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Science class al fresco: Take the kiddos to these outdoor beauty spots

Walk along woodsy trails that trace Rutland Brook at Mass Audubon’s Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Petersham. Combined with adjacent conservation lands, this is one of the largest expanses of protected land in central Massachusetts.
Walk along woodsy trails that trace Rutland Brook at Mass Audubon’s Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Petersham. Combined with adjacent conservation lands, this is one of the largest expanses of protected land in central Massachusetts.R. Mosco

Outdoors, our world is waking up and warming up, but remote learning is still in session. Maybe now’s the time to take your science lessons outdoors. Here are some places to consider.

With more than 450,000 acres of parkland — one of the largest systems in the country — there’s probably a Massachusetts state park near you. There’s nothing like a dose of fresh air, woods, and water to make everybody feel better. Although the Department of Conservation and Recreation has temporarily closed some state park facilities, including visitor centers, playgrounds, and bathrooms, local parks throughout the state parks system remain open to the public. Before heading out, visit www.mass.gov/visit-massachusetts-state-parks to confirm that your park is open.

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The tender green days of spring are a great time to explore some of Mass Audubon’s less-discovered gems. One to consider for older kids (since some trails are hilly): Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Petersham, located in Worcester County. Four miles of trails wind through a cathedral-like landscape of hemlocks and white pines and along Rutland Brook, part of the Quabbin Reservoir’s eastern watershed. Listen for spring peepers, and climb to the summit of Sherman Hill to see a porcupine den, one of the sanctuary’s intriguing natural features. You’ll get a wonderful sense of serenity here: Combined with neighboring conservation lands, Rutland Brook lies within one of the largest expanses of uninterrupted protected land in central Massachusetts. Bear left at Pat Connor Road; continue .2 miles to the Mass Audubon parking area. 978-464-2712; www.massaudubon.org/rutlandbrook.

Looking to get out of the house with the kids and explore nature? Stay as close to home as possible, and check out one of the wild places you may have overlooked in the past — say, North Hill Marsh in Duxbury, shown here.
Looking to get out of the house with the kids and explore nature? Stay as close to home as possible, and check out one of the wild places you may have overlooked in the past — say, North Hill Marsh in Duxbury, shown here.Diane Bair

To the south, North Hill Marsh is set within Duxbury’s Eastern Greenbelt, a 1,000-acre expanse of open space. Wander 5 miles of marked trails, encircling 90-acre North Hill Pond and entering Duxbury Town Forest. Notice the green shoots and tree buds emerging. The property is a wonderland of ecosystems, including wetlands, cranberry bogs, and oak and pine forest. There’s birdlife aplenty — listen for early songbirds and look for returning egrets this time of year; other wildlife spotted in the sanctuary includes mink, muskrat, otters, and lots of turtles — snapping, painted, and uncommon spotted and box turtles. Mayflower Street, Duxbury; 781-837-9400; www.massaudubon.org/northhill.

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Look closely for signs of wildlife, like this beaver lodge, at North Hill Marsh in Duxbury.
Look closely for signs of wildlife, like this beaver lodge, at North Hill Marsh in Duxbury.R. Mosco

Once it is safe to hit the road again, consider a jaunt to the Mt. Washington Valley of New Hampshire. Most of us think of that area as a winter or summer destination, but the region is lovely in spring. “Springtime is a great time for hiking in Mt. Washington Valley,” says Janice Crawford of the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce (www.mtwashingtonvalley.org.) “The waterfalls are rushing. … We love to call it ‘50 shades of green’ as the valley awakens from a snowy winter.” A mountain hike could be the perfect remedy, as we recover from a memorable, miserable start to 2020. “The 770,000-acre White Mountain National Forest offers endless options for teaching moments, and unlimited vitamin D,” Crawford says. “It’s the ultimate field trip.”

A great option for families: The Discovery Trail Interpretive Site, in the Pemigewasset Ranger District of the national forest. This 1.4-mile loop trail offers “a living classroom in forest ecology” with interpretive panels and maps. The parking area and trailhead is located on the Kancamagus Highway, 6.2 miles from Exit 32, off I-93 in Lincoln, N.H. www.fs.usda.gov/whitemountain.

For a longer, kid-friendly hike, consider Frankenstein Cliff in Crawford Notch State Park, a giant rock formation that resembles Frankenstein’s monster’s profile, but was actually named for a painter. A 2.1-mile hike (one-way) offers beautiful cliff-top views into the notch. 1464 Route 302, Hart’s Location, N.H.; 603-374-2272; www.nhstateparks.org.

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Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com