To the uninitiated, the Rockland Town Forest may seem ordinary. It’s a small parcel of land (39.5 acres) with an unassuming wooden sign, accessible from North Avenue. From the parking area – ample, unpaved – you would think you were about to take an unremarkable walk in the woods. But this small network of trails is actually quite special.
The parcel sometimes goes by the name of the George Anderson Forest, in honor of the chairman of the Rockland Town Forest Committee, who is very active in developing, maintaining and improving the trails, and otherwise keeping the property in top shape. The trails are narrow but well-kept; many are lined with stones, and one leads through a tunnel-like forest of yew trees.
With the help of a team of volunteers, Anderson has constructed a series of wooden bridges and walkways that make it possible to explore the watery portions of the parcel. The structures enable walkers to traverse French’s Stream and the wetlands that surround it, in numerous places. The effect is quite enchanting, especially in spring and summer when the trees and shrubs are in full leaf-out and the forest is a wonderland of green.
Anderson and his team have done more subtle work too – curious stacks of rocks and stones, the occasional windchime . . . even a cleverly-placed gnome. Out there in the woods, it’s easy to forget that you’re in the middle of a bustling suburb. This is a great place to bring the children – the trails aren’t challenging, or long, and the little treasures you might find along the way add an air of whimsy.
There is not much open space in Rockland – a few small conservation parcels, two country clubs, a park. The town very wisely chose to set aside the Town Forest for flood protection. When there is heavy wet weather, downstream portions of French’s Stream can overflow. Having some “room to grow,” in the town forest, is a good safety measure.
The Rockland Town Forest was first dedicated as conservation/flood protection land in 1984. A total of 19.8 acres were given to the town for this purpose. Over time, four additional pieces of land were added to it. The second was taken for tax title in 1999, and then in 2004, the National Parks Service gave 2.33 acres adjacent to the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station, on the south side of Spruce Street. In 2005 an 8-acre parcel was donated to the town by the developer of nearby Salem Estates. This piece connected to some conservation land already in the town’s possession, bringing the parcel’s total acreage to 39.5.
The trails around the stream and through the wetlands are for walking and hiking only, but the wider fire lane and access road are open to mountain bikes as well. Visitors are asked not to pick any of the plants. While most are not rare or endangered, there are a few that are uncommon within Rockland itself. Leaving them be helps to preserve them.
If you’re interested in a guided walk through the parcel, check the information board in the parking area. Anderson often leads tours himself; postings of upcoming tours can be found on that board.
by Kezia Bacon, Correspondent
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 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 15 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com