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The Welcome Mat is Out for Pooches

by John Burk

If you’ve been sitting in the car too long, watching great New England scenery roll by, you’ll welcome an opportunity to stretch your legs and see some of that scenery up close and personal.

But what about Fido? Dogs deserve a break, too but you worry about finding a good spot for your pup to get a bit of exercise.

Have no fear! From easy strolls to backcountry trails, the parks and preserves of North Central Massachusetts offer many diverse options for outings with your canine companion.

Leashes, Please!

Dogs are permitted at most of the region’s parks, including state forests. Exceptions include Quabbin Reservoir and other public water supply land, Mass. Audubon sanctuaries, national wildlife refuges, and some private conservation areas. Some landowners require that pets be leashed at all times.

Situated near Fitchburg and Leominster, the 4,300-acreLeominster State Forest includes many miles of recreational trails open to leashed dogs. While the woods’ roads are open to a variety of uses including biking and horses, there are also several footpaths, including the Ball Hill, Berry Hill, and Rocky Pond Trails, that follow rolling terrain on the east side of Route 31. The Crow Hill Trail, which includes a portion of the Midstate Trail, offers outstanding views but requires a rocky climb and descent.

At Coggshall Park off Electric Avenue in Fitchburg, several easy roads and forest trails branch out from Mirror Lake near the park’s center. Leashed dogs are permitted throughout the 212-acre park except for posted sections at Mirror Lake and the playground. Trail guides are available from the Friends of Coggshall during the park’s Sunday concerts.

Mountain Miles

The popular Wachusett Mountain State Reservation off Route 140 in Princeton features a 17-mile trail network. While most of these routes, especially the summit trails, have steep and rocky sections, there are a few easier options including five unpaved roads. Echo Lake Road in the park’s southeast corner offers an easy 0.7-mile walk to Echo Lake and Administration and West Roads.

In Ashby and Townsend, the Willard Brook State Forest offers mostly easy trails through 2,600 acres of forest. From the Damon Pond entrance on Route 119, a scenic footpath parallels Willard Brook for roughly 1 mile. Walkers can backtrack or make a 3-mile loop using wooded roads and a portion of the Friend’s Trail. Other trails may be accessed at the Pearl Hill Recreation Area on New Fitchburg Road in Townsend.

For a pleasant walk off the beaten path, the Paul Dunn Woodland Preserve in Ashburnham, a Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust property, features an easy 1.3-mile loop trail that visits a glacial esker and spruce-fir swamps. The trailhead is off Dunn Road near the junction of Routes 140 and 12.

At Dunn Pond, part of Heritage State Park on Route 101 near downtown Gardner, an easy 0.9-mile loop trail circles the pond, passing many scenic viewpoints. Near the entrance it connects with the Woodland Trail, a universally accessible mile-long path through the adjacent forest.

Waterfalls, Too!

The Tully Lake Recreation Area on Route 32 in Royalston includes a scenic 4.5-mile loop trail that circles the lake and Doanes Falls. A portion of the trail on the west shores near the recreation area is universally accessible and offers easy footing. Dogs must be on leashes no longer than 6 feet.

The Otter River State Forest and Lake Dennison Recreation Area are part of a 20,000-acre conservation area in the Millers River watershed in Baldwinville and Winchendon. The Wilder-Mackenzie Nature Trail, a 1.3-mile (one-way) foot-path that connects the state forest campground to Lake Dennison, follows gently rolling terrain through old pine plantations. The busier paved and dirt roads near Lake Dennison offer easy walking and scenic lake and wetland views. Entrances to both areas are on Route 202 north of Baldwinville, a village in the town of Templeton.

At the Bearsden Conservation Area in Athol, historic stagecoach, fire roads, and footpaths wind through the hills of the Millers River Valley. A good trail for dogs is the loop around Newton Reservoir, which is reached from a pullout on South Royalston Road. The main entrance, which includes an information kiosk and access to other trails, is on Bearsden Road Route 2A east of the town center,

The Brooks Woodland Preserve offers 13 miles of trails in the valley of the East Branch of the Swift River. The main trails at the Quaker Road entrance off Route 122 form an easy loop through pine and hemlock groves along Moccasin Brook and the Swift River. There are several other access areas, including East Street and the North Common Meadow near the town center.