Category Archives: Wildlife Sanctuaries

Turtle on a rock at Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary

5 Hidden Gems in the Metro West

You never know what you’ll find when exploring Boston’s Metro West. Mass Audubon Metro West Wildlife Sanctuaries—Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, Habitat in Belmont, Broadmoor in Natick, and Waseeka in Hopkinton—host miles of trails meandering through wetlands, fields, animal exhibits, and a few surprises. Don’t miss these hidden gems on your next visit.

1. For When You Want to Go on an Adventure

This hidden gem isn’t off the main parking lot at Habitat Education Center & Wildlife Sanctuary in Belmont. You’ll need to follow Lees Way trailhead off of Somerset Street in Belmont to the Weeks Trail area. Along Lees Way, look for what’s known to staff as “The Tree of Resilience”—a tree whose main trunk is dead and hollowed out, but still has two branches very much alive growing outside of it.

Continuing down the trail, you’ll come across Weeks Pond, where you may find a mother duckling leading her young, bullfrogs peeking through the tiny floating leaves, or damselflies skimming the surface. In the meadow, you may even catch our small herd of goats grazing.

2. For When You Need to Relax

With more than 600 acres, Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary in Natick is filled with spots that, when you find them, make the rest of the world melt away.

The red circled binoculars indicate where this hidden gem is. See full the full trail map here.

Relax on the log bench perched on top of a rock outcropping overlooking the Indian Brook Marsh. When entering through the parking lot, cross the boardwalks, and turn right at signpost #3, instead of hopping onto one of the main loop trails.

This spur trail, made specifically for this scenic outlook, offers a wonderful view of Indian Brook Marsh. Look and listen for Belted Kingfishers, Wood Ducks, Red-tailed Hawks, Great Blue Herons, and more. The longer you linger, the more you’re likely to see.

3. For When You’re Feeling Mysterious

While not on Drumlin Farm’s property, and definitely not natural, if you travel to the outskirts of the crops fields where we grow our food, you can find yourself next to one of Lincoln’s most mysterious and unexplainable pieces of local lore. Ponyhenge—as it’s known to the locals—is a collection of broken-down rocking horses, plastic ponies, and other horse figurines that have spontaneously started holding court along Old Sudbury Road, since sometime in 2010.

How did all these ponies get here?

The collection has grown steadily since then, and stranger still, their configurations are known to change periodically, as if by magic. You may visit and see them in a circle, lined up like racehorses, or strewn about haphazardly. To see for yourself, take the Boyce Field Loop trail down to Old Sudbury Road. Along the way, you’ll see where Drumlin Farm’s CSA and farmstand vegetables are grown.

*Please note Ponyhenge is on private property but can be viewed from the fence on Drumlin Farm’s edge. Please stay on the trails and do not walk through growing fields during your adventure.

X marks the spot! Follow the Boyce Field Loop through our crop fields to Ponyhenge. See the full trail map here.

4. For When You Need a Turtle Fix

There is a place in the Metro West where turtles can go to just get away from it all. Understandably, sometimes you just want soak up the sun, and our turtle rafts at Habitat do just that. Take the Pond Loop Trail around the aptly named Turtle Pond for a glimpse at these sunbathing reptiles.

Painted Turtles sunbathing on a log at Turtle Pond ©Justin Miel

In reality, they’re doing more than just lounging about—sun-basking serves many purposes, including helping to promote muscle activity and digestion, encouraging leeches and other parasites to drop off, and triggering the production of vitamin D, which is essential for strong shells. A pair of snapping turtles were recently at the pond, a new sighting among all the more usual painted turtles that enjoy their favorite basking spot.

5. For When You Want to Take the Trail Less Traveled By

Have you been to Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary in Hopkinton before? This little-known sanctuary offers all the benefits that come with being off the beaten path: limited trail traffic, spectacular views, and the ability to take your time and make your own adventure. The sanctuary features a hidden pond with standing dead trees and snags that provide nesting sites for Eastern Bluebirds, Pileated Woodpeckers, Great Blue Herons, Ospreys, and the occasional Great Horned Owl.

View of the Pond at Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary, Hopkinton

Unlike the other Metro West wildlife sanctuaries, this site can be easy to miss. Look for the small parking lot along Clinton Street in Hopkinton, on the right about 2 miles up from turning onto it via Route 135.

What’s your favorite hidden gem at one of our Metro West wildlife sanctuaries? Share in the comments.

volunteer planting a tree at Arcadia

Planting a Forest with the Climate in Mind

More than 50 volunteers turned out in the last days of a mild October to help restore a floodplain forest at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Northampton. Together, these nature heroes planted around 1,500 of the 2,000 trees and shrubs going in the ground before winter.

Volunteer planting a tree at Arcadia
Volunteer at Arcadia

In this first phase of the project, 8.5 acres of field that is unproductive for both farming and grassland bird habitat will be turned back into land dominated by trees—including pin oaks, silver maples, and even American elm.  

Floodplain forests are uncommon in Massachusetts, hosting rare plants and wildlife habitat, storing stormwater during floods, and, like all forests, keeping carbon out of the atmosphere. 

But visitors to Arcadia who walk the Fern Trail are lucky to be able to see the large shagbark hickories and tulip trees, that make up one of the best examples of this natural community in the state. The restoration project will significantly expand Arcadia’s protection of this special forest type. 

Climate Implications 

This is a climate adaptation project, preparing us for the impacts that have already begun and will be continuing through the coming years and decades. 

Like all living things, trees have optimal conditions where they grow and reproduce. As temperatures continue to rise because of climate change, tree species’ ideal habitats are shifting northward; however, natural movement rates over generations of trees are generally too slow to keep up with rapid warming.  

This restoration project assists the trees’ northward migration in two ways.  First, for some of the species native to the Connecticut River Valley, saplings are being sourced from nurseries further south so they go into the soil already better adapted to warmer climates.  

Second, volunteers are planting trees that currently don’t occur in the wild in Massachusetts, such as sweet gum, a tree that exists in floodplain forests further south, up to southern Connecticut. These choices increase the likelihood that the forest will flourish in the future, since Massachusetts’s climate is projected to become comparable to the climate of the south between 2070 and 2100.  

The Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration has selected this restoration for Priority Project designation and have been a key partner in the process. Mass Audubon is also partnering with the Nature Conservancy’s Christian Marks, who has planted his Dutch-elm-disease-tolerant American Elms on the site. 

— Jonah Keane, Arcadia’s Sanctuary Director