Owned By: New England Forestry Foundation
The New England Forestry Foundation owns this 180 acre parcel. There are 3 miles of intersecting trails through varied habitats. One trail offers views of Cove Creek and the marshes that surround it. Another trail leads down a steep slope to a gorgeous view of the North River and the Union Street Bridge. Nearby are the remains of a historic packet landing — a wharf built of rocks and logs, where packet ship pilots would pull up to the shore to sell their wares.
Taken together, Nelson Forest, Union Street Woodland, and the adjacent Phillips Farm Preserve provide more than 200 acres of open space and wildlife habitat along the North River in Marshfield. The greenbelt continues across Union Street, with Cornhill Woodland and the John Little Conservation Area. Three additional adjacent properties — Tilden Farm, Cove Creek Nature Area, and Oak Street Woodland — provide another 75 acres of contiguous habitat and open space. Please note that these properties (Tilden, Cove and Oak) are not presently accessible to the public.
The packet landing is a historic spot that evokes the North River’s rich commercial history. In the book “Pembroke: Ancient Trails to the 21st Century,” Joseph Chetwynd describes packet landing construction as follows. “The landings were most likely built of crib-logs, back-filled with rocks and topped with gravel, with dead-man posts set up as bollards for tying up the vessels. These landings ran parallel to the shoreline and projected into the stream as little as was necessary so as not to impede the flow of traffic in the stream. They may also have incorporated vertical sheathing on the facing to act as fenders for the boats as they lay against the bulkhead.”
Packet ship lines were established prior to 1670, and thrived until railroads came to the South Shore in the mid-to-late 1800s. Over time, White’s Ferry, Little’s Bridge, Union Bridge, Hobart’s Landing, Foster’s Landing, Job’s Landing, Brick-Kiln Yard, and the North River Bridge in Hanover became regular stops. Farmers would meet the packet ship and barter their home-grown vegetables and dairy products for goods from China and Mediterranean, such as coffee, sugar and spices. In addition to home-grown goods, packet pilots also bought wood, fish, pot iron, and charcoal from locals, and sold them lumber and ship supplies.
Cove Creek is also known as Rogers Creek. John Rogers of Scituate began establishing a 100-acre farm on the land at Nelson Forest in 1649. By 1660 he had built a house, which his descendants continued to inhabit until 1854. The hill on which the house was for a time known as Moses Rogers Hill, named for one of the last of the Rogers Family to live there. The pond at the bottom of the hill is known as Rogers Pond. Rogers/Cove Creek were home to several enterprises. John Rogers Jr. operated a tannery in 1771 on the brook. Later it was run by the Waterman family (through the 1820s), and then John Sprague converted it to a rivet factory. It was probably Sprague who dammed the creek to create the pond. Later the factory produced boxes, shingles, and toy buckets.
In 1872, Henry W. Nelson purchased the Rogers Farm, which by then had doubled in size to 200 acres. Nelson’s establishment was large, employing 50 full time workers. They raised horses, Holstein cattle, pigs, and chickens. Large greenhouses facilitated the cultivation of a wide variety of crops, including the famous Marshall strawberry, plus there was a large apple orchard overlooking the river. For irrigation, Nelson installed a system to pump water up from the brook (look for its remains on the Pasture Road trail).
In time the property was passed down to Margaret and Dorothea Nelson, who donated 133 acres between the house and the North River to the New England Forestry Foundation. The house and surrounding acres remained in the Nelson family until 1977.
The New England Forestry Foundation occasionally harvests trees from Nelson Forest. In order to facilitate access for forestry staff, many of the trails are wide cart paths and unpaved logging roads. There are also some narrower footpaths. Some trails are well-marked. Others could use some tidying up.
The property extends for a considerable distance along the side of a hill. Depending on where you enter and exit, your hike could involve a long uphill climb. Although the trails within the forest are often wide, the access trails from the parking areas are not, so maneuvering a stroller into Nelson Forest is not an easy feat!
The best access to Nelson Forest is through the Union Street Woodland. Portions of this trail (especially the boardwalks) are rather rustic, but keep going and you’ll find flatter, wider paths ahead. Entering from the Union Street Woodland spur trail, you will come to a T intersection. This is the River Pasture Road. Head downhill, and after passing at least 2 old stone walls, look for a narrower trail to the left. This leads down a steep incline to an overlook on the banks of the North River. If you walk out to the river’s edge and look downstream, you should be able to see what remains of the Packet Landing.
The River Pasture Road leads to the Orchard Loop, which passes through the part of the property where the Rogers Family’s apple orchard stood. The Orchard Loop will bring you back around to the River Pasture Road (via Quarry Road), or you can explore the property further by turning left again onto the Belt Line Road. This links you with the trail network in the eastern half of the property, including the Wolf, Cranberry, Cove Brook and Rock Road trails. Along the way, you’ll be treated to several other fine views of the salt marsh and the North River, as well as Cove Creek.
Another entrance is located at the base of the hill on Highland Street, across from the pond. Here you can follow the Pasture Road trail. After passing through some wetlands (again on rustic boardwalks), you will begin to climb uphill through the woods. Watch for an old cistern at the side of the trail. The view of Cove Creek from this spot alone is worth the trip! The Pasture Road trail links to the main trail system where Wolf Road and Rock Road come together.
Habitats and Wildlife
Nelson Memorial Forest is full of wildlife, ranging from white-tailed deer to the tiny 4-toed salamander that can be found near the small creeks. Grey squirrels can be found collecting acorns and raccoons can be found foraging by the river’s edge. Look for the long-billed marsh wren in the marsh areas, as well as osprey along Cove Creek.
Historic Site: No
Boat Launch: No
Size: 180 acres
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Parking: Park at Union Street Woodland, which is located just before Hunter Drive while driving north on Union Street in Marshfield.
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Boat Ramp: No
ADA Access: No
Scenic Views: Yes