The Walden Pond State Reservation, located near Lincoln and Concord on Route 26, a mile or so off Route 2 (twenty miles northwest of Boston), includes the site of the shack Thoreau built with lumber he bought in an existing clearing on land belonging to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Beside the parking lot, on the other side of Route 26, is a replica of the shack and a statue of Thoreau. The park headquarters shop also has a lot of Thoreau and Emerson stuff.
There is, however, more to the park than its connection to 19th-century American literature. When I was there in mid-September, a number of people were swimming in what I’d consider a real lake. (The water temperature was 76 F.) More were sunbathing (late in the day as it was!). Some were canoeing, and others making pilgrimages to the site of Thoreau’s shack or hiking with other purposes. I didn’t see anyone fishing, though it is listed as once of the recreational activities.
In the winter, there is cross-country skiing. I trust that snowmobiles are prohibited. Motorized boats are.
I didn’t see any birds, though I heard some. Some curious mosquitoes came to feed. (One died trying, another two succeeded in sipping my blood.) There is also fairly abundant (though plainly visible) poison ivy.
The Reservation (administered by the county rather than by the state park system) encompasses 333 acres surrounding the pond, which is a 103 foot deep glacial kettle hole pond. In total , 2280 acres of mostly undeveloped woods, called “Walden Woods” surrounds the pond. Very little of it is virgin forest, though perhaps some of Emerson’s 70 acres (minus Thoreau’s cabin site) were preserved. There are probably more trees now than in Thoreau’s day, though second-growth woods.
After Thoreau’s residence (1845-47), the Fitchburg Railroad (Company which was already running trains by when Thoreau was there) built an excursion park on the shore at Ice Fort Cove (which is west of the cove now named for Thoreau above which he lived). The excursion park burned down in 1902 and was never rebuilt. Summer crowds reached 2,000 a day even before bathhouses were built in 1917. In 1922 the Emerson, Forbes and Heywood families granted some 80 acres surrounding the pond to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for the purpose of “preserving the Walden of Emerson and Thoreau, its shores and nearby woodlands, for the public who wish to enjoy the pond, the woods and nature, including bathing, boating, fishing and picnicking.” Summer Sunday crowds during the 1930s reached 25,000 in number. (I’d bet they concentratedon the beaches, so that the woods might still have presented at least a glimmer of solitude for the unhappy few.)
Now, the number of visitors is limited to one thousand at a time (I think this is estimated by the parking lot being full rather than by a headcount, but the visitor center was closed and no one was staffing the parking lot entrance, so there was no one to ask). Dogs, bicycles, floatation devices, motorized vehicles and boats, and grills are prohibited. To avoid disappointment, visitors are encouraged to call the park (at 978 369-3254) in advance and check on parking availability.
(I did not see any horses, but neither did I see any prohibition of them.)
The parking lot charge is $5. The parking lots are east of Route 126, the pond west of it. The main beach is only a short walk down from the highway. (“Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints” applies. There are no trash receptacles on the pond side.)
(BTW, Thoreau is buried in the family plot in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord. The visit inspired me to reread Walden, which I found difficult and often annoying as I discussed at http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/400933/a_hard_slog_through_thoreaus_exaltations.html.)