By STACEY MARCUS
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
— Henry David Thoreau
Dan Small sits on a picnic table in Lynn Woods and shares the history of the 2,200-acre park that encompasses one-fifth of the city of Lynn as well as areas in Saugus and Lynnfield.
“People have rediscovered its beauty,” said Small who has watched its transformation over the past 17 years he has served as Park Ranger, the sole employee of Lynn Woods.
“In the seventies and eighties, you would not want to bring your kids here,” Small said of the forest park that was founded in 1881 and supplies the city of Lynn with its drinking water.
The Lynn Woods of today is a bustling place. On any given day you will come across runners, hikers, mountain bikers, golfers, bird watchers, blueberry pickers, mushroom aficionados, nature lovers, rock climbers, photographers and geocache enthusiasts enjoying the second-largest municipal park in the United States.
“A deer showed up while I was planting a perennial garden,” said Small.
Wildflowers blossom throughout the landscape, which is dotted with violets, lady slipper orchids and a rose garden that can be reserved for weddings. Small notes that many creatures call Lynn Woods home including screech owls, fisher cats, minks, foxes, coyotes, river otters, weasels and many kinds of birds.
John Mulroy of Peabody has run in Lynn Woods for eight years.
“It’s been such a pleasure to run off-road, with so many different paths and types of terrain, as well as hills that you find in these Woods. Also, it’s cooler in the summer, out of the sun! I enjoy running with all of the other Lynn Woods runners as well.”
Small said a group of Eagle Scouts put in a three-mile trail loop that will be named The Tower Loop Trail.
“All you will have to do is follow the green dots. You won’t have to worry about reading a map,” noted Small.
If you’re looking for more of an adventure, there are 30 miles of hiking trails and 10 miles of walkable fire roads.
A favorite spot is Stone Tower, which was rebuilt in 2010 and affords spectacular views of the Lynn waterfront and Boston skyline.
Dungeon Rock is another hot spot. Meg Rubin of Marblehead recalls going on Cub Scout hikes at Lynn Woods with her sons when they were young.
“They loved visiting Dungeon Rock and hearing the pirate stories,” said Rubin, who also notes that the scent of fire at Lynn Woods sometimes wafts its way through Swampscott and Marblehead. “It’s a creepy, dark, damp cave,” said Small of the legendary landmark that reportedly houses an ill-fated pirate and his treasure. One of Lynn Wood’s signature events is Pirates Day, held annually on the Saturday after Columbus Day. “It’s the best idea I ever had,” said Small.
Small lauds the community’s interest and support of Lynn Woods, especially that of The Friends of Lynn Woods, a nonprofit organization that was incorporated in 1990 and supports the city in improving and maintaining Lynn Woods.
“People just show up after a bad storm to help out,” said Small. “I remember after Hurricane Sandy, people were waiting outside the gate.”
Small exudes pride and joy in where Lynn Woods is at the moment.
“We are right where we are supposed to be,” he said. His vision for the future? “To stay exactly like it is now.”