Bay Circuit Trail: Hiking The 230 Mile Emerald Necklace of Massachusetts (Section 4)
For the next stretch of the Bay Circuit Trail, I picked up right where I left off in Oxford State Forest. It was a mild, but cool February day with a little rain in the forecast. This area is also open to hunting (the other in the town of Boxford is Georgetown Rowley State Forest) so I opted for bright colors on this trip.
The hike began leading me down an easy stretch of terrain on the BCT that intersected with multiple unmarked trails and carriage pathways. A few sections had blazes spread further than I was expecting, but with the map, my compass and a good sense of direction, I didn't have too much trouble. The first highlight on the trip was an overlook to what's noted on the map as an ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missle) site. The site was selected by the U.S. Department of Defense in 1968 as the home of the first Perimeter Acquisition Radar (PAR) for the Sentinel Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense System. Luckily, the site never received full development due to opposition and criticism for the huge expense of the program. Construction was underway in other locations, but came to a complete halt after being stopped by President Nixon.
From the ABM site, the BCT transitioned from dirt to pavement a few times before leaving a wooded area, and what looked like a large dirt parking lot by a soccer field, to connect with the entrance of Harold Parker State Forest. This state forest was a treat to walk through and is one I will have to come back to, to explore some more. According to the maps I was using, there is a big network of trails within the forest. For this trip, I was focused on continuing my adventure on the BCT.
The BCT section of the forest took me across a wooden boardwalk, gentle rolling wide open pathways and a wooden bridge that crossed a creek just off of Berry Pond. The area was full of cool crisp air, light drizzle and complete solitude.
As my hike continued, I eventually came to a massive boulder which marks the Jenkins Mill site. A site most famously known as a stop on the underground railroad. The owner William Jenkins was a very active abolititionist and he mined blue-soapstone on the property. It was hard to miss this highlight on the BCT as the blaze is right next to it, and it strongly stands out from its surroundings.
The trail then followed the Skug River through more rock quarry's and a little more varying terrain before crossing over into Hammond Reservation. My next highlight on this trip was the beautiful view from Holt Hill, the highest point in Essex County.
From Holt Hill, I enjoyed a view of the beautiful city of Boston and the Blue Hills. There were also a couple of other rewards at this overlook. The first was the "Solstice Stones" which form a compass like arrangement indicating the four cardinal points of the compass and the points of all four seasons (winter and summer solstice, spring and autumnal equinox).
The other highlight just before entering the woods again, was a stone and plaque known as Elephant Rock. I stopped here to enjoy the view once more, grab a snack and continue my trip as I still had to backtrack my mileage for the day back to my parked car in Boxford.
After a short walk through the woods toward the base of Holt Hill the BCT crosses a road and descends further on another well-maintained section in Ward Reservation. The Trustees of Reservations do an incredible job with protecting and preserving areas like the one surrounding Holt Hill. Leaving this property I entered a very busy section of town. This is partly due to the fact the BCT passes right by Phillips Academy.
Founded in 1778, Phillips Academy is an independent boarding high school and notably one of the best in the country. As I looked across the road from the BCT, I enjoyed the fact that this trail connects so many pieces of rich New England history along the way. The trail then continued along a nice stretch of paved pathway off of the road and back into a short segment of woods.
This lead me to the T and the turn around point for this section of the Bay Circuit Trail.
Section Distance: 16.5 miles
Total Distance Hiked (Out-And-Back): 33 miles
Locations: From Oxford State Forest in Boxford, MA to The T in Andover, MA