by John Galluzzo
Sometimes, the military is the best thing that happens to a place.
That comment, of course, has to be taken with a grain of salt. Our military, sadly, has a history of taking land, using it for its purpose, then walking away, leaving the land itself usually worse for wear. But most of those wounds can heal. And in this case, had the military not taken the land, it would probably have ended up developed like any other residential neighborhood.
Wompatuck State Park in Hingham (and slightly in Cohasset and Scituate) is such a place. The process started elsewhere in town, when, after the Spanish-American War, former Massachusetts Governor and Hingham resident John Davis Long selected the area now known as Bare Cove Park to be the Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot, a place to store munitions for quick deployment overseas. By the time World War II came along, more room was needed. More than 25 homes were taken by eminent domain in what is now Wompatuck; that combined land became the Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot Annex.
The military left a long time ago, and thanks to the federal government's Lands to Parks program borne of the 1970s, the land began to restore itself. Wompatuck State Park - named for Josias Wompatuck, a seventeenth century Native American who oversaw the local lands - is now one of the region's most prized open spaces.
What to do there? Hiking is an easy one, with miles of trails ranging for shoulder-width footpaths to roads designed for military vehicles. Biking is safe and easy, too. There's a fantastic campground on site, and a natural spring with water almost always flowing. And there's more to look out for.
Check out the ponds, and know that for the most part they stand today because they were formed to power mills centuries ago. Watch for the miles of stonewalls, and imagine what the place looked like when the land was cleared for farming. And listen for the sounds of the deep forest birds, the eastern wood-pewees, the veeries and the lone known pileated woodpecker pair on the South Shore.
Then wonder what it must have been like to live in this place centuries in the past, long before the Navy came along.
204 Union Street, Hingham
For more information:
Wompatuck State Park