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Social Distance Files: Needham’s Ridge Hill

Ridge Hill Reservation is an ideal social distancing locale.

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

My GPS told me the Ridge Hill Reservation was just north of “Ponzi Cons land,” which sounded like an amusement park version of the Federal prisons to which they send white collar criminals. So, while I was excited to investigate the trails around Ridge Hill, I couldn’t help but think I may have to check out that patch of woods later. With a metal detector. And perhaps a means of self-defense.

To get to the reservation from route 128, you have to pass through Pine Street. After Friday’s early morning rain, the street had a huge puddle decorated with traffic cones. On top of one of the cones, someone had made a sign designating the puddle “Pine Pond,” which I found a pretty funny acknowledgement of the area’s lack of drainage and the neighborhood’s new waterfront property status.

After I pulled into the parking lot, I could see that someone had lost a child’s winter jacket, which was now hung on the trail sign. While losing anything is never ideal, if you’re going to lose something right now, a children's winter coat wouldn’t be the worst thing to lose - a kid isn’t going to wear it in June, and by the time next winter rolls around, the kid will be too big to fit into it. Still, FYI: if you lost a black coat, you should check the Ridge Hill Trail sign. There’s one there.

Looking past the coat, I was are greeted by a variety of potential trail options. Some, like the Esker and Muir trails, don’t have names that do much explaining. I knew there was a John Muir trail in California, but I doubted there was a connection, and Google told me that an esker is a winding ridge of gravel and boulders deposited from a melting glacier, but that didn’t give much insight into what I would be walking in. So, it was between the swamp trail and the fit trail.

The swamp trail immediately made me think it was full of swarms of mosquitos and hidden snakes coiled under every log, just waiting to bite someone for stepping on them. Plus, because of the rain, the environment was already going to be extremely muddy and gross - even in the least swamp-like portions of the trail.

The fit trail, on the signs pointing towards it, had an image of a healthy family jogging. Then, another sign in the woods showed that there are various exercise stations on the trail, where one can do monkey bars and pull-ups while running. Apparently, this trail is full of perky fitness people, who need more exercise than a woodland run can provide them on its own.

Give me the snakes. I opted for the swamp.

Before I got to the swamp’s boardwalk, I took a little trip down the Eastbound trail, with people walking the crest above me, just to see what it looked like. After noting how many trees had little bowls full of water created by holes in their trunks, I encountered a boardwalk that was just barely hanging on. Parts of the wood were missing, and someone had made a very primitive set of steps out of the mud puddle in front of it with a couple of thick sticks. It didn’t give me much optimism about the swamp trail.

But the swamp trail would show me that not all boardwalks are created equally. Hiking the swamp trail’s boardwalk was like walking on a pool deck, a good foot out of the mud, with a bench to stop and sit on towards the end. It was delightful.

Supposedly, not far from the hiking trails, in the 1800’s, the old Baker Estate used to have bear pits. So perhaps a rogue couple of bears escaped to the nearby woods, had a family, and have managed to survived to this day (at least this is what I’d tell my kids to scare them, if I were a father). Pablo Escobar had a couple pet hippos at his compound that escaped into the wild and have become a nuisance in Columbia, so who knows? Dover has its demon; Needham can have rogue Baker Bears.

To get back to my car, I took the Chestnut trail until I was spit out at the Bradley Morse House. Inside the house was a browning vine lodged along the window - what a great metaphor for an old estate that had fallen into disarray. Very F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Overall, it was a surprisingly nice hike around an extremely well-made boardwalk, despite not having the best weather. I highly recommend it.

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