It’s 95 degrees in the shade, the time when the rubber meets the road on deciding where to go to cool off. There are questions to be answered.
Do I brave the traffic on Route 3A to get to Nantasket Beach in Hull? What time is high tide, and will I be able to find a spot on the beach or a parking space?
Quite often, the answer is just a few minutes away from home in Braintree. The water at Sunset Lake off Franklin Street is cool and clear, but warm enough that young and old alike have no fear of charging right in and making their way to one of the two rafts that lie just offshore.
Swimming at Sunset Lake is now open for the season, with lifeguards on duty daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The parking lot at Sunset Lake is restricted to Braintree residents, but the beach area is open to all and accessible via MBTA Bus Route 236, which runs between Quincy Center Station and South Shore Plaza and stops at Franklin and Safford streets.
The area south of Boston is home to a number of freshwater swimming areas, most replete with sandy beaches, accessible restrooms, picnic areas, and other amenities that add to the experience of dipping in an old-fashioned swimming hole. The ponds and lakes may lack booming waves, but for families with small children, the smaller scale may be just right.
Two of the largest and most popular swimming areas are operated by the state Department of Recreation and Conservation (DCR): the Houghton’s Pond Recreation Area on Hillside Street in Milton in the Blue Hills Reservation, and College Pond on Cranberry Road in the 14,635-acre Myles Standish State Forest in Carver.
Houghton’s Pond offers free parking, and is staffed with lifeguards daily beginning Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. There is a large sandy beach, an almost-new beach house, a snack bar, and picnic tables.
College Pond is also a great family place, with areas for picnics and barbecuing, and lifeguards will be on duty daily from June 22 to Labor Day. There is a $5 parking fee at the College Pond parking lot.
Area ponds and lakes are generally much warmer than the ocean. A water quality test done on June 6 by the DCR at Nantasket Beach and Houghton’s Pond showed the water temperature at Nantasket ranging between 55 and 58 degrees, while Houghton’s Pond was 71 degrees.
Just as ocean beaches are periodically plagued by high bacteria counts and the red tide, forcing shutdowns, ponds and lakes are subject to algae blooms and high bacteria levels, forcing similar shutdowns. Some ponds are located in densely populated areas, where homes along the shorelines with leaky septic systems can cause problems.
“We’ve been able to secure the shores of the properties we own and that’s helped,” said Gary Briere, the DCR’s assistant director for recreation. “There’s also less volatility when it comes to our freshwater beaches, although we do occasionally have problems due to flocks of geese or dogs.”
The DCR tests Houghton’s Pond each Thursday and College Pond each Tuesday during the season for Enterococcus bacteria.
Nelson Chin, director of the Braintree Recreation Department, which operates Sunset Lake, says the town’s Health Department conducts regular testing of the water during swimming season, including daily tests if a problem is found
Oldham Pond in Pembroke, which will officially be open to swimmers when lifeguards go on duty Sunday, was treated last week with aluminum sulfate in an effort to control algae growth, which caused the pond to be shut down two years ago.
Ray Holman of the Pembroke Watershed Association, a nine-year-old group that advocates for the town’s five ponds, said treatment last year allowed the pond to operate uninterrupted all summer. And after the recent treatment, he is optimistic that Oldham Pond will have another uninterrupted summer.
“It’s not cheap, but the town has been putting the money in the budget each year to get it done,” he said.
The town also offers swimming at Little Sandy Bottom Pond Beach, which is in a more densely populated area with limited parking
The town of Halifax also recently treated the West Monponsett Pond with aluminum sulfate in a bid to stem algae problems that forced the closing of both the East and West Monponsett Ponds in 2011 and has kept the West Pond virtually closed to recreational uses for several summers.
For someone who was “waterproofed” at an early age on the West Pond and spent many summers on the pond swimming, boating, rowing, and water skiing (mostly falling down), the present pea-green color of the water and odor emanating from it now are heartbreaking.
“I’m hopeful we can restore them to the way they were,” said Halifax Selectman Troy Garron, who once ran the YMCA camp located on the West Monpsonett Pond and has been involved with pond issues for the entire 20 years he has been a selectman.
He says the problems have several sources: faulty septic systems of homes along the shoreline, runoffs from fertilizer used in cranberry bogs adjacent to the ponds, and a state agreement that allows the city of Brockton to divert water from the West Pond, lowering water levels and lessening the circulation that has a natural cleansing effect.
With recreational use declining, the town stopped staffing a town-owned beach on Lingan Street at Fourth Avenue in Halifax with lifeguards about five years ago.
The town of Plymouth is a great place to get cool on a hot summer’s day, with options including the town’s three freshwater swimming areas: Morton Park, Fresh Pond, and the recently opened Hedges Pond.
Residents with stickers can park at all three, while non-residents pay a $10 fee on weekdays, with the price rising on weekends to $15 at Fresh and Hedges ponds and $25 for the larger and very popular Morton Park, which has restrooms, picnic areas, and concessions and swimming areas on both Little Pond and Billington Sea.
Cranberry Cove, located on Maquan Pond, off Route 58 in Hanson, was a favorite in my younger days. A lack of development around the swimming area has allowed the water to stay pristine.
“The water is just as clean as you remember it,“ said Nicole Campbell, an administrative assistant in the town’s recreation department. The pond is open to all who pay the parking fee and lifeguards will be on duty beginning Friday.
Sometimes, a swimming area is closed and becomes born again. Glen Echo Pond in Stoughton opened in 1895 and thrived as a popular gathering spot until it fell by the wayside in the 1970s.
In December 2011, using Community Preservation Act funds, Stoughton bought the 97-acre property with its 25-acre pond for $1.2 million. It intends eventually to redevelop the property, again using CPA funds, as a haven for active and passive recreation, including swimming.
Growing up in neighboring Randolph, I spent time in Glen Echo’s waters. When it reopens, you may find me there again.