As the weather has finally made its turn for the better here in Boston, my thoughts turn quickly to getting outside. I recently moved north of the city and live in very close proximity to The Fells, which is home to some great trails for mountain biking. The Fells, however, like many of the most popular parks managed under the Massachusetts DCR, is closed to mountain biking for a period of the late winter and early spring to mitigate trail erosion. I can’t fault the DCR for that decision, so I’m driven to find another venue - still nearby - where I can get my early season fix.
After interrogating some friends and acquaintances on the subject, I came to learn (well, not to learn, so much as to be reminded) of the existence of a small State Forest just a few miles away in Andover called Harold Parker. Having been mountain biking now for decades (the realization is as frightening as it sounds), it surprised me to think that I have never ridden at Harold Parker State Forest. It’s not so small, nor so out of the way that it could have been simply overlooked. Somehow still, it was, and I can’t help but feel that I’ve really been missing something.
This might hardly seem at first read like the high praise that it is, but indulge me for a moment. Harold Parker is enough. Really. I’ll use a few, simple (borderline: pedestrian) comparisons to illustrate my point– small enough that you can’t become hopelessly lost, yet large enough to let you feel like you’re really getting somewhere; crowded enough to feel friendly, yet quiet enough to afford some solitude; its trails are flat enough and smooth enough that you can casually and comfortably meander through most of the park, yet rolling enough and technical enough to challenge your skills and fitness –Do you see where I’m going with this?
It’s entirely likely that I’ve grossly understated this, but maybe that’s just it. Harold Parker State Forest is understated, in and of itself. It doesn’t have the flash and uniqueness, the spectacular views, nor the endless networks of trails that other parks in New England boast, but when you want nothing more than to enjoy a place for what it is, there just may be none better than this place.