A boardwalk trail along the edge of Second Herring Brook at the Norris Reservation in Norwell.

I have been writing this nature column for over five years now. The feedback I get from my readers is almost always favorable, but every once in a while I meet up with someone who is annoyed with me, even angry. It’s not so much the content of my articles that bothers them — not an opinion I’ve expressed or an issue I’ve brought to light. It’s something much plainer. What vexes these readers the most is when I “expose” someone’s “own” walking trail, forest or sanctuary to the community at large.

Bear in mind that every place I write about here is open to the public, “owned” so to speak, by the community.

I know what these people are feeling when they see their favorite conservation area written up in the newspaper. I can’t fault them for it. We get used to our solitary walks in the woods, our time spent alone with our thoughts. When we frequent a particular place, it becomes, in a sense, our own. This time spent in nature is precious to us — a much needed and sought-after retreat from the busy-ness of the world. We grow possessive of the stillness we find in a remote meadow or at the river’s edge. We don’t want to share it.

For years now, the Norris Reservation in Norwell has been extremely popular. So many people visit this once quiet riverside sanctuary that it’s difficult to find a moment alone there. Nature appreciation at the Norris has become a community event. One now expects to share the trails with families with young children, dogs on leashes, couples walking hand in hand . . . But in many ways that makes it a more interesting place.

People used to describe Nelson Forest, just a couple miles away in North Marshfield, as the antithesis of the Norris Reservation. In the early nineties, when I first got word of Nelson Forest, it’s greatest selling point was that you could pretty much count on having the place to yourself any time you wanted it. Nobody knew about Nelson, and with no roadside signs and no obvious parking area, it seemed that it would stay that way.

But a lot has changed over the years. For one, the New England Forestry Foundation, who manages the property, and the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, perhaps its greatest advocate, have been leading walks and sponsoring trail maintenance days there. They’re *trying* to drawing attention to Nelson Forest. State environmental agencies have featured Nelson in nature guides. And every year or so, because it’s one of my favorite places to walk, I write about it in this column.

The general public is becoming familiar with Nelson Forest. And just like those of us who have been visiting this wonderful place for years, they are falling in love with it. There might as well be roadside signs, some people say, because it’s now very popular.

But Nelson Forest is still nothing like the Norris Reservation. Most of the time when I visit Nelson, I see one or two other cars in the parking lot, but I don’t actually encounter anyone on the trails. It’s a 120-acre property. There’s enough space for a few people to enjoy it at the same time — and still get their peace and solitude.

On the other hand, there is definitely more foot traffic at Nelson than there was five years ago. I am at least partially to blame. And so despite my protests, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to anyone whose special walking place I have “exposed” to the general public. It seems that every place is special to someone, so I can’t really help but step on a few toes. But perhaps, to those same people, learning about another great place to explore, not far from home, might serve as a consolation.

One of my roles as nature columnist is to introduce people to the sanctuaries and open space lands that they otherwise would know nothing about. I love it when someone tells me that they read about a certain conservation area in my column, and then actually sought it out and went walking there. I hear a lot of “What a great place!” and “I never would have known it existed . . .” and that makes me feel good — to know that I’m doing my job of spreading the word about the natural world around us, of drawing attention to the rivers, meadows, rocks, trees — these vital elements of our communities.

by Kezia Bacon, Correspondent
October 2000

Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168.