Sunday, August 17, 2014

Walking: Cranberry Bog at Patriot Place and Nature Walks at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary | Eastern Massachusetts

We recently had an opportunity to spend an evening visiting a few small natural areas in the Metrowest region of eastern Massachusetts.  Both sites, the Cranberry Bog Walk at Patriot Place and the Nature Trails at the Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary are easy walks that offer visitors plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities and a chance to enjoy some peace and quiet in the hustle and bustle of the suburbs of Boston.

Both locations are in adjacent towns and only a few miles apart, making them a great choice for a summer evening of exploring the remaining natural areas and wetlands of eastern Massachusetts.

Cranberry Bog Nature Walk at Patriot Place

Turtles hanging out
Right behind the Bass Pro Shops at Patriot Place in the town of Foxborough, there is a half a mile long nature trail that goes around and through an active Cranberry Bog and its associated wetlands.  Beyond the bog, a short portion of the walk goes through a wooded area before returning you to the patio area behind the Bass Pro Shops.

On our most recent visit we were able to observe a number of different turtle species and just take in the flora and fauna that flourish just a few hundred yards from a very developed commercial area that includes retail development along with Gillette Stadium, home of the Patriots.

Turtle Sex!
We have done the walk before and have a good description of trail already up, so this was just a return visit with a friend to enjoy a warm July evening.  On this trip I think the biggest attraction was the number of turtles. At first I just hoped to see a few and after the first hundred feet or so, I realized the most of the wetlands were teeming with several different species, including some very large snapping turtles.  In fact we even got to see some the snapping turtles getting it on while swimming under the walkways!

Thankfully mosquitoes weren't too much of a problem even though we were there in the evening hours.  After the walk we relaxed a bit at the patio behind the Bass Pro Shops.  There's outdoor seating available and there's a fire pit that I guess is used on special occasions.  We just took it as a place to spend a few minutes enjoying the evening.

Relaxing behind the Bass Pro Shops

Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary

Located in Norfolk, Massachusetts, the Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary (trail map available) offers about 2 miles of nature trails in two large loops that brings visitors around and through a series of marshes, bogs and ponds.  The first section of the trail, from the Visitor Center down to boardwalks between Teal Marsh and Kingfisher Pond are universally accessible, making this a great choice for everyone to enjoy a walk.

At the Visitor Center
The visitor center for the Sanctuary is located at 108 North Street in the Town of Norfolk.  The visitor center is open various hours, but the trails are open year round from down to dusk.  Admission is free to Audubon members, otherwise it is a $4 donation.

We were there in the evening hours so the visitor center wasn't open, but even still there were a number of visitors enjoying the area around the center, fishing in the pond and enjoying the trails.  There were even several photographers trying to get photos of an elusive rabbit that was running around the yard of the visitor center.

From the northern side of the visitor center, the Sensory Trail heads northward and soon crosses the stream that connects Teal Marsh to Stony Brook Pond.  On our visit there was a swan nest just south of the bridge off in the woods on the edge of the marsh.  Never having the opportunity to see one so close, it was really interesting two see the two adult swans with their young in what I could only define as a nest area.  They had definitely taken up some of the real estate to rear their young!

A swan nest we discovered
After crossing the stream on the bridge, the trail is now on a small island that's surrounded by marshes and ponds.  Just ahead the Pond Loop Trail turns right, but we continued ahead to enjoy the boardwalks that cross through the marsh and ponds ahead.

There's an extensive boardwalk up ahead that carries you first over swampy lands and then into the open marsh and finally open waters on the edge of Kingfisher Pond.  All along there's plenty of opportunities to view plants and animals along the trail and then the turtles and other wildlife in the marsh and the pond.

We were able to see plenty of turtles once again, along with various birds and some fish in the pond too.  The wetland complex in this area is vast and the trail with its boardwalk brings you into the heart of the area, giving you an extensive view of all of the surround wetland features.

Teal Marsh
In the middle of the boardwalk there's a viewing platform with seating that gives you views of the marsh to your right and the pond to your left.  It was a really cool place to just sit, relax and take in the area and watch the goings on of wildlife.

As you reach the end of the boardwalk, you also reach the end of the universally accessible portion of the trail.  From here there is a short loop trail called the Beech Grove Trail that brings you around another dry island between the marshes and the ponds.  At the northern end of the loop there's an elevated viewing platform that gives you a view into the northern portion of Kingfisher Pond and is a nice place to sit and relax.  There are a few herd paths in this area though, so do pay attention as you make your away around the loop that you do not end up taking a fisherman's path to the water's edge.

Boardwalk and Kingfisher Pond
For the return trip we continued around the Beech Grove Trail and returned across the boardwalks of the Sensory Trail to its intersection with the Pond Loop Trail.  The Pond Loop Trail heads east across the small island and crosses the outlet of Kingfisher Pond on a small bridge.  There is a small dam  here that raises Kingfisher Pond up higher than Stony Brook Pond just downstream.

After crossing the bridge, the trail makes its way south along the eastern edge of Stony Brook Pond.  About halfway to the southern end of the pond, the trail intersects with a short trail that heads out to Route 115.  Continuing on, the trail reaches the Stony Brook Pond dam and then descends, crossing the pond's outlet on a bridge below the dam and then climbing back up to pond's shoreline before ascending gently back up to the visitors center.

Boardwalks viewing platform
All of the trails, especially the universally accessible Sensory Trail are very moderate grades that make them accessible to just about anyone.  The only slightly steeper section is on the Pond Loop Trail where it descends to cross Stony Brook and then ascends back up to the visitor center.  Even here though, there are two routes, one with steps and another route that is more gradually graded to make walking easier for everyone.

It was a really pleasant area to spend a little over an hour and a half as we walked the entire trail network and got to experience a number of different things we hadn't run into before like the swans' nest.  If I were looking for a place to bring visitors for an easy walk in the future, this would definitely be on my short list of places to go.


For more Information on Hikes and Walks in Eastern Massachusetts
and the Boston Metropolitan Region


Patriot Place maintains a website for the Nature Walk and the Massachusetts Audubon Society manages the Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary.

For more hiking and walking options in Massachusetts and the Boston region, the Appalachian Mountain Club publishes a Trail Guide for Trails in Massachusetts and a Trail Guide for the 60 Best Hikes Near Boston

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