Tuesday, July 21, 2009

History Of My Training Grounds

Natural History of Breakheart Reservation

Acre for acre, Breakheart is perhaps the most naturally diverse park in metropolitan Boston, with over 700 acres of pine-oak forest and numerous fresh water habitats such as ponds, marshes, and rivers. Scenic vistas that can be seen from seven rocky hills of over 200 feet elevation revealing the area’s natural beauty. These rocky outcroppings and the lowland wetlands below them were formed by glaciers approximately 25,000 years ago. Additional glacial features include large boulders, called erratic, which dot the landscape.

In the 1700’s and 1800’s, New England was deforested for firewood and farming. Numerous farms surrounded the park. The remains of this land use can be seen today with the stone walls that meander through the park. Due to the clearing of trees, animals that depend on forest habitat largely disappeared from the area. Then, during the Industrial Revolution of the 1800’s, people began to abandon their farms to work in factories, and the abandoned farmland eventually turned back into forest. This forest has now matured enough to support many forest-dependent animal species. In the early 1990’s, naturalist David Brown reported that, after being absent from the park for decades, animals such as deer, coyote, fisher and wild turkeys had returned to Breakheart Reservation.

Breakheart’s diverse habitat serves as a home and dispersion route for wildlife, with Lynn Woods to the east and the Middlesex Fells to the west. Abundant oaks, hickories, and blueberry bushes provide food for wildlife. Coyote, fisher, owls, and hawks feed on the large populations of grey squirrel, cottontail rabbit, and chipmunk. Breakheart’s two lakes, Pearce and Silver, are home to bass, pickerel, and both painted and snapping turtles. The lakes provide food for various bird species, including great blue heron, cormorant, and osprey. After sufficient rainfall, the lakes overflow into Saugus River. The river and its surrounding wetlands provide a rich corridor for wildlife to travel and seek food and shelter.

Cultural History of Breakheart Reservation

For thousands of years, Native Americans came to Breakheart for food, shelter, and stone for their tools. Local tribes quarried Saugus Jasper, a local reddish buff stone, which was favored for its ability to be worked into projectile points and tools. The Saugus River which flows through the park was a source of food and transportation. Today the river provides drinking water to the city of Lynn.

In colonial times, the area was common land, shared by families living in what was to become the towns of Saugus and Wakefield. In the 1770’s, the Edmunds/Bailey Farmhouse was built at the entrance to the park. Its remains can be seen today next to the exercise area the Saugus entrance. In 1810, a linen mill was built along the Saugus River. The mill produced sail duck for boats and soon went of business as the war of 1812 ended and the need for sail duck diminished. The mill’s remains can be seen today at the end of the Mill Site Trail. During the Civil War (1860’s), legend has it that Breakheart earned its name when soldiers training here found it “lonely and remote,”, thus breaking their hearts. In the 1890’s, two wealthy Lynn men, Benjamin Johnson (lawyer) and Micajah Clough (businessman), owned portions of the land and used it as their private hunting and fishing reserve. To attract game and improve fishing, they dammed the two spring fed marshes, creating the upper and lower ponds, now called Silver Lake and Pearce Lake respectively. Mr. Johnson also built a few structures on the land, including a hunting lodge, which stood until the 1950’s. Its remains can be seen today on the Lodge Trail.


  1. Dan, good stuff. Have you ever seen a deer in there before? I ran in there just about every day from 1993-1995 and then all throughout the summers from 1995-1999 and occasionally in the past couple years and never once did I come across a deer or animal larger than a squirrel... and I've been all over all the trails.. in all corners of the reservation...I always thought that was strange. I actually see deer in much smaller, less typical places all the time and have always been surprised at never coming across anything in there before...

  2. Double J
    It’s funny you say that because the first 2 years I ran the breakheart trails I never saw anything but chipmunks! I’ve since spotted rabbit and woodchuck (groundhog) as well. The past two years I’ve made several sightings of a lone deer. Seems strange it's never more than one. I’m beginning to think it’s the same one based on its size.

  3. It sounds like a beautiful place to run. I too am lucky enough to have some nice trails nearby with a fairly large deer population. :)

  4. Dan,

    I work just a short ways from there in Medford. I'd love to take a run threw there at some point. If you run early in the morning or after 6 at night I'd love to hook up with you and get a tour.

    If you not able to, don't worry about it.

  5. Scott, I run on my lunch hour during the week. Maybe we can do it on a weekend your not racing? Or do you race every weekend?

  6. Dan, I may be able to hook up with you at lunch. Today won't work because, well...I'm racing tonight. On the weekends I'm up on Lake Winnipesaukee with the family.

    I've been trying to get out and run on trails lately as much as possible and I'm finding it a lot more enjoyable then the roads. I'm may be a convert.


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