Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Ruins of South Branch Park, Part 1

What better way to spend a 60-degree day in March than to slosh around in the rapidly melting snow at South Branch Park in Sixteen Acres? To those of you who have no idea where this is, the reservation’s signature feature is the waterfall in Sixteen Acres Center (above), a little down the road on the right side of Parker Street if you’re heading toward Kiley Middle School. Still confused? You probably drive by the waterfall all the time, but have no idea it’s there.

But you might have played golf at Veterans Golf Course. So think of the woods that surround the course. That’s South Branch Park. If you’ve played Veterans, you’ve undoubtedly cursed these very woods after losing a few balls. But next time you have a free hour or two, and you don’t feel like golfing, check out South Branch Park. I feel that it’s the most underrated nature preserve within the city limits of Springfield. I’m a little biased—I used to hike there with my dad and my brother when I was a kid. But trust me, it’s a hidden jewel, and you’ll enjoy the hike.

I start my March 8 excursion from the Veterans Golf Course lot on the South Branch Parkway. Pictured below is the view of the course from the lot.

When I was growing up we always started our hikes from the park’s Parker Street parking lot, but now it’s blocked off. Despite the boulders blocking cars there, you can still begin your hike at the Parker Street spot—it’s not too much of a hassle to park near Blockbuster video, cross Parker Street, and hit the trail from the back of the closed lot.

Still, I’m partial to the Veterans trailhead. Just park in the Veterans lot, walk down the hill, and the trail begins on the right.

Yes, you’ll have to climb over or around a couple of fallen trees (pictured below). Deal with it!

Below are the remains of the boards from an outdoor hockey rink that was built by the city in the early 1960s. Once a neighborhood hockey mecca, the facility filled a vital need at a time when the only indoor rink available for youth hockey in western Massachusetts was at Williston Academy in Northampton.

The Parks Department took care of the rink and piped in water from a maintenance building (pictured below, with some remnants of boards in front) every Sunday night from 9:00 to 11:00 p.m. The city eventually turned over the stewardship of the rink to Sixteen Acres Youth Hockey. Nicknamed “Siberia” by the neighborhood kids who braved the frigid cold, the rink— which was illuminated at night by lights on four stanchions—it gradually fell into disrepair after players opted for the indoor rinks that soon opened at Forest Park and Blunt Park.

According to local legend, however, determined Siberia rink rats continued to use the arena during the day by connecting a bunch of hoses together and pumping water into it from a neighbor’s house on Plumtree Road. But it’s obviously been a long time since someone has laced up his skates down here.

I had never played hockey in the rink, but I remember the boards being in good condition in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and I was pretty surprised the first time I saw it—a skating rink in the middle of the woods. Now just a couple of sections of rotting wood are the only traces of the ghost rink.

Below is a photo of the clearing where the rink was.

Just beyond the former rink are the ruins of a playground at Camp Angelina, which served special needs kids until 2003, when the city program moved to Forest Park. It was named for Angelina Lacedonia, an advocate for the retarded. A year ago, the Camp Angelina remnants included a building that was rapidly deteriorating (someone had obviously broke into the boarded-up structure when I saw it in 2008). But the city has since torn it down—before someone got around to burning it down.

Below is a slide on which you can climb up, but you can’t slide down. A stairway to heaven?

The chain nets on the old basketball court are still there, but it looks like the place, judging from the lawn chairs, is just a party spot now.

This horse ride looks intact. Then again, these ponies look weather-proof and seem pretty difficult to vandalize—unless someone takes a sledge hammer to ’em. They are the guardians of the ghost camp.

I believe this is the remnant of an old swimming pool (below), now long gone. When I was a kid I pointed out to one of my friends that this pool would be an excellent candidate for a splash and dash, being in the middle of the woods and all. I was quickly corrected: retarded kids were certainly pissing in this pool all day.

I don’t know exactly why I like checking out the ruins of old structures in the woods, like the old dam at Putnam’s Puddle on a tributary of the north branch of the Mill River. Maybe I just like the way plant life finds a way to reclaim these areas.

Now it’s time to hike to the waterfall. Follow me!

Stay tuned for The Ruins of South Branch Park, Part 2.


Anonymous said...

Thank Hell's Acres for this information. My wife and I took this hike today and really enjoyed it. We have lived in the acres for 13 years and often hike through the golf course but we never knew this old camp existed.

Doug said...

I live on South Branch and I've been out there many times and wondered what some of these spots were. thank you so much for all the information. Too bad that rink is no longer functional.

tony pag said...

i played on that old rink as a member of the Sixteen Acres Youth Hockey organization. must have been in the early seventies. i remember walking down that hill already dressed for hockey accept except for skates. man was it cold! but if it wasn't cold, we didn't have ice. there was a small building used to ait and "lace up" but with no lights in it. also, the water ran constantly from a pipe behind the building. they ased this water to make new ice. if they shut it off it would freeze up and then no new ice. havent been down there since.

Hell's Acres said...

Hi Tony,

The rink opened during the last week of December of 1962. I'm surprised no trees have grown in the clearing--there must be a thick layer of cement underneath.

You can still hike over there, although the tornado, the 2011 microburst, the 2011 Halloween snowstorm, and the hurricane have made the path rather challenging with tree-fall and branches!