Trail Running at Mary Cummings Park

February 20, 2019
Trail Running at Mary Cummings Park
Marc ChalufourStone walls offer hints of an old farm while trail running in Mary Cummings Park in Burlington, Mass.

Car shopping and trail running are two experiences that, for me, exist on opposite ends of the pleasure spectrum. One is rife with anxiety and doubt and is synonymous with suburban commercial development, the other offers an escape from all that. So it was with great surprise that, minutes before pulling into a car dealership in Burlington, Mass., I caught a glimpse of a promising trailhead. “Mary Cummings Park,” the sign said. I made a mental note.

A few days later I Googled the name, curious to see if the trails were worth a visit. I knew Burlington only as for its malls and big-box stores. That over 200 acres of conserved land exists amid all of that development is an interesting story. Mary Cummings gave the land, which straddles the Burlington–Woburn line, to the City of Boston nearly a century ago. Combined with neighboring Whispering Hills, a 75-acre plot, Mary Cummings Park is the 10th-largest green space in the Greater Boston area. Sometimes trails are hiding in the unlikeliest—and most accessible—of spots.

On my visit, I parked on the side of Blanchard Road near the trailhead I’d seen earlier (a parking lot is now open on Muller Road as well). I’m guessing many readers almost know this spot: L.L. Bean is right around the corner. I took a few minutes to stretch at the trailhead, wondering what that buzzing sound over the trees was. Then a small plane came into view—heading, it seemed, straight for me, before pulling up into a tight turn. As soon as I started my run, I realized a large mowed field, complete with a groomed grass runway, attracts model airplane and drone pilots.

I made my way around the edge of the field, dodging puddles and mud on this unseasonably warm winter day, and headed into the forest. Remnants of the park’s farm heritage remain: huge stone walls bisect the forest now. I followed the straight and wide Pipeline Trail to the southern edge of the park—about half a mile in distance—then cut east, making a loop of the perimeter. The trail narrows and winds through the trees. Residential development encroaches on all sides, a stark reminder of what this forest would’ve become without Cummings’s foresight.

The trail descends to the edge of a soccer field in the park’s eastern corner, then rises steeply back into the woods in the other direction. I passed another stone wall, this one perhaps 4 feet tall, and cut through a field planted with milkweed (a volunteer effort to assist monarch butterflies). I hopped over streams and watched a large hawk circle overhead. Then I began to hear the buzz of a model airplane again as I neared Flyers Field.

Before this run I’d begun to worry that I was running out of hidden gems to explore for Running Wild. But if I can stumble upon the area’s 10th-largest park while car shopping, then there must be a few more places for me yet to discover. Do you have any favorites we haven’t covered yet?


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Marc Chalufour

Marc Chalufour, a former senior editor of AMC Outdoors, contributes to the trail-running blog Running Wild.