Ted Beatie - Travel Photogapher/Writer

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A Walk Through a Broken Heart

Anything but sad, an autumn stroll through Breakheart Reservation is a superb way to spend an afternoon. Just a half hour's drive from downtown Boston, nestled in the heart of Saugus, this 640-acre hardwood forest is a quiet place off the beaten path, filled with the beauty of majestic trees, rocky hills providing views of the horizon, and two freshwater lakes.

Part of the Metropolitan Park System, established in 1893 as the first regional organization of public open space in the United States, Breakheart has an extensive trail network perfect for hiking and bird watching. The lakes have been a fishing spot since a late 19th century area attorney named Benjamin Johnson, originally bought the land that comprises the reservation, and then willed it to the state for conservation use upon his death. There are 9 miles of paths to meet every level of hiker, from paved roads built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, to well-marked paths over seven rocky hills, and forested trails winding through the reservation and around the lakes.

Open seven days a week, the spacious new Visitor Center, completed in August of 2004, hosts year-round activities including weekly ranger-led hikes on Saturdays. The center, more like a mountain lodge with a large stone fireplace and sofas, is a comfortable place to stop and have tea or chat with other hikers and volunteers.

Walking through the park on a crisp New England fall day, the tall trees become a cathedral of color, the sun's light shining through the leaves like stained glass. One is instantly at peace, breathing in the clean forest air with a hint of pine, and fallen needles blanket the landscape.

Mycologists will find plenty to discover, as mushrooms can easily be found growing on trees, or poking up through mossy groundcover. The geology-minded will notice granite and other glacial deposits full of interesting minerals. In addition to the many varieties of birds, great horned owls, red foxes, white tailed deer, and cottontail rabbits can be seen.

Other unexpected treasures await the intrepid explorer as well. At an elevation of 233', Breakheart Hill is not the highest of the seven hills, but it still offers a scenic view of the area and of the Boston skyline in the distance. One might also find the rusted remains of an old truck, its suspension long since collapsed under the weight of time.

Unlike other more well-known destinations within the park system such as the Blue Hills Reservation and the Middlesex Fells, Breakheart has the feel of a secret spot, its location passed by word of mouth from neighbor to neighbor. With a rich local history and a diverse landscape, this beautiful park just minutes from the bustle of downtown Boston will surely rejuvenate your soul.

Ted Beatie