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Friends show off Wompatuck, a haven for biking

Brayden Kain (left), 12, of Whitman, and other cyclists took a test ride on a BMX track at Wompatuck State Park built by Pam Johnson (right) and other Friends of Wompatuck volunteers.

Rose Lincoln for The Boston Globe

Brayden Kain (left), 12, of Whitman, and other cyclists took a test ride on a BMX track at Wompatuck State Park built by Pam Johnson (right) and other Friends of Wompatuck volunteers.

Pam Johnson still recalls her incredulity at discovering what she calls “this amazing place in our own backyard.” A member of the Friends of Wompatuck, Johnson rides her bicycle from her home in Scituate to a gated park entrance in Cohasset — the gate blocks cars, but leaves the way open for walkers and riders — and enters a green world of nearly 50 miles of trails.

“Wompatuck State Park is my happy place,” said Johnson, who has been using the park for 23 years now. “I’m a big mountain biker.”

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Johnson’s fond memory of finding the state park of 3,500 acres extending from a main entrance in Hingham into the towns of Cohasset, Scituate, and Norwell is something the Friends of Wompatuck believe other residents in this area can experience as well. Hence the upcoming “Discovery Day” planned for the park on Saturday, May 20, from 10 am. to 3 p.m.

The event includes information about the Friends’ regular activities, such as group rides and trail care days, and those of an array of other organizations that use the park including Boy Scouts, Yankee Siberian Husky Club, Kids Pan Mass Challenge, New England Mountain Bike Association, and other biking groups.

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South Shore Quests, a group that encourages exploring the outdoors, will be running a few “quests” that day, too, Johnson said.

The park’s unusual amount of paved woodland trail — 15 miles of paved trails, plus 1.2 miles of hard-packed stone dust — creates a bonanza for road bike riders. Youngsters on their first two-wheelers, family groups, seniors, and other casual riders find room to ride in the park with more paved trails, ideal for cycling and closed to automobiles, than almost any other public place in the area.

The abundance of such trails is a direct legacy of the park’s history as a naval ammunitions depot, with numerous cement bunkers built for storage. During World War II, the depot was the main ammunition supply for North Atlantic naval forces as the Navy convoyed troops, protected shipping, and hunted submarines. After the war, the state took over the area and eventually opened Wompatuck State Park in 1973.

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With its history of hard use as a munitions storage site, Wompatuck has faced some unique challenges. Fears of contamination from munitions and asbestos pollution closed a 125-acre portion of the park known as the “annex area” after its acquisition from the federal government, according to Steve Gammon, a former director of the park and a member of the Friends.

After years of advocacy by the public, riding groups, and state park officials, the state funded the demolition of old buildings, asbestos removal, and trail building that resulted in opening the area to the public three years ago, including a long-sought “Rails to Trails” connection from the Cohasset train station to Wompatuck.

A smaller area of about 7 acres known as “the Burning Grounds,” where the federal government destroyed old munitions, remains fenced off and closed to the public. The park’s history lives on in the name of the Friends’ signature riding competition, the annual “Landmine Bike Classic,” a 25-mile loop with options to go shorter, or longer, for different classes of riders.

The upcoming Discovery Day at Wompatuck will also feature live music, free snacks, and beverages. “Blame the Dog,” a classic rock band from Scituate, will perform. In the event of rain, activities will be moved into the park’s visitors center.

“Everyone will be out on the lawn in pop-up tents,” said Vicki Schow, president of the 170-member Friends group. Visitors will be offered four self-guided tour directions to park features — South Field, the Boat Launch, the Cohasset Rail Trail Connector, and the Heart Healthy Trail.

Quincy resident Steve Cobble, president of the Southeast Massachusetts chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, called the event “an educational day.” His 300-rider group takes weekly rides at Wompatuck, and members take part in volunteer trail maintenance.

“We’re a pretty friendly group as a bike community,” Cobble said. “We educate people by word of mouth, talk to people in parking lots. There’s a good network.”

‘Wompatuck is one of the best mountain biking areas in New England.’

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Maps showing the park’s extensive trail network, paved roads, gated entrances, campground, water sites, and other features will also be available. “We also have a new smartphone map app,” Johnson added.

While bike riders and walkers love Wompatuck, you can also camp, boat, drive to Mt. Blue Spring to fill your water jugs with spring water, cross-country ski, ride a horse, walk your dog, and drive a snowmobile in the park. A something-for-everyone inclusiveness is part of the park’s appeal. Still, judging by the organizers of Discovery Day, biking is king.

In addition to its paved trails, Wompatuck offers 32 miles of unpaved “multi-use” trails open to mountain bike riders, hikers, and other users, including a “bridle loop” for equestrians. In winter, snowmobilers are permitted on one side of Union Street (the only automobile entrance into the park) and cross-country skiers on the other.

“Wompatuck is one of the best mountain biking areas in New England,” said Quincy resident Schow, whose husband she said “grew up mountain biking” there.

“We have nice trails, nice features such as crumbling stone walls” that provide challenges for riders learning the techniques needed to deal with woodland paths, she said.

“The terrain is very diverse and challenging,” Cobble agreed. “Not super hilly. That makes it easier for a range of abilities.”

The Friends of Wompatuck works hard to keep those miles of trail in good shape with regular “trail care” sessions when members remove thorns and branches from the trails.

“We live one mile away from the park,” Johnson said of her husband, Steve, and herself, “and we go camping there.”

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