It’s a common dilemma among parents. You teach your child how to ride his bike, and soon the confines of the driveway or the neighborhood are too limiting. You’d like to go farther afield but the main roads are too busy or too narrow to attempt with a child. Where else can you go, to help your youngster develop cycling skills and confidence? One easy answer is Wompatuck State Park in Hingham (204 Union Street).
I have to admit, until recently I was only familiar with Wompatuck as a campground. I stayed there once, many years ago, but it was sunset when I arrived and I didn’t have a chance to explore. It turns out that the park has a lot more to offer than rustic overnight accommodations (262 campsites, more than half with electricity).
Managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Wompatuck State Park is comprised of 3526 acres. In addition to the campsites, there are numerous woodland trails for hiking, dog-walking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. For mountain bikers, the park is home to one of the longest section of switchbacked singletrack in the state. There’s also a reservoir for fishing and non-motorized boating, a small area for hunting (in season), and plenty of terrain for birders and other wildlife enthusiasts.
And most notably, for parents seeking a relatively safe place to bring the kids and their bikes, there are 12 miles of paved bicycling trails! My son and I joined friends at Wompatuck one afternoon during school vacation, and we managed to fill two hours, exploring. The trails are nice and wide — some flat and some quite hilly. They mostly run through the woods, occasionally crossing old railroad tracks or passing by relics from the park’s earlier days as a military ammunition depot. There was plenty to see, and plenty to keep us occupied. There was even a well-placed porta-potty (always appreciated when children are involved).
Access to the bike trails is just inside the park entrance, on the left, across from the visitor center. There is a large parking area with a kiosk at the far end. I strongly recommend taking a map (you can also download one from the websites of both the DCR and The Friends of Wompatuck). There are quite a number of trails!
Another excellent option to consider is Pond Meadow Park on the Weymouth-Braintree line (470 Liberty Street, Braintree). Visible from Route 3, this 320-acre park features a large pond surrounded by a child-friendly paved biking trail two miles in length, as well as various opportunities for hiking and nature study.
Pond Meadow Park has an interesting history. Before it officially opened in 1976, it was privately-owned land containing a small pond and a large number of derelict cars . . . plus way too much garbage. A group of concerned citizens, along with state senators and representatives, worked together to gain title to the land, cleaned it up, and built a dam to control flooding in Weymouth Landing (downstream). Four years of work resulted in the creation of what is now a very popular nature preserve. The park contains a few miles of paved and wooded trails, a picnic area, and ample parking. It is staffed by two rangers and – hooray! – there are public restrooms.
Friends of Wompatuck: http://www.friendsofwompatuck.org/index.html
Pond Meadow Park: http://pondmeadowpark.org/index.htm
by Kezia Bacon