Blue Hills Reservation
The Blue Hills Reservation is a 7,000 acre state park in Norfolk County, Massachusetts purchased in 1893 by the Metropolitan Parks Commission. The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation manages this reservation. It covers parts of Milton, Quincy, Braintree, Canton, Randolph, and Dedham and contains 125 miles of trails. It is located approximately 10 miles south of downtown Boston. There are many features in the Blue Hills that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Great Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory and the Chickatawbut Observation Tower. It is currently used for outdoor recreation with its many hiking trails and locations of interest on the trails. The skyline of Boston can be seen from the reservation. It is a transit friendly, handicap accessible historic site that is also dog friendly. The reservation also contains the Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum located at 1904 Canton Ave, Milton, MA 02186 as the interpretive center for the Reservation.
Backstory and Context
The Blue Hills Reservation gets its name from riebeckite, a mineral present in the hills that gives them their blue hue. The land for the reservation was purchased in 1893 by the Metropolitan Parks Commission following a proposal by Charles Eliot and Sylvester Baxter. Native Americans lived in the area long before settlers arrived in the 17th century. The tribe who lived around the Blue Hills was a part of the Massachusett people known as the Neponset. Today, there are 125 miles of trails in the reservation. There are a number of diverse habitats within the borders of the Blue Hills including upland and bottomland forests, meadows, swamp and pond edges, marsh, and an Atlantic white cedar bog. These habitats are home to many rare and endangered species.
The highest point in the reservation is the Great Blue Hill at 635 feet. The Meteorological Observatory, the oldest continuous weather recording station in the United States, sits atop the Great Blue Hill. In 1885, meteorologist Abbott Lawrence Rotch built the Meteorological Observatory as one of the first observatories in the country. It is one of the many sites in the reservation on the National Register of Historic Places. The Blue Hills Reservation Parkways were listed as a district in the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Other landmarks in the Blue Hills Reservation found on the National Register of Historic Places include the Blue Hills State Police Station, Brookwood Farm, the Chickatawbut Observation Tower, the Comfort Station, the Eliot Memorial Bridge, the Great Blue Hill Observation Tower, the Massachusetts Hornfels-Braintree Slate Quarry, the Metropolitan District Commission Stable, the Old Barn in Canton, Ponkapoag Camp of Appalachian Mountain Club, and the Refreshment Pavilion.
Years of budget cuts in the Massachusetts Department of Recreation and Conservation have led to cutbacks in the upkeep of the reservation. Friends of the Blue Hills, a nonprofit group, has stepped in to help; volunteers help protect and maintain the reservation. They help to clear brush, pull weeds, and plan events. They initiated the Trails Maintenance Program in the fall of 2006 to keep the trails clear and able to be used. They also help to prevent developmental threats to the land, as the reservation sits next to highly prized real estate.
Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum is operated in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Recreation and Conservation. It is located at 1904 Canton Ave, Milton, MA 02186. This Museum is the interpretive center for the Reservation and features outdoor wildlife exhibits and a natural history museum. The animals in the exhibits include snowy owls and river otters that were rescued from the wild. The sanctuary hosts live animal presentations. It also has a summer camp to discover nature. The Trailside Museum is home to research on snowy owls and satellite telemetry. It also manages a private function and event space in its auditorium along with another on Chickatawbut Hill, the second highest peak in the Blue Hills.
The reservation is primarily used for hiking and mountain biking. There is a ski area operational between December and March on the Great Blue Hill. Other recreational activities are permitted in the region. Houghton’s Pond in Canton allows swimming and Ponkapoag Camp in Randolph allows non-motorized boating during the summer. Other permitted recreational activities include camping, fishing, picnicking, playing fields, ice skating, and interpretive programs. The reservation is also used for snowshoeing, downhill skiing, cross country skiing during the winter, rock climbing in certain areas, and horseback riding during permissible months. To control the deer population, the Blue Hills Deer Management Program allows some hunting for people who obtain permits. Hunting periods are highly restricted to certain individuals at very particular times to prevent injury to others using the reservation for recreation.
The Blue Hills Reservation was formerly home to a Nike missile site during the Cold War. Remnants of the crane, the fuel station, the missile assembly building, and the generator building remain in the Randolph area of the Blue Hills. The environmental education center on Chickatawbut Hill lies where the missile-control site once did. The 48 missiles were removed in 1964. Prior to their removal, the missiles were located on High St. in Randolph. This was a part of the Nike 12 site ring of defense around Boston to defend the city from the Russians in the Cold War.
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