A true wild place on our doorstep, Boxford State Forest is the gateway to over 2000 acres of woodland known as Bald Hill Reservation. 

WALKING TIME 45 MINUTES - 4 HOURS

SIZE 47 ACRES

OWNER COMM. OF MASSACHUSETTS, ESSEX COUNTY GREENBELT

MILES OF TRAILS 12

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SUGGESTED WALKS

There is an extensive trail system here. In addition to the map in A Guide To North Andover Trails, trail maps are maintained by the DCR, Greenbelt and Boxford’s BTA/BOLT.

Many trails have been blocked recently by beaver activity, so flexibility is important when exploring. Fortunately, most intersections are marked with numbered signs, which correspond to numbers on the map.

Because of the forest’s large size, bring extra bug spray and water with you. While excellent 45 minute to 1 hour loops are possible, hikes can be much longer. Most trails are of the wider “woods road” variety and are ideal for most any activity, including hiking, cross country skiing and biking.

HISTORY

The area is a patchwork of properties that have been conserved gradually over the course of a century. It began with a bird sanctuary at Crooked Pond in Boxford, given to the Commonwealth by naturalist John C. Phillips and the Federation of Bird Clubs of New England throughout the 1920s. Containing about 300 acres, the area remains a wildlife sanctuary to this day, managed by the Department of Fish & Wildlife. Naturalist Laurence B. Fletcher followed suit in 1933 selling 460 acres of woodland, the former Towne estate, to the Commonwealth for use as a state
forest. In 1936, the heirs to the Fuller estate added 114 acres in North Andover. The 1960s saw the addition of Bald Hill as state forest land. After developers were denied an access road by conservation-minded abutters, the Commonwealth acquired the 184-acre property as part of a broader effort to protect land in the Ipswich River watershed. The successful effort to save the hill led to the formation of the Essex County Greenbelt Association, a land trust that has since protected over two dozen abutting parcels throughout the forest and conserved more than 15,000 acres county-wide.

THE "MISSILE SITE"

The strange landscape upon entering the forest at Sharpners Pond Rd is the result of its selection as the home of the first Perimeter Acquisition Radar for the Sentinel Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense System. Designed to defend major cities against a nuclear strike from Russia or China, Sentinel was to be a vast national network of radar stations and missile sites. During a strike, the system would have detected incoming warheads and then attempted to intercept them with a new generation of surface-to-air nuclear missiles. North Andover’s radar would have provided early warning for Boston by sensing incoming missiles up to 1000 miles away in the upper atmosphere. Once detected, other Sentinel installations, including a radar proposed for Camp Curtis Guild in Reading, would track the enemy threat and guide rockets to intercept.

President Nixon halted the Sentinel program just a few months after construction began, but not before the creation of an access road (now Sharpners Pond Rd), the reduction of 40 acres of woodland to gravel, and the partial excavation of massive square quarries for the radar and underground power plant. The excavations remain, filled with water.

FLORA AND FAUNA

Because of its vast forest area and relative isolation, Boxford State Forest is notable for its lack of invasive plant species, as well as its diversity of native species. Over 300 plant species have been identified. 

Atlantic white cedar swamps can be found along the western border of the forest. These rare swamps consist of maturing cedar, red maple and yellow birch, as well as shrubs such as pepperbush and blueberry.

Fisher cats live here, and even black bears have been seen on occasion. Several bird species come to nest at Bald Hill’s northern hardwood stand, which is off limits to human visitors. This includes species that breed almost nowhere else in Essex County, such as the northern goshawk. Heron nests can be seen in dead trees around Pout Pond, and owls and bluebirds can be spotted around Crooked Pond.

State-listed endangered species such as Blanding’s turtle, blue-spotted salamander, intricate fairy shrimp (in vernal pools) and Hessel’s hairstreak butterfly (in cedar swamps) have all been documented.