As getting exercise becomes increasingly complicated during the coronavirus pandemic, more and more people are turning to woodland trails. Despite the requirement in Massachusetts to wear masks outdoors, exploring is still as interesting as ever and in the chilly weather, the mask now adds a layer of wind and cold protection.
On a recent weekday we explored the Blue Hills Reservation in Canton.
There are many trails to choose from, crisscrossing the 7,000 acre area. Glacial deposits litter the landscape. The geology of the Blue Hills is interesting in that it is volcanic. The hills are rhyolite, an extrusive igneous rock.
Time and erosion have worn away evidence of the actual lava flows, according to geologists familiar with the area, but there are still the remains of even older base rocks known as the Mattapan volcanics.
The defunct Quincy quarries, on the eastern side of the park, are reported to show evidence of the type of dark green to gray granite characteristic of a magma chamber.
The quarries were active from 1825 until the early 1960s, and exposed the coarse granite signature according to an online interview by Les Tyrala, a geologist who volunteers with Friends of the Blue Hills.
All levels of ability will find options at Blue Hills as there are hikes of varying length and difficulty. Those who make it to the top of any of the hills will be rewarded with views of Boston Harbor. The Blue Hills reservation touches four towns; Randolph, Milton, Quincy and Dedham.
Managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the hills provide a welcome chance to get some cardio within a stone’s throw of several major highways. Before heading out, be sure to have sturdy footwear, a charged cell phone and a map of the area. The DCR has a new, color-coded map available online which explains all the hiking options in great detail, including distance, difficulty, average length in time, and narrative trail descriptions.
We parked at the Unquity Road lot on the Milton side of the reservation. Wandering along the base of the hill, we worked our way counterclockwise to the Skyline Trail and headed back north following the blue markers. Even though most of the hikes are well signed, there are over 120 miles of trails, so it is really important to have a map and a plan.
Indigenous peoples who settled in the hills and near the Neponset River were called the Massachuseuk or “people living near the great hills” according to information from the DCR, and is how the Commonwealth got its name.
The hills provided fertile land for growing crops, and was close to fishing and water sources. Sailors exploring the coast were struck by the blueish hue of the hills in the distance and named the area Blue Hills. The land was purchased by the Metropolitan District Commission in 1893 as a recreation and conservation area.
There is a wide diversity of plants and animals in the park, including bogs, ponds, and several endangered wildlife species such as the timber rattlesnake. Recreation options include mountain biking, downhill and cross country skiing, and non-motorized boating in season.