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After sheltering in place for much of the winter, it’s time to take a deep breath … outdoors. There’s never been a better time to get out and explore Worcester’s green spaces and gardens. New England’s second-largest city is home to some of the oldest and most beautiful parks. It’s also home to New England’s biggest urban wildlife sanctuary. With all these outdoor opportunities, the toughest part will be choosing which park to visit first. Here are six standout park picks to help you plan your next outdoor excursion.
Keep in mind: Most dog parks, playgrounds, and play structures are off-limits because of the Coronavirus pandemic. So are public restrooms, picnic areas, and grills through at least mid-June.
Green Hill Park
Green Hill Park is aptly named as it sits atop one of Worcester’s seven main hills. Once a country estate owned by the Green family, this land is now the largest municipal park in Worcester, covering 500 acres. It’s also on the National Register of Historic Places. The park’s arboretum, two ponds, gazebos, and picnic areas are lovely places to watch spring come alive. The small zoo, Green Hill Park Farm remains closed, but the Green Hill Golf course is open for play. The clubhouse, golf shop, and restaurant are closed until further notice.
The U.S. bought the land for this historic park back in 1854. The city added to the park with the purchase of Newton Hill in 1888. As one of the country’s first land purchases, the 60-acre park is on the National Register of Historic Places. Restored footbridges over the ponds add to Elm Park’s charm. The park offers walking trails and tennis courts which are both open. You’ll have to visit again later to enjoy the playground and picnic area.
Institute Park sits on land donated to the city in 1887. It’s located next to Worcester Polytechnic Institute near downtown Worcester. Along with Institute Pond, you’ll find walking paths, a multi-use field, tennis courts, and a bandstand. You’ll want to return in the fall to check out the amazing colors and visit the parks and bridges on the WPI campus.
How many parks can say they offer panoramic views and a castle on a hill? Salisbury Park sits on top of Prospect Hill and features a small, feudal-style castle. The castle is Bancroft Tower, built in 1900. Stephen Salisbury III constructed it to honor George Bancroft, former Secretary of the Navy, and a childhood friend of Salisbury’s father. While the tower is open for public tours only on Sundays in October, this is a park worth visiting any time of year. In the spring, enjoy the hiking trails and the 360-degree views of the city.
This park gets its name from the cascading waterfall that leads to Cook’s Pond. This is a great place to find hiking trails that connect to the Cascades area. A particular favorite is the Cascade Falls Loop Trail. The trail follows the waterfalls and spring wildflowers along the path are in full bloom right now.
Broad Meadow Brook Conservation Center and Wildlife Sanctuary
Broad Meadow Brook is the largest urban wildlife sanctuary in New England and a must-visit place in the spring. You’ll have to put it on your list to visit in the future because it’s closed during the coronavirus shutdown. When you do visit, explore the 5 miles of walking trails through the woods, fields, and marshes. The sanctuary boasts at least 700 plant species, birds, butterflies, and wildlife habitats. It’s a lovely springtime oasis in the middle of the city.
No matter which park you choose, you’ll find ways to connect with nature without leaving town. The city reminds you to abide by social distancing rules and remain 6 feet away from other park visitors. If everyone does their part, we can all enjoy a springtime outdoor escape in Worcester’s urban environment.
Jenna King is a writer, avid hiker, and survivalist. She spends most of her time backpacking and using organic elements within nature.