For years, AMC’s Four Thousand Footer Club has awarded intrepid hikers who climb all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot peaks with a commemorative patch. There’s another patch for those who hike the 48 in winter and yet another for those who complete New England’s 67 4,000-footers. Even dogs can earn a patch.
If you complete a hiking list or a long-distance trail in AMC’s region, there’s probably a patch for that, which makes the Bay Circuit Trail (BCT) unique for a couple of reasons: both because it didn’t have its own celebratory accessory until recently and because now it does.
And it’s a pin.
Kristen Sykes, AMC’s director of operations for the Bay Circuit Trail Alliance, created the pin in 2017 to recognize finishers of the 230-mile trail circumnavigating Boston, from Kingston Bay on the South Shore to Plum Island in the north. “A good number of finishers were requesting recognition for completing the trail, so I made the pin,” Sykes says.
The idea of building a trail that would link open spaces, parcels of conservation land, and communities in Eastern Massachusetts was conceived in 1929, but it has only been in the last few years that the BCT has neared completion. Although the trail was designed more as a green-space connector, Sykes says she knows of nearly 50 people who have hiked the entire “emerald necklace,” including married AMC members Richard Pennington, age 67, and Mary McCarthy, age 69, of Belmont, Mass.
After hiking a part of the trail in Newburyport in 2013, McCarthy began mulling the idea of hiking the whole trail in sections, rather than in one continuous thru-hike. On August 11, 2016, the couple began their quest in Lincoln, Mass., not far from historic Walden Pond. Instead of spotting a car at the finish of their day hikes, these ambitious hikers chose to double back to where they started. They considered this extra legwork as an opportunity to see more nature rather than as an inconvenience.
“Visually, the trail looked somewhat different on the return hike, and it was just as interesting,” McCarthy says. “We would see different things coming and going.”
After 80 days of hiking for McCarthy and 88 days for Pennington, who was temporarily sidelined by a bout of plantar fasciitis, McCarthy finished on November 4, 2017, at Bay Farm in Kingston, and Pennington finished on December 8 with a road walk in Pembroke.
“I was very excited to finish the trail, as I felt like I had really accomplished something, but I was also sad, as I immediately missed being out on the BCT on a regular basis,” McCarthy says.
“I was also relieved to have completed my goal before the first big snow fall, which happened the day after I finished,” says Pennington, who biked some of the road sections to avoid walking on his still-recovering foot.
Pennington’s multimodal strategy is common among BCT regulars. Depending on when and where you venture onto the trail, you might see hikers, trail runners, cyclists, horseback riders, cross-country skiers, or snowshoers.
Pennington and McCarthy favored hiking boots in winter, but for Alan French, the founder of the AMC-led Bay Circuit Trail Alliance and the father of the BCT, cross-country skiing is the best way to experience the peace and beauty of the trail, minus the crowds and pesky bugs—plus, it’s a great workout.
“For starters, Bradley Palmer State Park in Topsfield and Callahan State Park in Framingham are great places for all levels of skiers because [the trails there aren’t] too busy, and there’s good parking,” he says. French also recommends Harold Parker State Forest in North Andover, the Chelmsford section of the Bruce Freeman Trail, and Burrage Pond Wildlife Management Area in Halifax and Hanson.
Whatever way you travel the trail, Sykes bets you’ll miss being out on it as soon as you’re done. “The beauty of the Bay Circuit Trail is that by simply stepping out your back door, you can hike, bike, run, or ski north to Plum Island or south to Duxbury and Kingston Bay.”