Quabbin: worth going back

“Don’t pee your pants if you step on a rattlesnake!” That’s what I’ll remember about our big excursion a week ago. We were bushwhacking on a steep hill (around 500 feet) with lots of ledges and big rocks sticking out. Just after the rattlesnake comment, Mike told me he was disappointed at not finding any evidence of active porcupine dens or mountain lions.

Mountain lions? I thought about it for a second and realized it was no big deal, Mike was ahead of me and would get chomped first, giving me plenty of time to get away on my bike. At least there was a decent view from the top.

We finally did it after at least 3.5 years of talking about it: we returned to Quabbin.

What’s the big deal? First, I wondered if a return trip could come anywhere near the magic we experienced four years ago when we set out for our first “adventure date” here on a COLD day. Second, it’s not a short trip: it’s a few hours drive, and we wanted to spend all day exploring if at all possible. That’s a big time commitment when we’ve been so busy writing and editing books over the last few months. And, I think it’s fallen off his radar since he doesn’t have to impress me with his knowledge of these remote places anymore, as he thought he had to back then. I’ve got my own book about cool outdoor adventures now.


Quabbin is the reservoir that holds Boston’s water supply in the middle of Massachusetts. In the 1930s the state dismantled several small towns, relocating residents and graves (missing at least one!), tearing down homes and barns, to make way for the water that would collect when the dams were completed. It took about 15 years for the Swift River Valley to fill in with water, obscuring the remains of four towns and creating a 18-mile-long lake. It covers 38 square miles.

The result is a beautiful nature preserve surrounding the reservoir, 56,000 acres of watershed, much of which is accessible for passive recreation. And did I mention it’s beautiful?

This time we entered around Gate 35 north of Petersham where there are just a few roads. Last time we were a few gates away, further south and close to the former center of Dana, one of the towns flooded by the reservoir. Around Dana there are more roads, more evidence of the area’s former inhabitants.

Mike’s the map man, he planned the whole thing out and carried a ridiculous amount of paper in his pocket to refer to when we were biking. My approach is more like, “I glanced at a map, let’s go!”

This time we enjoyed a long, nearly flat dirt road right along the water, then up into the woods (coupla decent hills there) and back to a dead end where one of the rivers comes in, forming a lagoon. Very few people around. It was peaceful.

When we hit a dead end (road runs into the water) he crossed a brook near a waterfall and went into the woods, looking for the road that would connect with Dana. Meanwhile I wandered around an inlet of the lake, climbing over a big beaver dam and up into a cathedral of tall hemlocks.

Here and there were bits of evidence of human habitation.. ahem.. why are there always underwear in the woods??

On the way back we had a little picnic on the beach and actually soaked in some of the sun’s warmth (wow, in November?). As always we wondered why more people don’t take advantage of this amazing resource of peace and outdoor recreation .. maybe there are just too few people out here to make a dent in all of the open space?  Regardless, we won’t let another four years pass before we return — and maybe we’ll do it in summer next time, even though they don’t allow swimming.

It’s just too beautiful to not visit more often.



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