A Beginner’s Guide to Exploring Our Open Places

Publishers’ Note:  Last month a series called “Our Open Places.” began in the Holliston Reporter.  The purpose of the series is to increase interest in outdoor activities, highlight some special places we have in the Holliston area, and provide information for those of all levels of experience in outdoor recreation. 

We may be putting the worst of the COVID pandemic behind us. As the summer vacation season approaches, many people are rethinking recreation. Formerly popular places such as crowded theme parks, movies, or cruise ships are sometimes being replaced with activities such as kayaking, hiking, or other more solitary endeavors. 

Many of us have our favorite outdoor activities. Did you know Mass. Wildlife uses money collected from fishing licenses to stock the non-native rainbow (and other) trout all over the state? These fish are provided to improve your recreation experience. Stocking locations can be easily found at the Mass Trout Stocking Report. Throwing spinners for trout or skipping rubber frogs for big bass is an exciting way to spend a summer morning, perhaps especially because Mass Wildlife advises that the farm-raised trout are safe to eat. There’s a great sense of pride to catch your own fish, brine it, and prepare it to make a restaurant-worthy smoked trout pâté. You could grow a fresh salad at one of Holliston’s two “Community Gardens.” This is a rewarding way to spend time outside.

This month’s “Open Places” will provide a starting point for the outdoors beginners in Holliston. Although the pandemic has increased interest in being outdoors and recreating away from people, there are still many residents in Holliston and the surrounding areas who are unaware of the great resources and properties we all have. Some people come from urban areas and are more comfortable on golf courses or in city parks. Others have moved from different areas and haven’t had time to look into getting out and exploring our surrounding area. I’d like to highlight some places you can start looking for your next outdoor adventure.

A recent study suggests that 120 minutes a week in nature can “improve your physical or psychological health.” We try to eat vegetables and even monitor the number of our daily steps. What if two hours a week in nature can make us happier people? To someone who wants to reap the benefits of spending time outdoors, my advice is this: establish a task or purpose first. Whether it’s fishing, hiking, golfing, exploring, boating, or even spending more time with family or friends, you should determine your purpose or goal first and then begin planning how you’ll do it. Be as specific as you can: hit a new state park every month, add an extra 20 minutes of hiking every Sunday, paddle from point A to point B over a series of trips on a river. Setting your goal and reserving your time will help you fit in your 120 minutes. If you have an exercise goal, easily combined the two goals. Many people think they do not have the time, but try penciling something in your calendar a month in advance, and as other obligations come up you’ll work around it.

Sunrise near the Charles River

Now that you have your outdoor activity, you need a place to go! You need property to recreate in— first, you should start with the property you own. What can you do on your own property? More than you think. My wife and I own .62 acres in Holliston, but I’m a part-owner of a recreation network of land. I can hike, paddle, ski, fish, hunt, explore, camp and more all on my co-owned property. I own, with others, 5.54% of the State of Massachusetts, parts of the Town of Holliston, and more than 30% of the entire land mass of the United States of America because these lands are held in trust as public lands. This combination of municipal, land trust, state land, and federal land combines for over 600 million acres of endless opportunities to enjoy that task you’ve identified— and the ability to do it in various and constantly changing settings. Check out Holliston’s maps for Conservation Land. Once you’ve explored those, go to Ashland, Sherborn, Hopkinton or any other surrounding towns. 

Other sources for recreational land include:

Now that you have infinite space to play, you’ll realize as you go West in the USA there are even more National Parks, BLM, National Forest and more. The Federal Government manages 28% of our land. You’re welcome to explore and recreate as you see fit. 

The Internet is endless in its information regarding gear and supplies for various recreational activities. My advice is to take things slow, invest in used equipment of quality or buy quality gear piece-by-piece.  Talking about and finding gear can be as much fun as actually using it!

Starting new hobbies or endeavors can be challenging and overwhelming. To those who just can’t pick a direction or plan a big trip—only look downtown for the best start to a summer enjoying time outside. Holliston’s rail trail is the easiest way any resident can begin enjoying the benefits of time in nature. For those who start in Blair Square (near CVS/Casey’s on Central Street) you can choose to go towards Milford or towards Sherborn. The Milford path takes you by houses, a horse farm and through a big stone tunnel. The Sherborn path takes you over a Holliston icon: the Eight Arch Bridge. As you continue you can walk through the Federally-owned Army Corps land marked by red and white paint on trees. Bring your binoculars to this marshland and enjoy viewing the variety of birds and other wildlife.  

Recently I took my son on the rail trail towards Milford on our bikes. We stopped at Bazel’s and had lunch outside. Surprisingly, my son turned down ice cream at the Boston Honey Company that has just about the most spectacular view you can find in town. My son has grown so fast, his seat was too low so I made a note to fix it once we got home.

I was thrilled to see a “bike repair” station on the trail that has the Allen wrench I needed, plus a variety of other useful cycle tools. If you’re ready to step off the manicured trail, there are many hikes just off the trail including the Wenakeening Woods.

While 120-minutes a week was shown to be a healthy addition to your routine, don’t feel overwhelmed. Try an incremental approach. If you can’t make it outside at all currently, try to improve to 30 minutes a week. Hit the rail trail after work or explore a conservation area for an hour over the weekend. You are a co-owner of more than 30% of all land in this country, so enjoy what’s yours and start by exploring Holliston and the surrounding area!


Matt Hodgdon


  1. Peter Eagan on May 30, 2021 at 6:33 am

    Great article, Matt. Forest bathing is now a “thing” that has come into its own. Time spent walking through woods has proven health benefits that Americans are just becoming aware of and Holliston has some of the most beautiful woodlands in the area.

  2. Dick Morse on May 31, 2021 at 8:07 am

    Well done, Matt. For information about our conservation land, go to the Town of Holliston website, under Boards and Committees click on Conservation Associates. There you can find maps and guides for all the conservation land in town.