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Bird Park offers autumn trails that teach and entertain

A volunteer costumed as a deer mouse is one of the attractions of the Halloween themed "Nocturnal Trail" at Bird Park in Walpole.
A volunteer costumed as a deer mouse is one of the attractions of the Halloween themed "Nocturnal Trail" at Bird Park in Walpole.The Trustees of Reservations

Bird Park, a Trustees of Reservations property in Walpole, has created two special trails for visitors this month.

The first, open to the public through Oct. 31 from dawn to dusk, tells the story of the park land’s earliest human habitation, beginning with the arrival of the continent’s “First People” 10,000 years ago.

Bird Park is also offering a Halloween-themed “Nocturnal Trail” for families with young children, on Friday and Saturday evenings, Oct. 23-24 and Oct. 30-31, from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

The “First People Trail” consists of 10 placards laminated and posted on wooden stakes placed along a short, paved path near the park’s "frog pond.” The path also marks a boundary line created in the 19th century to protect the hunting grounds of the descendants of the land’s First People.

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Located near the park’s Washington Street entrance, the “First People Trail” is a short walk with a long story.

“The trail is super easy and short,” said Maura O’Gara, the engagement manager for Francis William Bird Park and Moose Hill Farm in Sharon. Its purpose is educational: to teach visitors what life was like for the First People and their descendants, the Massachusett tribe, both before and after Europeans settled here.

The trail begins with the park’s geological origins story. Twenty thousand years ago the land was covered by a mile-high glacier. “As the glacier slowly advanced and retreated,” the trail sign states, “it scoured and scarred hills of bedrock, pushed up mounds of sand and till, dislodged boulders, and left behind ponds and streams of melted ice,” creating features still visible today.

The First People fished in the Neponset River and cultivated planting fields that endured for thousands of years. Later, the Massachusett lived in villages along the coast from Salem to Cape Cod and inland to current-day Worcester. They planted corn, squash, and beans and they built homes and raised families, the signs tell visitors.

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Drawing on information from the Massachusett tribe’s website, the signboards describe a matriarchal society in which women “trapped small game, gathered shellfish, wild grains, greens, and herbs for food and medicine.”

The trail also offers a detailed history of the tribe’s survival after the Europeans' arrival and the subsequent “great dying” the native population suffered from diseases brought to their home from another continent.

Later, a leader of the Neponset branch of the Massachusett named Chickataubut succeeded in preserving a part of his tribe’s territory, called Ponkapoag, for his people’s use. These names are preserved today on regional maps and road signs. The trail’s signboards describe Ponkapoag as a Blue Hills region including the towns of Canton and Stoughton and parts of Randolph.

Chickataubut’s son, Wompatuck, and grandson never surrendered Ponkapoag to the English colonists or their American successors, a signboard tells us: “That’s why the Massachusett are still here.”

Detailed information on the signboards is drawn both from Colonial historical documents and from the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag’s website. To learn more about the tribe’s current activities visit massachusetttribe.org/.

This year’s “Nocturnal Trail” at Bird Park is a feature of the more extensive Halloween experience that the park has mounted in previous years. “Because of COVID and social distancing restrictions,” O’Gara said, “we opted to do just the nocturnal trail part of the event.”

Taking place after dark, the Nocturnal Trail consists of holiday decorations and “different luminaries, including jack-o'-lanterns and mummy lanterns,” O’Gara said.

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Parents and children are invited to register on available dates to enjoy the trail and visit its stations, through which they will learn about nocturnal animals.

The “trick or treat” element is challenging because of COVID-19 restrictions. The stations may have PVC pipe arms through which candy can be delivered, O’Gara said. “That could be fun. We’re trying to make it as much like the normal Halloween as possible.”

The “treats” will be pre-bagged.

Children will encounter different costumed figures as they move along the trail -- deer mouse, great horned owl, red fox. “They learn as they go around,” O’Gara said.

Visitors are required to register online for their desired day and time slot for the nocturnal trail at www.thetrustees.org/events. Enter “Francis William Bird Park” to find the desired date. The cost is $2 for an adult Trustees member and $6 for a child member. It’s $4 and $8 for nonmembers.

O’Gara said last week there were plenty of tickets left for the nocturnal trail on all dates in all the half-hour time slots, except for the 5:30 p.m. slot.

An optional pumpkin and decorating kit, for $8, will also be available.

Robert Knox can be contacted at rc.knox2@gmail.com.