For about a decade and a half beginning in the 1930s, Professor William J. V. Babcock had been taking his biology classes from Eastern Nazarene College in Wollaston to study “invasion and succession of plant life” at the Ponkapoag bog in the Blue Hills. They visited in winter, when the frozen ground allowed them to venture out onto the usually soggy expanse.
First established in 1893, the state’s Blue Hills Reservation—now spanning 7,000 acres from Quincy to Dedham to Milton to Randolph—gets its name from the series of peaks south of Boston, reaching 635 feet at Great Blue Hill with a view across the city. But in the lowlands, the bog slowly encroaches on Ponkapoag Pond.
In 1947, Babcock pushed forward with an idea to make the spagnum moss bog accessible for study year round by floating a log trail over the bog in early spring before things thawed too much, according to an August 1953 Boston Globe article titled “Tropical Swamp in the Blue Hills: Baby Orchids and Acres of Azaleas Bloom in Miracle Bog Outside Boston.” Babcock and Nazarene volunteers, dressed in hip boots, dragged fallen logs from the surrounding landscape to become a makeshift boardwalk. In 1953, the area supported white cedars and maples, orchids, fly traps, water lilies, azaleas, sundews, blueberries and pitcher plants.
To get there, park on Ponkapoag Trail Road, just south of exit 3 of Route 95, where you’ll find a wide trail that curves down through red oaks and white pines and giant boulders, past the YMCA Outdoor Center on the right, then down to the boardwalk on the left. A engraved stone from about 1988 honors Babcock and Nazarene volunteers for creating the boardwalk.
The boardwalk winds through small islands of cedars and skunk cabbage to emerge onto the bog’s floating mat of sphagnum moss and end at the open water of the pond. But during our recent visit, we never got out to the cedars, because high water left the boardwalk unsteady and afloat and increasingly underwater. Tall boots recommended.
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