Donovan Fields, Circuit St, Norwell, MA 02061, USA
Owned By: Town of Norwelll
Norwell’s Conservation Commission owns these woods and open fields, located at the intersection of Circuit, Forest, and Pleasant Streets. The property consists of 150 acres. Fifty acres of fields are leased out for agricultural purposes. Another 100 acres, mostly woods, are home to wildlife habitat and at least 2 miles of walking trails.
Donovan-Wildcat is one of many access points to Norwell’s Pathway, a paved bike and walking trail.
The Town of Norwell acquired this property for conservation land in 1997. In earlier times, it was known as White Oak Plains. It was part of a large, Colonial-era land grant to the Clapp family. Cleared for farming in 1820, it later became a commercial apple orchard. Evidence of this exists today — a low brick building that was once used as a cold storage shed. Nearby you can also see a smoke shed and a stone fire pit.
The portion of the property that lies south of Pleasant Street is known as Wildcat Hill. Some of the Clapp family’s freed slaves originally settled these lands. Their community grew as other emancipated families from Hingham, Plymouth, Duxbury, and other towns joined them. Many of these individuals were of African American descent, but some were Native Americans.
A trail around the Donovan Fields begins at Pleasant Street, on the north side. Look for the root cellar near the trailhead. The trail (D1) continues along the west side of the field, where you can enjoy a walk along Margaret’s Brook and see the remains of an earthen/stone dam and a small pond. At the far end of the property, you have two options: continue your walk on Norwell’s Pathway (a boardwalk leads to Norwell Middle School), or follow the perimeter of the field all the way around. The full loop, to and from the parking area on Circuit Street, is about 0.75 miles.
There is also a network of trails south of Pleasant Street, through the area known as Wildcat Hill. Past the parking area and across Circuit Street, just a little farther up the road, look for two wooden posts with painted blazes in Norwell’s town colors, blue and gold. This (D2) is one of several trailheads for the Wildcat Conservation Area, which offers a number of intersecting loops trails. You’ll pass along the rear of the Donovan farm, and then into the woods. Route-wise, there are numerous options, and most of them are well-marked with number-and-letter tags — D for Donovan, W for Wildcat, etc.. At a few of the trail intersections, you’ll find a wooden bench for rest or contemplation. Eventually the trails connect with Wildcat Lane, where there is another small parking area. The trails are rough and rooty at some points. While they are relatively flat (with the exception of those that climb Wildcat Hill), they can be rocky. They can be wet and/or muddy at times as well.
For a short loop hike in the Wildcat section, start at the parking area, cross Circuit Street heading away from the Norwell Pathway, and look for the gravel path along the side of the road. In less than 0.1 mile, you will arrive at the D2 trailhead. This trail leads into the woods parallel to private property. After about 0.2 mile, you’ll see a white wooden arrow on a tree, pointing to the right. If you continue straight, you will return to Circuit Street after another 0.2 miles to D4. If you turn right, you’ll continue through the woods for a longer loop. Remaining on the “D” trails past D5, D3 and D6, this is about 0.75 miles.
The “W” trails, accessible from Wildcat Lane, and also from the D5 intersection, offer an additional mile of forest hiking. To explore the Wildcat section, begin as above at the main parking area. Cross Circuit Street, heading away from the Norwell Pathway, and look for the gravel path along the side of the road. In less than 0.1 mile, you will arrive at the D2 trailhead. Turn right here, and then immediately turn left onto the narrow wooded trail that runs parallel to Circuit Street. This will bring you to a sign for the D6 trail. Follow the “D6” and “6” signs to the intersection with the D4 trail. Go left at this intersection. The trail is wide and grassy here — a great spot for cross-country skiing. It continues to the D5 intersection, where if you bear to the left, you’ll be headed toward the Wildcat area. The D6 trail soon meets up with the W1 trail, and shortly thereafter, an intersection of W1, W2 and W4. Those trails form a loop. If you bear left on W2, the trail leads to the Wildcat Lane entrance to the property. Continue past this entrance, following the W3 trail, which also leads out to Wildcat Lane. At the next intersection, you’ll find a bench and some options — W5 and W4. The W5 trail is a spur that leads to yet another spot on Wildcat Lane, and the W4 trail loops back around to the W1/2/4 intersection. If you follow W4, and then retrace your steps back to the parking lot, the total distance is just under 2 miles.
Habitats and Wildlife
The woodlands at Donovan-Wildcat are diverse – some pine, maple, oak and beech, plus the occasional holly and lots of fern. Watch for red fox as they hunt for smaller mammals such as mice and rabbits. White tailed deer enjoy the fields for grazing and the forest for protection. The brook and surrounding wetlands are perfect for such local amphibians as spring peepers.
The Donovan fields, defined as a Cultural Grassland because of their creation by humans (as opposed to natural conditions) and their sandy, low nutrient soils, are an important habitat for grassland bird communities.
Margaret’s Brook, also known as Wildcat Brook, flows through this property and eventually into Third Herring Brook, a major tributary to the North River. Third Herring Brook forms much of the town line between Norwell and Hanover. A tributary to Margaret’s Brook flows under Circuit Street and through private property immediately adjacent.
Historic Site: No
Boat Launch: No
Size: 150 acres
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Parking: Limited on-site parking lot on Circuit Street. Additional parking off Wildcat Lane.
Trail Difficulty: Easy, Medium
Informational kiosk and picnic table at the main parking area. Benches at some of the trail intersections. Several benches along Margaret’s Brook.
Boat Ramp: No
ADA Access: No
Scenic Views: Yes
Waterbody/Watershed: Margaret's Brook (North River watershed)