NATURE
by Kezia Bacon, Correspondent

In this twelfth and final month of its 50 Places to Explore Contest, NSRWA features the town of Whitman. Settled in 1670 but not incorporated until 1875, Whitman is famous for being the place where Ruth Graves Wakefield invented the Toll House cookie. The inn was lost to fire in 1984, but the recipe may live forever. (Look for the historic marker on Route 18.) Whitman was also once a hub for the shoemaking industry, with 20 different shoe-related factories spread across town.

Covering seven square miles, Whitman is among the smallest towns in the state. The Shumatuscacant River a tributary to the Satucket River, flows through the eastern side of town, and Meadow Brook, a tributary to the Matfield River, flows through the western side. All four of these streams ultimately drain to the Taunton River. There is also a small section of town, east of Route 58, that is part of the North River watershed. Whitman’s conservation land is primarily wetlands, and not accessible to the public, but there are still a few great places you can explore on foot.

Hobart Pond

If a short stroll is what you have in mind, don’t miss Hobart Pond. “The Boulevard,” a 1/3-mile paved trail, provides pedestrian access between Essex Street and South Avenue. Extending along the edge of the pond, the trail is surrounded by a small grassy park, with another, smaller pond on the other side. Bordered by a cemetery, as well as residential and industrial properties, this 25-acre property offers a small slice of nature within a busy town. It’s also an opportunity to contemplate the history of the area. Hobart Pond was created in 1693, when the Shumatuscacant River, which flows through it, was dammed to provide power for a sawmill. In later years, a gristmill and an iron foundry were established nearby. The foundry produced bells, munitions and cannons. Still later, there was a tack factory, an essential component of the shoe industry. The trail is wide and flat — easily accessible for strollers and wheelchairs. Limited parking outside the property gates both 93 Essex Street and at the end of Colebrook Boulevard. Visit: https://www.nsrwa.org/listing/hobart-pond/

Whitman Town Park

A landscaped municipal park might not be your first thought when considering a nature walk, but give this spot a chance when you’re seeking a quick breath of fresh air. This 14-acre historic property in the town center dates back to 1880. The land was a gift from Augustus Whitman, whose family gave the town its name. The Olmsted Brothers (sons of Frederick Law Olmsted), were hired to design both the c. 1900 park and its 1931 upgrade. Some of the original design elements remain, while others have been replaced by modern features, including athletic fields and a playground. The park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. A broad gravel walking path extends for 0.45 miles around the perimeter, with a handful of similar internal trails. Extend your walk by also visiting Hobart Pond, just a couple blocks to the northeast on Essex Street. The park is located at 141 Whitman Ave., with ample parking on the streets that border it. Visit: https://www.nsrwa.org/listing/whitman-town-park/

Donald Flaherty Trail

Even though this 0.7-mile “out & back” is well-marked with a large wooden sign, it can be easy to miss. The trailhead is a little overgrown, but it opens up into a cart path that runs along an embankment with wetlands on either side. The trail continues through the woods, with a few short spurs, but ends abruptly at a large fallen tree. The wetlands and streams within this property drain to Meadow Brook, a tributary to the Matfield River. Look for great blue herons in the marshy areas. Roadside parking near 58 Auburn Street. Visit: https://www.nsrwa.org/listing/donald-flaherty-trail/

Whitman Hanson Regional High School

This 70-acre school property offers a loose network of roads, paved pathways, and trails through meadow and forest. I recommend this approx. 1-mile loop. Park at the tennis courts, and then backtrack to the granite “Whitman Hanson High School” marker on the entrance road. Continue up the hill and after about a tenth of a mile, look for a trail to the right. It follows a utility easement for about 1/3 mile before arcing back to a parking area. From there, look for a narrow trail in the far left corner. A footbridge leads over a culvert and continues through a wooded area. Go left at the fork, and you will soon cross another, wider, footbridge. Continue along the edge of the woods, all the way around the back of the school. As you emerge at the other side, look to the right for a wide paved trail, with curved lampposts. This “promenade” continues downhill past the football field and track, and ends at an intersection where you’ll see the tennis courts just ahead of you, completing your loop. The streams here drain to Poor Meadow Brook and the Shumatuscacant River. Located at 600 Franklin Street, with ample on-site parking during non-school hours. Visit: https://www.nsrwa.org/listing/whitman-hanson-regional-high-school/

Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to protecting our waters. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. You will also find 20+ years of Kezia’s Nature columns there. For more information about the 50 Places to Explore Contest,” visit https://www.nsrwa.org/get-outdoors/enter-the-nsrwa-50-places-to-explore-contest/