The land that makes up Harold Parker State Forest was formed by the action of glaciers thousands of years ago, and the area has undergone numerous man-made changes since then. The Pentacook Indians were the first people to reside on the land and they called this place home for a few thousand years before it was settled by colonial English farmers in the 1650s. By the mid-nineteenth century many people abandoned the land for agricultural purposes, and moved closer to the towns of North Andover, Andover, North Reading, and Middleton, and the forest area reverted to a more wild character. These four townships contain parts of the current Harold Parker State Forest.
In 1914, the state of Massachusetts began purchasing tracts of land in Andover and North Reading due to concerns that there would be a state timber shortage. The lands were consolidated into a state forest in 1916 and named in honor of Harold Parker, the first chairman of the State Forest Commission. The state continued to acquire more adjoining pieces of land throughout the 1910s-1940s. The entire forest is now 3,295 acres. The highest point of the park is 333 feet above sea level and the lowest point is 78 feet below sea level.
In 1933 the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began making improvements in the forest. Camp S-5 was built near Collins Pond to house Company 110. They built five different dams on five different ponds, built four bridges, and many roads, parking lots, administrative buildings, and trails. The dams constructed by the CCC are extremely important parts of the area. The dams were built on Collins Pond, Bear Pond, Delano Pond, Bracket Pond, and Field Pond. The CCC also helped clean up the historic hurricane of 1938 that damaged a lot of the forest. The CCC stopped working on the park in 1941, but new jobs such as forest management positions became available for some of the men that were stationed there.
Harold Parker State Forest remains very popular in the local area. The park lies within one hour of the state’s largest population centers and has thousands of visitors each year. Activities such as hiking, mountain biking, fishing, hunting, horse back riding, and camping are allowed throughout the forest and non-motorized boats can be used on any of the eleven ponds. Today the park is mainly used for recreational purposes, however, from 1980 to 2010 Massachusetts had harvested commercial timber and in the 1970s people were allowed to go here and cut wood for their homes. Although that practice has stopped, better management is needed to ensure the dams are safe and maintained properly.
"CCC Work in Massachusetts Forests and Parks,” Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, accessed August 13, 2014. "Friends of Harold Parker State Forest." Friends of Harold Parker. (Accessed May 4, 2016). "Harold Parker State Forest." North Shore Nature. (Accessed May 4, 2016).
Project originally submitted by Brent McKee - wpatoday.org, Conor Ryan on July 13, 2015.
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