Harold Parker State Forest
Harold Parker may not have been a runner, but he has made a lot of runners happy. His namesake state forest in North Andover, MA, offers 3,000 acres of rolling hills, rocky glacial deposits, and low-lying swamps with miles and miles of trails traversing them. Photos by Emily Raymond
Just a few minutes drive from I-93, the park spans Andover, North Andover, North Reading, and Middleton. Parker was a civil engineer, a state representative, and the first forestry commissioner in the Commonwealth.
It was his vision to rehabilitate dilapidated properties into beautiful public spaces, which is the story of the Harold Parker State Forest. (Photo: Wooden bridges lend an assist in crossing over swamp land.)
The park’s terrain was scooped out 12,000 years ago by glaciers. Huge boulders were deposited throughout the park, including a semi-truck-sized specimen that stands alone between Bear Pond and a soapstone quarry along the Bay Circuit Trail.
The Pentacook Indians lived on the land until English settlers cleared it for farming in the 1650s. Agriculture thrived for nearly a century before other industries took over. A sawmill and a soapstone quarry opened in the 1830s; the stone was used for buildings on Summer Street in Boston. The 1850s brought abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe to the area.
Many of the nearby homes and farms have secret passages and hiding places in them as part of the Underground Railroad. In the late 1800s, a forest fire ravaged the landscape, which the Commonwealth then purchased with the vision of rehabilitating it.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps expanded the forest. It planted a half-million red and white pine trees and dug out nine of the park’s 11 ponds, with each worker paid $30 per month to do so. They cleared the Bay Circuit Trail, which snakes through the northern part of the park and passes by Berry Pond.
There is a parking lot on Harold Parker Road just off Middleton Road that is closest to the pond, featuring a small beach for a summertime post-run dip. Also open during the summer is the Lorraine Park Campground on Jenkins Road that offers secluded sites for $12 a night. The price includes clean drinking water, flushing toilets, hot showers, and a private swimming area in a small pond. (Photo: Low lying swamps sit off the trails throughout the park.)
From the campground, it is only a few hundred meters to a small parking lot with a wide gravel trail that leads to Berry Pond. The gravel trail is called Berry Pond Road on the map, but it has a gate and is closed to traffic. There are several dirt single-track trails that split off into the woods. They are marked with numbered wooden posts, but it would be wise to carry a trail map on your first few runs through the park.