By Stella Blue (with typing by Julie Cook)
Are you kidding? Do I want to go for a W-A-L-K? Yes, yes, a million times yes!! I will suffer through putting on my harness and enduring a car ride as long as it ends with a WALK! Grab your face mask, a poop bag, and some treats…check, check & check.
Where are we going today?! Is it my favorite – Mill Pond in West Newbury?! Not this time. We keep driving and turn onto Hoyt’s Lane. A few houses give way to a field on the left typically filled with cows in the summer and a house with a big park in front of us. We park in the lot (which my mom was glad to find was free during the quarantine) and cross the street to Maudslay State Park in Newburyport.
With 450 acres, Maudslay State Park is the perfect spot to walk, bike and picnic among the 19th century gardens, meadows, tall pines, thickets and one of the largest naturally occurring stands of mountain laurel in Massachusetts. The state park was created from the early 20th century estate of Frederick Strong Moseley, the son of Edward Strong Moseley, 1813–1900, a prominent citizen of Newburyport.
Although I must stay on leash the whole time (it’s the law), I still am SO EXCITED to be here! So many things to see, so many new smells. This may have been a rich family’s homestead once upon a time, but now it is a wonderful park run by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), which I think stands for Dogs, Crows & Rabbits.
We start out walking into a huge flat lawn where sometimes there are people playing frisbee (THROW IT TO ME) or flying kites or just relaxing. Some horses come sauntering by with their riders. We move forward down a small hill, which is where little kids sled in winter. The path winds into the forest – so much rich soil and budding trees to sniff. I once saw a baby deer hiding in the brush near here.
We come to a fork in the path and decide to stay to the right. This will lead us down to a stream and a stone bridge. Today, we see a ranger checking out the stream under the bridge. She tells us that there are early and late blooming stands of azaleas and rhododendrons in the park, but our timing is off to see the stunning displays. I want to swim in the green algae of a stagnant part of the water but my mom insists that I don’t.
We hike up a hill, then head toward the Merrimack River. From here, we can hike along the bluffs that overlook this bustling waterway. There aren’t many boats this time of year, but there are many eagles and hawks. The canopy is a nesting site for bald eagles, who glide through the air looking for lunch. Speaking of lunch, is it time for a treat? We sit on a bench and gaze out at the sparkles reflecting off the river. It’s a nice place to zone out for a bit.
Up and moving again, we hug the river for a bit, then turn left onto a hill that is wide open. It looks like a grand lawn with big sweeping trees. This was once the back yard of the Moseley family, who came to America in the early 1600s. The family purchased the land in the 1860s and kept on buying surrounding property to create a big estate called “Maudsleigh” after their ancestral home in England. Back then, there were two mansions, a castle, greenhouses, a huge garden, stables, dairy barns and other outbuildings, but these were destroyed or fell into ruin by the time the state bought the land in 1985. Now the only remains are some old foundations, an old Italian garden, stone bridges and rock walls. We see a man exercising, doing push-ups on a wall. Trees are blooming, flowers peeking out, and the sky is blue.
Next, we walk through a maze of dense shrubs on a path lined with pebbles. We turn right and head down a trail to the formal garden area. It features lots of flowers in the summer, but it is still early in the season for prime viewing and picture taking. Landscape architect Martha Brookes Hutcheson, one of the earliest female members of the American Society of Landscape Architects, designed the grounds around the main house, entry drive, and formal gardens in 1904 to 1906.
The park also features several Native American ceremonial mounds in the pine forest as well as a pet cemetery near the site of the old mansions, but we don’t have time to find these today. I’m glad that the Moseleys were animal lovers – they had Jack Russell terriers and horses, too.
We head back toward Curzon Mill Road and the Maudslay Arts Center, where they hold concerts on summer weekends. [Editor’s note: Maudslay Arts Center is closed for this summer due to Coronavirus.] The fields on the left are where there is a temporary sculpture exhibit in the fall. Nature and arts go together well here – since 1987, Maudslay State Park has been the home of Theater in the Open, which performs live outdoor shows in the park throughout the year. The theater is also known for their giant puppet pageant every May called “The Rites of Spring” and their scary walk in October called “Maudslay is Haunted.”
Walking back, we meet a birdwatcher who says she has seen many different birds today. I would like to chase those birds. And squirrels. Maybe another day.
We pass the park headquarters and head to the car for a well-deserved biscuit and drink of water. This has been another successful day, getting my human away from her computer.
For more information, visit Maudslay State Park, Curzon Mill Rd., Newburyport, MA