WHO: Globe reporter James Burnett, his wife, and 17-month-old son
WHAT: Hunting for great picnic spots
WHERE: Around the South Shore
One of the great dilemmas of life for parents of small children is how to kill time and do so inexpensively, while squeezing in one or more of the “essential” elements of eating and drinking, and learning.
This means lots of time outdoors for my wife and me and our 17-month-old son.
Our favorite multitasking outdoor activity? Picnicking.
But not all parks are created equal, just because they’re full of green stuff and birds. For us the park must take dogs, must provide opportunity to ID plant and wildlife to our kid, and must be a comfortable place to eat and relax.
So still being relatively new to Boston, we recently set out to test a few South Shore parks for our criteria.
First, we tried World’s End in Hingham, about a mile south of Hingham Harbor. Its pros are that the park is full of amazing walking trails, clusters of trees, beautiful fields, picturesque views of the Boston skyline in the distance, and multiple water access points, including a tiny beach where outdoor activity classes take place, like kayak training by outdoors retail chain REI. Further, the restrooms and picnic area are within steps of one another. There are two cons: that the picnic site and restrooms are less than 15 yards from a parking lot – too close to cars for a toddler who’s just learned that if he pumps his legs a little harder he can run and keep a step ahead of mom or dad, and that the park has a $6 admission fee for adult non-members.
Next, we tried Pond Meadow Park in Braintree. At once we were impressed with the park’s 1.6-mile paved, tree-lined path that circles a 20-acre pond. That path, while hilly in spots, is great for baby strollers, and Pond Meadow has three winding trails that cut deep into the woods around the park, offering different plant life and different views. There are two picnic areas — one on a ridge overlooking the pond, another at water level, just yards from the dam on the pond’s east side. If there are downsides to Pond Meadow Park as a family-friendly picnic area, they are the lack of a public restroom, and the mosquitoes sometimes attracted to the still water of the pond.
Perseverance pays though, and we recently found our perfect spot: Ames Nowell State Park in Abington.
Ames Nowell is no greener than Pond Meadow or World’s End. The tree cover is plentiful and the paths are beautiful. Cleveland Pond, popular with casual boaters and fishermen, anchors the park. And there is one set of restrooms, close to the park entrance, but conveniently located along a heavily trafficked path. The best part for us was that the picnic areas are far enough removed from the water that mosquitoes and other bugs are not a factor. That alone made Ames Nowell our ideal picnic spot . . . though we’re still looking. Bonus: We spotted two different kinds of orioles at Ames Nowell, and my son got to examine an Eastern American (a.k.a. garden variety) toad up close.
Ames Nowell State Park, 739 Linwood St., Abington. 781-857-1336. www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/southeast/ames.htm. Open seven days a week, generally till sundown. But call for special hours — longer or shorter, seasonally.
.email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesBurnett.