| Chris Maza
SPRINGFIELD – Maybe you live in the city and really want the opportunity to go for a nature walk without going too far.
Maybe you’re disappointed that Stanley Park is closed right now.
Or perhaps you’ve explored every inch of Laughing Brook, Robinson State Forest, Ashley Reservoir or Chicopee Memorial State Park and are just looking for a change of scenery.
Believe it or not, Forest Park has the perfect opportunity to commune with nature hidden in plain sight.
Most are familiar with this gem of a park in the city of Springfield for one reason or another – Bright Nights, the Barney House, the duck pond, the ball fields, the zoo – but surrounding all of that is a network of trails that can help you forget you are in the urban center of Western Massachusetts altogether.
All of the trails are extremely accessible to the public with outlets on the roadways within the park, including the Main Greeting Road near the park’s main entrance on Sumner Avenue, Magawiska Drive near the park’s Longhill Street exit, Fountain Lake Road and Porter Lake Dam Road.
Some of the trails themselves offer additional access points to the park from abutting neighborhoods on Forest Park Avenue and Washington Avenue in Springfield and Porter Lake Drive on the Longmeadow border.
While all of the trails are relatively easy hikes from a difficulty perspective, how deep into nature you want to get is truly up to you. For example, the Meadowbrook Ravine Trail, accessible near Barney Pond, is a wide, well-traveled path with outlets to the Forest Park neighborhood of Springfield. Without leaves on the trees in the early spring, houses are visible at certain points while still surrounding hikers with a high canopy and a multitude of songbirds.
A network of trails on the far side of Porter Lake, the park’s largest lake, offers a more immersive experience that will truly make you forget you are in the middle of a city. The trail is more of a hiking trail than a walking trail – uneven and winding, but it was easily passable for a man in running shoes and his dog and a woman with a 2-year-old on her back. Several small tributaries to Porter Lake cross your path but are easily crossed by a series of bridges that are maintained by the park’s staff.
Whatever your preference, you are bound to find evidence of the diverse population of our natural world residing right here in the city limits. Within minutes of a recent trip, there was a sighting of a very large (and fast-moving) turkey, multiple tree trunks with bear scratches and new and old evidence of the work of beavers.
The trails offer a great reprieve from the bustle and stress of everyday life while also boasting the convenience of great accessibility.
For a map of the trails, visit www.springfield-ma.gov/park/fileadmin/_migrated/content_uploads/ForestParkMap_01.pdf.