Duxbury’s 344-acre Lansing Bennett Forest has had a facelift in recent months. Many of its trails were devastated by the wet snow and high winds of the Blizzard of 2013. Over 100 trees snapped off or were uprooted, many blocking trails, smashing wooden walk- ways and demolishing a bridge that spanned the upper section of Philips Brook. These problems have been remedied, as the bridge and many of the wooden walkways beside the trout stream were rebuilt and the last of the downed trees obstructing both the trails and Philips Brook were removed over the past few months.
Joe Grady, Duxbury’s Conservation Administrator, with the help of summer interns and many volunteers, worked diligently to make the trails on this property accessible to all. A Clean Sweep volunteer adopted a section of the White Trail running from Route 53 to Union Bridge and committed to keeping it free of the trash that was once so evident.
The largest part of the forest occupies land bounded by Cross Street on the south, Route 53 on the west, Franklin Street on the north and Union Bridge on the east. There is also a portion of the Lansing Bennett Forest on the east side of Union Bridge, which includes a section of the Bay Circuit Trail.
The Lansing Bennett Forest was acquired by the town in 1970 from the Lot Phillips Co., a manufacturer of wooden boxes, and was later named for Dr. Lansing Bennett, a farsighted, home-grown environmentalist who for years worked to convince Duxbury’s citizens and town fathers that setting aside open space was a smart choice for a healthy town. Dr. Bennett also chaired the Duxbury Conservation Commission from 1967 to 1979 and during his tenure helped preserve more than 1200 acres of open space and secured the passage of the Wetlands and Watershed Protection District Bylaw.
The beautiful forest bearing Dr. Bennett’s name once supported a fish farm supplying fresh trout to the finest restaurants on the east coast. Wild brown and brook trout still swim happily in Philips Brook where it runs alongside the White Trail both above and below the quarried granite blocks that years ago supported Howland’s Mill. That was the last gristmill built in Duxbury around 1830 and it was later converted to a sawmill before falling into decline. The stone block bones of Howland’s Mill can still be seen just east of where Philips Brook passes under Union Bridge.
Philips Brook begins in a small pond just across Route 53 from Osborn’s store and con- tinues 1.8 miles south to north passing under Union Bridge and Franklin Street, through another pond and under Route 14 before irrigating cranberry bogs and finally joining the South River almost in the center of the town-owned Camp Wing Conservation Property.
The Lansing Bennett Forest is one of many town-owned conservation properties. All the trails are overseen and maintained by the Conservation Commission with the help of volunteers. About a third of the Lansing Bennett Forest is maple swamp bordering the brook and the rest is oak and white pine forest. Many kettle ponds and depressions dot the forest, created thousands of years ago when huge ice deposits left over from receding glaciers melted and the thin coverings of earth covering the ice collapsed. Man too has altered the topography of this forest; when Howland’s Mill needed more water to turn its water wheel, a long and deep ditch was dug by hand from Friars Swamp north of Franklin Street. The ditch was piped under Franklin Street to Philips Brook bringing more water and power for the mill’s waterwheel. The end of that ditch can still be seen beside Philips Brook at the west end of the last wooden walkway. It can also be observed on both sides of Franklin Street. Later when the brook was utilized as a fish farm more ditches were dug within the forest and pipes were added to divert cold spring, ground and rainwater into Philips Brook.
There is a mystery in this forest. As you hike the yellow trail you might notice an old safe rusting into the ground about 80 feet off the trail. It was evidently dynamited open, as the door is missing and the back is bowed out from a long ago blast. How it got there, where it was stolen, if the perpetrators were caught and served time... no one seems to know. If you have any knowledge about this safe the Conservation office would be interested in learning its history.
And if you’re interested in volunteering time, volunteer helpers on town conservation properties are always needed. The tasks volunteers take on can be as simple as adopting a trail, picking up trash and reporting any problems, to as strenuous as cleaning up fallen trees and branches after storms or helping to lay out and cut new trails. If you would like to become a volunteer please email donovansteve568@ gmail.com and a volunteer coordinator will get back to you.
Meanwhile take a hike in one of Duxbury’s many beautiful conservation l.ands.