Published in the April 21, 2016 edition

HAVE A PIECE OF CAKE. Pat Keck, (left), President of the Friends of Harold Parker and Beth Thomson, also of the Friends, cut the 100th anniversary birthday cake for Harold Parker State Forest at Saturday's celebration. (Bob Turosz Photo)

HAVE A PIECE OF CAKE. Pat Keck, (left), President of the Friends of Harold Parker and Beth Thomson, also of the Friends, cut the 100th anniversary birthday cake for Harold Parker State Forest at Saturday’s celebration. (Bob Turosz Photo)


NORTH READING – Suppose they gave a birthday party and over 1,000 people came?

Then you’d be describing the 100th anniversary celebration held last Saturday for Harold Parker State Forest, the 3,500-acre gem of nature nestled in Andover, North Andover, North Reading and Middleton that was created in 1916 as one of Massachusetts’ first five state forests.

Drawing over 1,000 to celebrate a century of conservation and preservation, people of all ages and families filled the park’s Lorraine Campground for live music, kids’ games, fishing demonstrations, free hot dogs and birthday cake and the chance to explore the park’s 35 miles of backwoods roads and trails, Frye Pond and visit with Smokey the Bear. Among other events, adults and children visited a miniature Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) work camp, examined flora and fauna under a microscope, met State Mounted Police and their horses, searched the forest with questers or went on a scavenger hunt, followed a story trail, handled snakes and examined animal pelts.

The day was also a celebration of the legacy of stewardship of the Mass. Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Friends of Harold Parker, a non-profit organization for the support and enhancement of the forest. Local merchants and shops donated many of the refreshments, including food and birthday cakes. Harold Parker supervisors gave away 5,000 baby balsam trees to be planted by guests when they return home to preserve the legacy of Harold Parker Forest for years to come.

Leo Roy, commissioner of DCR, spoke of how the forest was originally founded in 1916 and named after Harold Parker, one of the state’s first forest commissioners and conservationists who died shortly after the forest was created. During the Great Depression, Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps was active in the forest from 1933 to 1942, living in huts, building the extensive walls, walks and buildings and damming streams to create nine of the 11 ponds visitors to the forest enjoy today.

Roy cited Parker as an example of one man whose vision made a difference in the last century and the Friends of Harold Parker whose efforts for park improvement continue to make a difference today. DCR has a limited budget and can’t do it all, Roy said. They rely on the efforts of the Friends group and he credited their efforts for the long anticipated reopening this year of the Berry Pond for swimming. Since 2009, the pond has been closed to swimming due to state budget constraints. “That reopening would not be possible without the support of the Friends group and those who are here today,” Roy said.

Daily lifeguard coverage at Berry Pond is scheduled to begin on Saturday, June 25, and will be from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“For 100 years Harold Parker State Forest has been known as our community’s primary place to explore and enjoy the deep woods,” said Pat Keck, President of the Friends of Harold Parker State Forest. “Thanks to our partnership with the Department of Conservation and Recreation, we have the added resources to reopen Berry Pond for swimming, and that is going to make for a spectacular one-hundredth summer

There was also support from the legislative delegation, including Sen. Barbara L’Italien and State Rep. Jim Lyons of Andover and Sen. Bruce Tarr, who represents North Reading.

Sen. Tarr spoke of Harold Parker as a unique place accessible to over 3 million people within an hour by car. “Open spaces like this are a part of our soul, as important as any infrastructure or technology.

“People appreciate that value, and it wouldn’t be what it is without the Friends of the Harold Parker Forest, who make sure it stays alive and vibrant with programming,” he said.

Tarr presented a citation from the State Senate to Keck, who accepted on behalf of the Friends. “Nothing of this nature happens without the leadership shown 100 years ago by Harold Parker and today by the DCR and the Friends,” Tarr said.

Keck said the Friends’ mission is to see the park is preserved and enhanced for future generations. “We all have to pitch in, we can’t wait for someone else to do it,” she said.

Further information on the Friends is available at Meanwhile, hikes to get to know the forest have already started with a look at vernal pools and beaver activity along a walk to Sudden Pond. Every month sees another walk to explore Harold Parker’s natural resources and legacy, as it begins its second hundred years.