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The spirit of Holbrook forest: volunteers

Holbrook’s town forest is marked by giant glacial boulders, hikers and walkers on its trails, and remnants of old stone walls. Holbrook’s town forest is marked by giant glacial boulders, hikers and walkers on its trails, and remnants of old stone walls. (Photos by Linda Morgan Bliss/Globe Staff)
By Linda Morgan Bliss
Globe Staff / November 27, 2011
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HOLBROOK - Walking through a forest on a crisp fall afternoon is a magical experience. Sun filters through tall trees, leaves crunch underfoot, and the everyday world retreats.

Tucked away in the northeast corner of Holbrook is a nearly pristine town forest, 115 acres of woods dotted by streams, stone walls, whimsical rock formations, and rare plants. And this small wilderness is entirely maintained by volunteers.

The three members of the Town Forest Committee, working with a shoestring budget funded by the town and local supporters, spend many hours throughout the year keeping trails in shape and running events that introduce residents to the land and what it offers.

“There is a tremendous value in preserving public land,’’ said Patricia Greeley, the committee chairwoman. “We are stewards, making sure the forest gets passed down to the next generation.’’

Several towns in Massachusetts have forests that are preserved to protect open space and water supplies. The Holbrook Town Forest was created in 1955, using land along Pine and Weymouth streets that was either donated or taken by eminent domain.

Over the years, Greeley said, the care of the forest has ebbed and flowed, since it relies strictly on volunteers. There are 6 to 7 miles of well-marked trails that minimally disturb the fragile ecosystem but allow for a range of nonmotorized activities, including hiking, dog walking, mountain biking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.

“The forest is a great place for exercise and fresh air,’’ said David Dingledy, a member of the forest committee. “It’s also a great outdoor classroom where you can learn about the flora and fauna in the area . . . and it’s a great place to relax, sit on a fallen tree or a rock, and read a book.’’

One of the longest trails, and the first to be marked, is named for a founder, Carolyn Long, who died in 1960. In her honor, Greeley said, members of the Appalachian Mountain Club created the trail that winds east from Pine Street for a mile or so, looping toward the south. It crosses and connects with the north-south Wiggins Trail. These main trails offer some of the best features of the forest.

Three small streams that cross the Long Trail - Hemlock Brook, Fern Brook, and Moss Falls - are part of the Cranberry Pond watershed in Braintree, a component of the local water supply, and an important reason to protect the forest and its wetlands, Greeley said.

Taking the Wiggins Trail toward Braintree, the path passes under some unlovely power lines, but there is a treat for those who keep going. The trail leads into the Braintree conservation area, and just a short way in is a delightful brook curving around a large boulder and forming a deep, clear pool crossed by a wooden bridge. Further on are Cranberry Pond and the Braintree Town Forest.

Deep in the woods along the Long Trail, in what is called Moccasin Valley, is the Garden of the Gods, an area strewn with huge boulders. Some of these “glacial errata’’ are well over 10 feet in height, creating an impressive, almost mystical, grouping.

“That’s what is so amazing about the forest,’’ Greeley said. “You can really forget where you are.’’

Further east, along the lesser-used Estes Trail, is Turtle Rock.

“It really does look like a turtle,’’ said Dingledy. The trail is also where rare lady slippers can be found, Greeley said.

The committee schedules outreach events throughout the year, including the annual “chipper day,’’ part of the national Firewise program. To prevent the spread of wildfires, volunteers collect brush and branches from the yards of houses near the forest and feed the debris into a massive wood chipper. “The neighbors really like it,’’ Greeley said.

The most recent event was held on Nov. 5, a hike postponed a week because of the pre-Halloween snowstorm. Greeley, Dingledy, and Dale Lewis, the third member of the forest committee, led a group that included about 20 young scouts and nearly as many adults on a short trek punctuated by a lively recitation by Dingledy of some seasonal poems.

“It’s important for kids to get away from the TVs and computers and learn about nature,’’ said Lewis.

The next event will be a winter hike, probably early next year.

The committee gets a $500 yearly budget from the town, which is used to buy tools needed for trail work. The Friends of the Town Forest and other donors also contribute small amounts, Greeley said.

The second Saturday of each month is set aside for work on the trails; sometimes just a couple of people show up, other times there is a larger group. The work that gets done also depends on the ages and abilities of the volunteers, and it can range from just cleanup of smaller debris from the trails to moving rocks and clearing fallen trees.

“If we could just get more volunteers, it would make such a difference,’’ Dingledy said. “This forest is a source of civic pride. Holbrook should be very proud of keeping it a place people can really enjoy.’’

Parking near the forest access points is limited. There are two cutouts along Pine Street where cars can pull off the road, and there is room for a car or two on Park Drive, a very short residential street near the Wiggins Trail entrance.

Trail maps are available at Town Hall or online and are recommended when using the forest. Lewis, who is working on an information kiosk for users, said bug spray and water are musts. Sturdy shoes and a walking stick are also recommended, since some of the trails can be uneven, rocky, or wet in places. Those using the forest should also let someone know where they are headed, Greeley said, in case of any emergency.

For maps and more information, visit the Town Forest Committee page at holbrookma.gov.

Linda Morgan Bliss can be reached at lbliss@globe.com.

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