A view of the North River at the Norris Reservation in Norwell.

It’s one of the best-known open space parcels on the South Shore, and still most have never heard of it. On a weekend afternoon, its parking area will be full to overflowing and still many will drive by and wonder why all those cars are crowded into its small unpaved lot. Sometimes there are so many people on the trails that you will find it rare to have even a minute or two to yourself. It’s the Albert F. Norris Reservation, and depending on how you look at it, it’s either the region’s best kept secret or our most heavily trafficked conservation land.

The Norris Reservation is located on Dover Street, off Route 123 in Norwell. This 117-acre property is comprised primarily of woodlands, and is bordered by both Second Herring Brook and the North River. Featuring broad well-traveled walking trails through forests of white pine, oak, and maple, with the occasional birch, hickory and beech, plus benches that invite visitors to pause and admire the landscape, and a restored wooden boathouse perched directly over the river, the Norris Reservation has much to offer both the casual explorer and the more intent nature enthusiast.

To access any of the trails at the Norris Reservation, you must first walk a short distance from the parking area to the seventeenth century mill pond that serves as a centerpiece on the property. From the bridge that crosses the dam, you can observe some remnants of the grist and saw mill industries that once flourished at the water’s edge.

Just past the pond, the trail forks. To the left, a half mile path leads through wetlands and woods to the boathouse. To the right, a longer, more circuitous path follows the course of Second Herring Brook to the North River. Since all trails at the Norris Reservation ultimately lead to the river, it doesn’t much matter with which you start — it depends on which feature you wish to see first (or save for last).

The path to the right is the Norris Reservation’s main trail. Start there, but rather than sticking strictly to the trail, I recommend that you take a brief detour to examine Second Herring Brook more closely. It’s hard to miss the brook — although it’s narrow and not very deep, for most of the year it exemplifies the typical bubbling woodland stream. Even from a distance, you will hear its distinctive sound. In the winter you’ll find the brook crusted with ice; in early spring, look for the emerging heads of skunk cabbage and fiddlehead fern.

Return to the main path and follow it to the first of many North River vistas. You’ll find a bench there where you may wish to stop and look around. When you’re ready, continue along the edge of the marsh. As the trail begins to curve back toward the direction from which you started, you’ll have the option of bearing off to the right. I recommend that you take this option — otherwise, you’ll end up right back where you started and while you’ll see some gorgeous American holly trees, you will miss out on some spectacular river views.

By bearing right, you’ll stay close to the river. Almost immediately, you’ll find another bench, and another opportunity to admire the scenery. While last time you were at the edge of the marsh, now you are at a higher elevation. Looking down in either direction, you’ll catch a glimpse of the North River valley that — if you ignore the houses perched high on the ridge on the opposite shore — appears not much different from how it was one hundred years ago.

The trail is narrower now. Follow it along the ridge, heading down toward the water. Watch your step: the lower sections of this path can be quite muddy. Continue along the edge of the river until you reach the boathouse.

Everybody loves the boathouse at the Norris Reservation, especially the wooden deck on its river side, which — lined with benches — is an absolutely perfect spot to spend an hour or two. In fact, couple I know got married there. It’s beautiful.

You might see any variety of shorebirds from the boathouse — marsh hawks, great blue heron, and so on. In the right season, you’ll see the occasional jumping fish. Spring, summer and fall will bring a slow parade of boats of all sorts — some with motors, some without. Winter brings a stillness to the river valley that is a spectacle unto itself.

Usually I want to spend extra time at the boathouse, with the river all to myself, just watching the water and contemplating. Sometimes I’ll even get a few minutes to myself there. But sooner or later, I’m obliged to share my precious river view with another person. And because I know how nice it is to be the only one standing on the deck over the water, I generally depart soon after that next person has arrived, so he or she too can have a few minutes of peace and solitude.

From the boathouse, the trail back to the pond is a half mile long, a slow and steady incline through wetlands and woods. In springtime, sections of the trail are bordered with a lush green carpet of mayflower. Be careful to stay on marked trails and off of other people’s private property. A final bench is located at the edge of the pond.

The Norris Reservation is managed by The Trustees of Reservations, and is open to the public from dawn until dusk. Dogs are permitted on leashes only. Other approved activities include cross country skiing and fishing. You might also consider bringing a picnic lunch. The property’s lone picnic table is located just below the dam, at the edge of Second Herring Brook.

by Kezia Bacon, Correspondent
February 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.