Over the last year, I’ve explored the Merrimack Valley and its communities which continuously impress and peak my interest when I visit the area. On a recent stopover in North Andover, I explored a Trustees of Reservations property I had long desired to visit, The Charles W. Ward Reservation.
This great spot affords visitors the opportunity to take in views of the Boston skyline and explore more than 10 miles of trails that traverse the sprawling landscape of the Merrimack Valley.
Seven years after the death of her husband, Mabel Ward paid tribute to his memory by donating 153 acres to The Trustees of Reservations in 1940. In ensuing years, the Ward family and others have made additional gifts, and the Charles W. Ward Reservation now totals 700 acres.
The reservation is comprised of three major hills, Shrub, Boston, and Holt, connected by a network of trails that bring visitors to their summits. Atop Holt Hill, the “Solstice Stones” mark the highest point in Essex County. The compass-like arrangement of stones mimics the points of a compass, the points of the summer and winter solstices, and the points of the spring and autumnal equinoxes.
The summit is part of the Bay Circuit Trail, a regional greenway that links the North Shore to the South Shore. At times, the trails take visitor along sloping hillsides that turn from easy and moderate to strenuous hiking. While I chose to visit on the hottest and most humid day this summer, it was well worth the sweat.
For those visitors looking for a leisurely walk, step out onto the boardwalk at the base of Holt Hill on an adventure through a rare quaking bog. A quiet and reflective spot, the Bog Nature Trail is home to a number of plant species that include wild orchids and insect-eating pitcher plants.
When you arrive, be sure to pick up an interpretive booklet to follow numbered stations along the boardwalk, each signalling a botanical or geological feature. The boardwalk ultimately leads visitors to Pine Hole Pond.
If you’re hoping to meet or speak with volunteers from the Trustees, you’re out of luck as an unmanned information booth at the parking area is the reservation’s lone facility.
Where? Charles W. Ward Reservation, Prospect Road, Andover and North Andover
When? Year-round, daily, 8am to sunset. Allow a minimum of 2 hours.
Cost? Free entrance; Free trail maps; Donation requested for walking tour guide (honor system)