Mount Hood Park: A fair jewel

 ... Draws praise from golfers, hikers, nature lovers

From the Stringer Photo Team

That's Mike McDonough, John Moulds and Ron Chaney, on a recent game at Mount Hood. Photo by Louise Fennell. Copy from Don Norris.

Yes, a fair jewel, as good as the emerald necklace that runs through Boston. Mount Hood is one of the most beautiful small parks in the commonwealth -- no, even in the United States.

So say the SilverStringers. We'll tell you why:

Frank Noonan and Ed Hinchey at the 11th green; Ed is the son of Ed Hinchey who ran Hinchey's News on Wyoming Avenue for so many years. At the right is the same twosome, teeing off on the 12th. Photos by Louise.

First, it is irregular ground, hardly what one would think of as a playground. It is therefore climbable, certainly not flat. There are several medium, rocky peaks in Mount Hood reservation, some that push the heavens at nearly 300 feet, from which one has a spectacular view of the skyscrapers of Boston, Boston Harbor and its numerous islands, the Blue Hills to the south of the city, the Atlantic Ocean, and half a dozen historic towns just to the east, on the coast.

Grass is already growing on the new athletic field, built upon fill taken from Boston's Big Dig. The reflections at the right are in the pond in front of the Clubhouse. Photos by Natalie Thomson(L) and Don Norris,(R).

From Mount Hood tower, one can (on a clear, spring day) see many of the low mountains in southern New Hampshire -- as well as several in mid-state Massachusetts. You can even see Mount Agamenticus in Maine, if conditions are right. The views just leave one breathless.

Housing in Melrose is scarce, but this treehouse was probably paid for by a couple of fans of the park -- either former alderman Ken Foss or SilverStringer Len Dalton. Photo by Natalie Thomson.

The park is a combination of ancient bedrock, scrubby oaks, maples and hardwood -- all of which are protected from encroachment by state laws. It is not wholly inviolate, however, for two years ago the city made an agreement with Boston to take fill excavated from the Big Dig, and dump it right in front of the Tower -- to make a playing field.

Scratch about ten acres of prime forest.

That playing field, whose construction ended with a state investigation, is now complete. Where a gorgeous oak forest once stood is a grassed field.

"My first husband was from Melrose," commented Kathy Allenbrook of Charlestown. At the right, walking her 11-year old golden retriever, "Taffy", is Jean Conrad, who IS from Melrose. Photos by Louise.

Mount Hood is also a fine municipal golf course, constructed by the WPA -- you remember, the Works Progress Administration -- back in the Great Depression of the early 1930s. One has to be in shape to play this course, for most of it is over rocky, irregular ground, with a couple of cliff-side tees, where one whacks the ball off into space and watches as it falls to earth far below.

I remember, back in the '40s, trying a carom shot off a rocky escarpment to get out of some early trouble. And it worked. If I broke a hundred back in those days, I was happy.

In mid-summer, the upper pond was about empty -- three months later it is full. The feeder, with chickadee, is right beside the access road, by the upper pond. Photos by Louise and Natalie.

The park isn't alone with its management. It has a "Friends of Mount Hood", which produces several programs annually, including family picnics, fishing derbies, golf competition, social events -- as well as protecting the general welfare of the park.

There is a clubhouse, a product of the WPA, that is unique, handsome, singular, large, useful and the center for many social affairs. It is rentable -- for example, our MHS class of '49 held one segment of our 50th year reunion there. It was a lobster feast on a brilliant spring day, held in the main hall of the fieldstone and wooden-beam structure.

That is the Boston skyline, five miles distant. Photo by Natalie.

Mount Hood is a gorgeous place. You can walk, hike, bike, explore old caves, climb the Tower, picnic, photograph, fish, shoot (yes, one has to go through Mount Hood to get to the Melrose Fish and Game Clubhouse, which is actually across the town line in Saugus) -- as well as play 18 holes of golf.

At one time we had a handsome winter sports center there that included a ski jump, a 150 yard rope tow, and a toboggan shute. All of which went to pass in the fifties -- the ski slope was not long enough, people kept falling off the rope tow, the toboggan chute required immense maintainance, as did the three-meter ski jump.

The clubhouse is beautiful and is beautifully situated. Across the service road is a duckpond -- or goose pond. Photos by Louise and Natalie.

But we Melrosians still use the first fairway for sledding in the winter. It's a place for families and children.

The golf operation has been farmed out for several years now, with above average results. But it seems there is always dispute, when the city gives up control of a project.

Grandfather Bob Burke of Melrose, and grandson, on a walk, together. At the right are native Melrosians Sam and Ry, near the upper picnic grounds. Louise shot these photos.

The clubhouse sits on a brief landing about a hundred feet off the valley floor, perched there in manicured elegance. From there the entrance road splits in a fork: to the left it wanders up and down through the front nine, down to the Fish and Game Club. To the right is a singular paved road that winds up the hills, past a new children's playground, past several ponds that serve to water the greens in summer, through the woods and by the fairways -- and crosses the active fairway of the 11th hole.

Monet? Pissaro? Sisley? No, the pumphouse was impressionistically photographed by Natalie.

When driving to the tower, one has to stop here to make sure the folks on the tee, 110 yards to the left, are not making their drive shot. There have been cars plugged by golfballs as people ignored the inevitable, driving incautiously across the fairway.

The road rises sharply here to climb to the summit of Mount Hood, to the fieldstone tower that was built in the '30s as part of the WPA project. Here, one can climb the concrete circular stairway to the top (now about 300 feet elevation) for a spectacular set of views in every direction.

A tangle of oak limbs and shadows, framing the tower. The new ballfield is in the foreground. At the right
are magic reflections. Photos by Louise and Don.

One can even see the whole of the Boston Basin -- a geological feature that dates back a six hundred million years. Only ten or twelve thousand years ago, the basin was full of icy water, caused by an ice flow dam that backed up melting ice water, all the way to the high ridge that circles Boston.

The lower pond in subtle fall colors. Don Norris.

Of course, in ice-age times one could walk on terra firma (somewhat firma) about 60 miles from what is the current shoreline in Boston, due east to Georges Bank, before coming to the sea. That was because much of the earth's supply of water had been frozen in the great ice cap that created such marvelous places (on retreating) as Nantucket, Martha's Vinyard, and Long Island in New York. The sea, at that time, was about 400 feet lower than it is today.

Today, Mount Hood tower is approximately four miles due west of the existing shoreline of the residential communities of Swampscott, Lynn, Revere and Winthrop.

There you have it. The SilverStringers' photo team took a lovely late fall afternoon to wander about the park recently, and so you see what we saw that day. It was beautiful.

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