Borderlands State Park in Easton, Massachusetts was for many years a favorite family park which was enjoyed I think equally by my children, my husband and me. For the kids Borderlands State Park was a place to explore. They could check out the Ames family estate “mansion”, walk the Borderlands trails and throw a ball around in the wide open fields. There was lots of space for them to enjoy. For both my husband and I Borderlands also held two other allures: it was only a fifteen minute ride from home and it was free. We could go from our front door to playing or hiking in next to no time and encounter no expense. These are the extras parents look for.
As our children grew up we had less reason to go to Borderlands. Now that we are retired we are always looking for day trips that we can enjoy without wasting all our time on getting there and all our cash on admissions. For this reason, returning to Borderlands State Park, if only for a picnic seemed like a good idea. We were delighted with the changes and will undoubtedly return in the not too distant future.
Our approach to Borderland rather tipped us off to the fact that the park was not going to be exactly as we left it some twenty years or more ago. The entrance had been altered and the old parking lot abandoned in favor of an expanded gate and parking area. Things have been modernized at Borderland with the assistance of an automated entry attendant that asks for a very reasonable $2 per car, per day fee. At first we were mildly annoyed, wondering what had happened to the good old days of free admission. But when we began to see the improvements that had been made we started to think we had stumbled upon quite the bargain.
We dragged our lawn chairs out of the car along with our lunch and looked for a place on the open grassy field to spread out and enjoy our goodies. The field looked quite the same, broad and spacious with youngsters here and there attempting to launch kites into flight or play catch. What was different was that a large grove of trees was now dotted with wooden picnic benches. We brought the chairs along anyhow knowing we would want to sit back and enjoy the sun after eating, but it was great to have a table to spread out our food and enjoy.
As we ate our lunch we noticed how diverse were the activities now in operation here. We decided that over the years of our absence, trails had been improved, grassy areas had become well maintained and the grounds around the estate brought out of their previous state of decline. We found ourselves well entertained by the constant but not intrusive passing of leashed dogs and their owners both enjoying the wide open spaces and enjoyed counting the great variety of breeds who were soaking up the sun and fresh air as they passed by. Occasionally a pair or threesome of bikers would emerge at a trail head, adjust their gear, take some water and head off for another adventure. We counted one group with some 15 teens apparently having the time of their lives pedaling and jabbering away over a nearby trail. All we could think was what healthy fun.
Most mysterious were the large numbers of people of all ages toting Frisbees, those rubberized discs anyone can throw and almost anyone can catch. At first we thought that the popularity of the discs was just a coincidence but we later discovered that in a major addition to Borderlands, a Disc Golf course had been created and all were invited to play at their leisure. The course we decided provided just the kind of encouragement some people might need to get them out and walking. Competition can be fun and throwing a plastic disc towards a marked hole really doesn’t demand much more additional exercise. The course was very popular and lots of laughing and fun was going on.
In a totally random spotting we also found several visitors engaged in their own form of lawn bowling. Our observation was that the grounds were now well enough kept to allow for lots of new and fun activities.
Of course we ourselves hadn’t just come to gawk at passersby so after lunch was through we took ourselves to another new feature of Borderland State Park, a Visitor and Information building. This was not a redo of something that had been present 20 years ago, but instead represented an entirely new building with a lodge- like look outside and in. For seniors, like ourselves, being able to locate a clean lavatory is crucial to an enjoyable visit and the “new” Borderlands now provided for our needs inside the Visitors Center
In the main room of the Visitors Center were some wonderful exhibits that allow one to gather up lots of background information about how Borderlands came into being. Briefly put, descendants of the Ames family, which made a fortune on the production of shovels of all things, bought up a series of farms along the border area between the Massachusetts towns of Sharon and Easton and created an estate that was then developed and enjoyed by several generations of the Ames family. Eventually the land and the estate buildings that had been constructed over the years were given over to the state for purposes of offering recreation to the area residents. While my husband and I had a slight understanding of the history it was wonderful to see pictures and artifacts that put life into Borderlands.
Fun facts popped out. For example my husband, a Civil War buff, discovered that one of the members of the Ames family had served in the Civil War on the Union side and had received his officers commission from Abraham Lincoln. The paper work with Lincoln’s signature can be seen inside the estate house. Rocks that were in the area immediate surrounding the Borderlands house are said to be millions of years old and have arrived at their present location as the result of glacial activity thousands of years ago. Some display cases were used to show replicas of birds one was likely to spot in the area.
Leaving the Visitors Center we headed across the open field to visit the Borderlands centerpiece, its residence. The house itself is only opened to visitors on several select days each year, but you are welcomed to play the “peeping Tom” all you want. What was different now in 2009 was the active presence of workers engaged in repair and maintenance of the building and grounds. These folks were pleasant and well informed and seemed proud of the work they were doing. They were more than willing to give us a few moments of their time to answer a question or two about the building, the nearby pool and gardens and the Ames family.
Borderlands offers a number of self guided tours through wooded areas, by an old family hunting lodge, past ponds and amongst wonderful vistas. Some are more rugged and demanding than others. For us it was enough to have these beautiful grounds near the house to walk about and try to imagine those days back in the early twentieth century when a family called this place home. What must it have been like to have had your own literally “in ground” swimming pool with diving board? Or how about a tennis court, no reservations required because its yours and its just out your front door. What we liked best perhaps was the wonderful little fountain and garden tucked behind the library wing of the house where you could sit and listen to the water fall as you sat on cool natural rocks formed to make a bench for two. On a warm day, you could almost taste the lemonade and the feel the sense of peace to be had just sitting here with a friend or that someone special.
Too often senior citizens find that places that they once visited when they were raising a family are no longer as appealing as they once were. Time has done them no kindness, they have suffered from weather or lack of care. For us, the chance to revisit Borderland State Park and see a place we loved still very much in its prime and apparently improving instead of declining was a most enjoyable experience and one we recommend to those who enjoy outdoor recreation.