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Nature Quests Offer Interactive Fun

Looking for a fun and interactive way to find and learn about the many diverse natural attractions in Johnny Appleseed Country? Try a ‘quest,’ which leads explorers of all ages and abilities to scenic vistas, secret waterfalls and cascades, dinosaur tracks and other geologic wonders, historic sites, and other hidden treasures.

Most quests provide a passport book with directions, clues, and space for you to collect a stamp, imprint, or sticker from a drop-box at the places they visit. After filling all or portions of the book, you can contact or visit the sponsoring group to claim prizes or coupons.

North Quabbin Woods, a non-profit organization that promotes ecotourism, artisans, and cultural events, holds an annual quest from July to October at more than 20 places in North Central Massachusetts. Their destinations are keyed to the free North Quabbin Woods Map and Guide, which is updated and reprinted annually and is available through the organization’s website and at trailheads, information kiosks, and businesses throughout the region.
Quests for All Levels

The North Quabbin Woods quest includes three levels, the easiest of which — the ‘weekender’ — features sites that are directly reached by car, including scenic vistas at Tully Lake in Royalston and Quabbin Reservoir in New Salem. These places are ideal for families with young children, those who are mobility impaired, or as an easily accessible picnic or photo op.

The intermediate ‘explorer’ quest allows participants to choose outings best-suited to their time and abilities. At these locations, the imprint is located at or near the trailhead, and then visitors can continue on walks of various lengths. For example, visitors at Doane’s Falls in Royalston can view the main falls alone, or continue on a longer hike that explores the rest of the cascades and scenic Tully Lake.

Finally, for more experienced hikers, the “supreme” quest involves outings of easy to moderate difficulty, leading to destinations such as the summit of Mount Grace in Warwick and the waterfalls in Wendell’s ‘Hidden Valley.’ There are also two paddling routes, including the new Millers River Blue Trail (detailed on page 6) and Long Pond in Royalston.
The River Route

Another interesting quest is offered by the Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center at Barton Cove in Gill, located just off Route 2. The cove, which is roughly two miles west of the famous French King Bridge, is a scenic backwater of the Connecticut River bordered by a rocky peninsula with a nature trail and campground.

The booklet guides visitors to features such as dinosaur tracks, an ancient waterfall site, and a trailside nest box with the stamp and fliers that detail the cove’s fascinating history. Several other organizations offer similar, statewide programs that include attractions in Johnny Appleseed County.

The Massachusetts Audubon Society’s ‘Passport to Nature’ features several central Massachusetts wildlife sanctuaries, such as Wachusett Meadows in Princeton, Flat Rock in Fitchburg, Rutland Brook in Petersham, and Cook’s Canyon in Barre.

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation offers a Park Passport program with 76 state forests and parks divided into five regional quests. The department’s North Central Massachusetts destinations include Wachusett Mountain, Dunn Pond, and the Erving, Leominster, Otter River, Wendell, and Willard Brook State Forests.

Each park stamp is kept in a locked box, the combination to which is printed in the passport (park staff and visitor centers also have stamps available). Learning pages for each park are also available on the DCR passport Web site

In addition to appropriate outdoor wear, snacks, water, and a map and guide if necessary, plan to bring along pencils, crayons, or other markers to use with the passport book (these are often provided in the quest box) and notebooks to record your trek. One more thing: be sure to bring a camera so that you’ll remember your fun-filled day for years to come!

— Contributed by John Burk