperative venture between the town of Franklin and the Franklin Arts Center, vary between the wild and the whimsical. The “pool area” has become overgrown with trees and shrubs—birds love this! Bring your binoculars. Expect to spot interesting birds, and perhaps a turtle or two.Marjorie Turner Hollman is Chapter Coordinator for the Association of Personal Historians New England Chapter. She is a Certified Legacy Planner with LegacyStories.org, and is the producer of numerous veterans interviews for the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s Oral History Project. www.marjorieturner.com