By Shelley A. Sackett
About a year ago, 16-year-old Eagle Scout candidate Duncan Page was thinking about what he might want to do for his Eagle project requirement. As the culmination of the Scout’s leadership training, Page knew the project has to demonstrate leadership while performing a project for the benefit of the scout’s community. He also knew he had to have all his Eagle Scout requirements completed before his 18th birthday.
Page went to the Swampscott Town Hall, and looked through a list of projects the town had requested. The Harold King Forest caught his eye.
“It was a green space and resource I didn’t even know our town had, so I went for a hike though the trail and I saw the potential and the amount of work it would take to have the trail reach it’s potential,” he said.
Wedged in the northern-most corner of Swampscott, between Lynn on one side and the quarry on the other, the forest is about the size of Tedesco Country Club.
Many years ago, boy scouts marked the trail, but it was only rarely used and is not currently maintained. It is also marked in only one direction. “There was no way of retracing your steps if you wanted to turn around and go back,” said Danielle Strauss, Swampscott Recreation Director.
Page went to see Strauss to ask if he could do his project at Harold King Forest. Part of his proposal was to mark the trail in the opposite direction, clean up the trail and build a kiosk at the end of Nichols Street, where the forest’s entrance lies. “There wasn’t even a sign that said Harold King Forest,” Strauss said.
Little known even by families that have called Swampscott home for several generations, Harold King Forest (also known as the Oscar Short Conservation Land) is 47 acres of wild and rugged forested land that has been dedicated as public conservation land and is managed by the Conservation Commission. Primary access is down an uneven slope from a small, paved parking is at the end of Nichols Street. It serves as habitat for both birds and mammals. Passive outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, on-leash dog walking, and wildlife observation is permitted, along with educational and nature study.
Strauss was delighted when Page approached her. “Harold King Forest has always been on our radar, ever since we did the Open Space and Recreation Master Plan [in 1983],” she said, adding, “Most of the people who live in Swampscott don’t even know it exists.”
Once he got the Town’s approval and the Recreation Department’s sponsorship, Page set to work. He solicited friends, family, scouts and other interested organizations. To demonstrate the leadership component of project, he organized teams and made sure they had the materials and direction they needed, and organized their scheduled breaks.
“As you can imagine, there’s no rehearsal, so there were a lot of questions,” said Troop 53 Committee Member Paul Rizk, a “scouter,” or registered adult scout. Over two full weekends, he and other adults and scouts worked directly on the project. Non-adults cleared the one marked trail with hand tools and marked trees with standardized markings. Adults operated power tools when necessary.
Once the trail was cleared and the kiosk was up, Strauss knew she wanted to create some kind of event with the Boy Scouts that would shine a light on the forest. “We wanted to raise awareness of this community asset. Part of living in Swampscott for a lot of people is about getting out and doing things,” she said.
“Celebrating the Harold King Forest” will take place on Sunday, May 6 from 1 to 3p.m.. The Boy Scouts from Troop 53 will give guided tours and answer questions. The Health Department will give out information about ticks and Strauss will provide information about invasive insect species.
“The event is strictly about information and the environment,” Strauss said. She also enlisted the Conservation Commission, which will hand out information about their new “Friends of Conservation” group, and Colleen Hitchcock and her Girl Scout will acquaint attendees with the iNaturalist app and the Swampscott Biodiversity Project.
Page, who was elected Troop 53 Senior Patrol Leader by his fellow scouts, has received positive feedback on the quality of the trail and the kiosk. His biggest hope for the May 6 event is just that people realize the Harold King Forest trail exists. “It is a hidden gem our town has that very few people know about,” he said.
Strauss agrees. “Everyone knows Swampscott has beaches, but not many people know that on the other side of town, we also have a forest,” she said.