They are big and small, popular and little known, in the middle of nowhere, and in the middle of urban centers. They are part of the 108 holdings of Trustees of Reservations in Massachusetts, the oldest statewide land conservation and historic preservation group in the country.
And they are diverse by design, said Barbara Erickson, who became president in July. The agency assesses possible land acquisitions through a variety of filters, she said, including statewide significance and unique character, which results in what she calls the “awe factor.”
“That’s the element you find, that sustained feeling, at least for me, that I get every time I go to a holding I haven’t seen yet,” she said. “It takes your breath away. There is no one quite like another.”
Access to the parks and reservations is mostly free to members ($47 a year for basic membership), with small fees charged to nonmembers. Most have hiking trails and all are listed at www.thetrustees.org. Here are 10 to consider visiting this season.
BIGGEST: Notchview Reservation, Windsor This 3,100-acre hiking and cross-country skiing mecca in the Hoosac Range is an extension of Vermont’s Green Mountains. Much is above 2,000 feet, resulting in snow on its 25 miles of Nordic trails more than 80 days a year; there is a separate trail system for skijoring, skiing with dogs. Hiking on the abundant trail system is gorgeous in fall; check out the old stone walls and cellar holes left by European settlers who cleared the land in the early 19th century. Most of the reservation is forested with red spruce and northern hardwoods, a landscape shaped by years of timber, firewood, and charcoal production. Route 9, 413-684-0148, general admission $2 for nonmember, $12 for skiing
SMALLEST: Redemption Rock , Princeton The quarter-acre site, though small in size, is huge in history. In February 1767, Native Americans defending their land attacked Lancaster and captured Mary White Rowlandson, her three children, and 20 others, holding them for months in the wilderness. She and her captors returned in April, when John Hoar of Concord negotiated her release on the flat-topped granite ledge now known as Redemption Rock. The site is surrounded by watershed lands owned by Fitchburg, and is a link in the 92-mile Mid-State Trail. Route 140, 413-532-1631, free
MOST VISITED: The Crane Estate , Ipswich More than 300,000 visitors a year come here for three main reasons: Castle Hill, a National Historic Landmark and home of The Great House, a 59-room mansion and popular wedding venue; Crane Beach, a sandy local favorite for generations and one of the world’s most important piping plover nesting sites; and the Crane Wildlife Refuge with its rare plants and more than three miles of gravel roads and trails. Stay at the historic 10-room Inn at Castle Hill (rates from $155), a Trustees holding on the estate grounds, and take your time exploring. Argilla Road, 978-356-4354, fees vary
LEAST VISITED: Ashintully Gardens , Tyringham Elegant gardens and ruins of an old mansion dot this Berkshires property. The gardens are the 30-year creation of composer John McLennan, who bought the land in 1937 and blended a stream, native deciduous trees, a rounded knoll, and flanking meadows into a retreat. The remains of a marble mansion that burned down in 1952 are at the end of a half-mile trail, where you can catch views of Tyringham Valley. It’s a place where, Erickson said, “you come across these pillars left on the estate and you get the feeling something majestic was there. It’s a really mystical experience.” Sodem Road, 413-298-3239, free
PET FRIENDLY: Rocky Woods, Medfield This is one of five Trustee properties in the “Green Dogs Program,” a permit-based program free to members. The footpath-laced site of nearly 500 acres of woods and wetlands offers catch-and-release fishing at the four ponds. You can let your dog run free (some trails require leashes) — if you have control of it. Hartford Street, 508-785-0339, $4 for nonmembers, collected by ranger on weekends and holidays, honor system applies all other times
FAMILY FRIENDLY: Weir River Farm, Hingham This is a popular spot for families, with children able to check out and sometimes pet horses, pigs, cows, chickens, and sheep. The 75-acre working farm has sweeping, hilly fields and pastures surrounded by oak and red cedar woodlands that support a variety of wildlife habitat. From the entrance at the top of Turkey Hill, a mowed footpath cuts through fields and woods, and the views are spectacular here. The adjacent Whitney and Thayer Woods, another Trustees holding, connects to Wompatuck State Park and Hingham’s Triphammer Conservation Area. That all combines to give access to the largest contiguous tract of open space on the South Shore, about 5,000 acres, all worth hiking. Turkey Hill Lane, 781-740-7233, barn open seasonally, $6 for nonmembers, hiking trails open year round, free Continued...