By Marjorie Turner Hollman (courtesy of Bellingham Bulletin)
On a cold, bright, sunny day in February, snowshoes in hand, we ventured forth. I had many ideas of places to walk, but they were all under three feet of snow. However, West Hill Dam, in Uxbridge, is run by the Army Corps of Engineers, and I felt that if any trail was going to be accessible, it would be an Army Corps site. Thankfully, we arrived to a well-cleared parking lot.
Because of the deep snow, we went only a short distance on a trail that someone else had already blazed for us. Snowshoes were absolutely essential. When I stepped off the already established trail, I found myself hip-deep in snow. The trees, however, provided a sparkling crystal palace for us to stroll through, ice coating the branches and glistening in the winter afternoon sunshine.
Rest assured, the snow will melt, and the dam area is filled with trails. You can walk on the dam itself, next to the West River, or through woodlands or open fields and along marshy ponds. On previous walks I’ve seen night hawks, signs of beaver, and a battered great horned owl warming itself next to the dam after a night of fierce thunderstorms.
West Hill Dam was constructed in 1961 in response to flooding in the Blackstone River Valley from Hurricane Donna in the 1950s. It continues to be actively operated by the Corps for flood control. There are portable toilets available year round, and leashed dogs are welcome on the trails, but not at West Hill Park swimming area. As always, please clean up after your pet to ensure a continued welcome for other dogs and their owners. Hunting season is from October 16 to April 1; the park warns visitors to wear hunting orange while hiking, Skiing, horseback riding, or snowshoeing. (There is no hunting allowed on Sundays.)
At West Hill Park children under ten must be accompanied by parents, guardians, or other adults, who need to be responsible for their children and guests at the swimming area. There are no lifeguards. The park season opens the third Saturday of May and closes the second Sunday of September. No dogs are ever allowed at the swimming area, per the Board of Health. The entrance fee to the Park is $1 per person over 13, maximum $4 per carload.
Directions: From Bellingham take Rt. 140 west. Turn left onto Rte. 16 at the traffic light at Milford Regional Medical Center. Follow Rt. 16 past Mendon Center, to Imperial Chevrolet (look for brown signs for West Hill Dam, before Uxbridge line). Turn right onto Hartford Avenue West. West Hill Dam entrance is 2 miles away—look for signs on the right. The actual address in Uxbridge is 518 E. Hartford Avenue. The other entrance to this 557-acre area is called West Hill Park, which has a swimming area. To reach the park entrance, continue past the dam entrance 1 1/2 miles to Upton St., turn right at the sign for West Hill Park, continue to Quaker Street, take a right, then look for signs for West Hill Park on the right.
West Hill Dam on E. Hartford Avenue has abundant free parking and no entrance fee.
For more information call the Ranger office at 508-278-2511 or check out http://tinyurl.com/n7ybjy2 for links to West Hill Dam and other Army Corps sites in Massachusetts. West Hill Dam has family nature programs ongoing throughout the year.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and has completed two guides to Easy Walking trails in Massachusetts, “Easy Walks in Massachusetts 2nd edition,” and “More Easy Walks in Massachusetts.” A native Floridian, she came north for college and snow! New England Regional Chair for the Association of Personal Historians, she is a Certified Legacy Planner with LegacyStories.org, and is the producer of numerous veterans interviews for the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s History Project. http://www.marjorieturner.com