Approaching the summit of Turkey Hill in Hingham.

On the first warm Saturday in March, my husband, son and I arranged to meet several other families at the town playground. After enjoying quiet afternoons there for much of the winter (when it wasn’t covered with snow), I was shocked to find the place nearly full to capacity. It seemed like everyone had the same idea that day: get some fresh air.

I was happy to see Marshfield’s new, state-of-the-art community playground getting so much use, but to be honest, it’s exhausting trying to keep track of one’s child among a sea of other children and parents. The kids had fun that day, but the grown-ups all seemed to feel a bit dizzy when it was time to leave.

Warm, sunny days will become more and more frequent as we move into spring. If you, like me, are looking for alternatives to crowded playgrounds, consider some of these outdoor “adventure places” to visit with your family. In the woods, shrubs can become forts, and sticks are easily transformed into jousting swords. Nature preserves are an ideal environment for the imagination to come alive.

Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary – Winslow Cemetery Road, Marshfield. This historic former farm is comprised of 506 acres of meadow and forest, with boardwalks through several types of wetlands, plus two walking bridges over the Green Harbor River. Children love the varied habitat, as well as the two wildlife observation huts and the pavilion atop Fox Hill, which is an ideal place for a mid-visit picnic. Admission is free for Mass Audubon members; $3 for adults and $2 for children and seniors. Open daily, dawn till dusk.

Willow Brook Farm – Barker Street, Route 14, Pembroke.
Follow woodland trails and ancient farm roads through this 73-acre property at the confluence of Pudding and Herring Brooks, where you’ll see some very large trees, and maybe a river otter or beaver. One of the property’s most interesting features is the observation tower, which affords unique views of the surrounding woods and adjacent freshwater tidal marsh. Our favorite adjunct to a trip to Willow Brook is a stop at Dairy Twist, open April through October), not far away, on Route 53. Open daily, dawn till dusk, Willow Brook Farm is managed by the Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts. Admission is free.

The Norris Reservation – Dover Street, Norwell
One of the most popular nature preserves on the South Shore, this 129-acre property, managed by The Trustees of Reservations, has diverse offerings for curious youngsters. You can observe the seasonal flow of Second Herring Brook on the site of an old mill pond, where many families like to fish for trout. You can follow a boardwalk trail around Gordon’s Pond, and see what’s growing in the wetlands that surround it. You can trek through forests of pine and oak following two miles of loop trails and old carriage roads, pausing at benches that overlook the salt marsh, or at the boathouse on the banks of the North River.
The Norris is open daily, sunrise to sunset, with free admission.

North River Wildlife Sanctuary – Mass Audubon Regional Headquarters 2000 Main Street, Route 3A, Marshfield
This 184-acre parcel on the banks of the North River offers one of the most scenic vistas on the South Shore, looking out over the majestic river mouth and estuary. One side of the property includes an open meadow that slopes down to the water’s edge, with a boardwalk through the woods and down to a platform overlooking the salt marsh. The other side features trails through a forest comprised of oak, pine, beech and holly, with views of Hannah Eames Brook. Admission is free for Mass Audubon members; $3 for adults and $2 for children and seniors. Open dawn till dusk.

Weir River Farm and Turkey Hill – Turkey Hill Lane, Hingham
Originally part of a country estate, this 10-acre working farm – home to horses, cows, pigs, sheep and chickens – is surrounded by woodlands of oak and red cedar. Children will enjoy strolling the wide pasture paths and viewing the resident animals. Seasonal Open Barnyard days invite families into the barnyard itself, to see up-close how the livestock are managed. Diverse trails border the property; one leads to the top of Turkey Hill, where you’ll find expansive views of Hingham Harbor, with Boston in the distance. Managed by The Trustees of Reservations, the 1.5 miles of trails are open year-round, dawn to dusk, with free admission. For the barnyard, open seasonally, there is a small fee for non-members.

The Rexhame Dunes – Standish Street, Marshfield
The “hidden” part of one of Marshfield’s public beaches, the Rexhame Dunes are rich with history and ecology. Just over 100 years ago, this sandy stretch of land, tucked between the South River and the beach, was the North River’s outlet to the sea. But after the river breached the sand between Third and Fourth Cliffs during the Portland Gale of 1898, this section began to fill in. Now it’s a mostly-flat, scrubby expanse that feels somewhat haunted, even on the sunniest days. Trails weave around small stands of cedar and beach grass, connecting the town parking area to the southern tip of Humarock. Parking is free in the off-season, and by permit or admission ($10 resident/$15 no-resident) in the late spring and summer. Open dawn till dusk.

By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein, Correspondent
March 2011

Kezia Bacon-Bernstein’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 To browse 13 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit