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A Quick Guide to Recreation at Myles Standish State Forest

By Kara Lawson

A GPS is your best friend when you're driving in an unfamiliar city, but if you find yourself in Myles Standish State Forest for the first time, you might prefer a good old-fashioned map. The 12,400-acre forest is the largest publicly owned recreation area in southeastern Massachusetts.

Located about 45 miles south of Boston in Plymouth and Carver, it has 13 miles of hiking trails, 15 miles of bike trails, 16 ponds, 35 miles of equestrian trails, camping areas, swimming, a cranberry bog, vernal pools, one of the largest pitch pine and scrub oak communities north of New York, and is home to one of the largest aquifers in Massachusetts and endangered species such as the Plymouth red-bellied turtle.


View of one of the 16 ponds in Myles Standish State Forest.
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"Myles Standish is huge, it can go from six or seven miles from one end to the other," said Bill Vickstrom, president of Friends of Myles Standish State Forest, a volunteer group that partners with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to promote and conserve the forest. "If you don't know if and you don't have a good map, it can be very confusing. Once you do get in, explore it and get on the main roads, it's pretty easy to navigate around."

Friends of Myles Standish State Forest

Vickstrom, who loves the outdoors, grew up in central Massachusetts and moved to Plymouth in 1986. He started volunteering with the Friends of Myles Standish State Forest group and became more and more involved. "I realized how much the area has to offer," he said. "It's the second largest forest [in the state], a rare ecosystem with lots of diversity. A rare area that needs to be protected and it's our job to protect it as best we can."


Myles Standish has 35 miles of equestrian trails, as well as horse camping.
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FMSSF's popular Meetup group has held over 650 meetups for hikes, bird watching and activities, and other events. Vickstrom encourages people to join the group: "Just by participating, you'll get first-hand experience and get into the forest and become familiar with it. We're a very friendly group. We have a website that has a link to the Meetup, which is a good way to find out even more about what we do. There's a lot of info there."

Future projects for FMSSF include promoting use of the bike paths after they're upgraded in the coming year or two, landscaping, improving the trail network, creating a better map for people to use, and planning a 100-year anniversary celebration for Myles Standish in 2016. The group's main event is an annual fishing derby in September that attracts hundreds of participants who try to catch trout in a recently stocked pond. Other activities available to participate in are a nest watch program that does weekly monitoring of 40 bird boxes throughout the forest, a photo contest, bird and botany walks, and forest clea-up and bike and trail path maintenance.


The 8th annual Fishing Derby at Myles Standish in 2014, sponsored by the Friends of Myles Standish State Forest.
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In addition to outdoor events, part of FMSSF's mission is educating the public and getting more people involved in the forest, as well as other DCR properties. "Massachusetts has the ninth largest park system in the country even though we're one of the smaller states," Vickstrom said. "We cohost events with DCR every month or two at other properties."

Vickstrom shares some information about a few things that are currently happening in the forest, below:

Red Pine Removal

Red pines were planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps and other groups to replace areas that were damaged by fire, but within the forest there were 500 acres of these red pine plantations that were not needed in the area and now they're dying en masse. We're in the process of having a contractor come to cut these trees down. It's going to cause a radical transformation of the forest. Basically we're bringing it back to the way it was, but it will take a significant amount of time to recover. There are some pretty significant scars where this has gone on, but we can't leave these dead trees up there. They're a fire hazard and they'll start falling down all the time too, as they decay. The only appropriate step is to remove them. The park is going to look very different in another 20 years. It's sad to see the pines plantations go, but they weren't native and were an intrusion into the forest. The intention was to plant trees that could be harvested to cover-up scarred burn areas.


Pine Barrens Restoration Timber Harvest in the forest.
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We're educating people about that; the response has been positive. The park is going to look very different in another 20 years. It's a bit sad to see the pines plantations go, but they weren't native and were an intrusion into the forest. They were planted with good intentions for future timber harvest and to cover-up scarred burned areas. Now they're the scarred areas themselves, so they will all be removed over the next year or two.

No Off-Road Vehicle Use

Another problem we're having is off-road vehicle damage to the park. Because the soil in the park is very fragile and it's a unique habitat, it's been necessary to prohibit the use of off-road vehicles and dirt bikes in the park, but formerly there was heavy-usage by that group and there's a bit of division to have that banned.

There's a tremendous amount of illegal activity still going on and it's very hard to prevent. There have been significant scars imposed on the forest by this. The topsoil is very thin and underneath that is sand. One mission of the Friends group is to try to make people aware of this illegal activity. We work with park authorities on the solution and how to keep everyone happy. The problem is that it's part of greater Plymouth, not just the forest. There are a lot of off-road vehicles and dirt bikes and where do they ride? Hopefully a long-range solution will be found to build a regional network of trails where they can legally ride.

Vernal Pool Program


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A program we're reenacting is the vernal pool program. We want to highlight areas within the forest that have vernal pools, document them and protect them. Vernal pools are very fragile and important areas for amphibians and so many of them have been damaged or destroyed. We want to protect what we have there. People will be going to visit the forest in spring to experience them as they come to life again; they are seasonal bodies of water and are sacred breeding grounds for amphibians. So many have been destroyed over time. They are an important part of our ecosystem lifecycle.

We also want to protect the small kettle ponds, rare plant life and endangered species. There are a lot of endangered species in the forest. Our job is just to protect them as best we can.


You can find out more about the Friends of Myles Standish State Forest

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About The Author

Kara is a writer, editor and marketer with a BA and MA in journalism from California...

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