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Locals of note reveal favorite hidden gems west of Boston

<b><span id="U733358918018tFD" style=""><span id="U7333589180183iF" style="">LarZ Anderson Park</span> </span> <span id="U733358918018KKE" style=""> Brookline</span> </b> John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File 2006

How well do you know area communities? Compare your knowledge with this list of favorite destinations provided by some notable residents, then track down any surprises. Soon enough, you’ll be picnicking like a former presidential candidate in Larz Anderson Park, rediscovering Wal-Lex, and hitting the beach in Marlborough.

Evan Richman/Globe Staff, file 2005

Former governor Michael Dukakis, Brookline

Of the many memories that Michael Dukakis has of growing up and raising a family in Brookline, some of his fondest involve Larz Anderson Park, where he and his wife, Kitty, took their children for picnics “all the time” when they were young. He even remembers the controversial creation of the park, which was originally the estate of Isabel Weld Anderson and Larz Anderson, a businessman and the US ambassador to Japan a century ago. The ambassador and his wife left their property to the town for use as a park, which, according to Dukakis, led to “hot debate in the Town Meeting whether to accept it.

“It was a different Brookline, a good Brookline, but a different Brookline politically,” said Dukakis, who was the Democratic Party’s candidate for president in 1988, and served 12 years as the state’s governor. “Finally, after a very lively debate, the town decided to accept it.” Now the park is home to a number of attractions, including an ice skating rink in the winter, and picnic areas.

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“It’s really very special,” Dukakis said.

Jamie Eldridge

State Senator Jamie Eldridge, Acton

For Jamie Eldridge, Fort Pond Brook, which he frequented as a child growing up in South Acton, remains a popular retreat. There is conservation land and farmland nearby, so “it’s a great place to go walking,” the state senator said. The pond where he went skating in his younger days sits next to now-defunct railroad tracks that Eldridge is working to make part of the Assabet River Rail Trail.

The pond was created by the water diverted by local mills in the 1800s. “It’s pretty small, but it’s part of the early Industrial Revolution history of South Acton,” Eldridge said.

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Rick Beyer/Handout/ Courtesy of Rick Beyer

State Senator Michael Barrett, Lexington

Saying history is important to state Senator Michael Barrett is a bit of an understatement. He is from Lexington, a cradle of the American Revolution, after all, so it is fitting that one of his favorite places in town is the newly renovated Buckman Tavern.

“It really enables visitors to connect to Lexington, and it’s going to surprise Lexingtonians, too, and make them feel an intense connection to their hometown,” Barrett said.

The updated tavern opened last month, and now features museum gallery space on its second floor, space for audio and visual presentations, and an expanded gift shop, according to Susan Bennett, executive director of the Lexington Historical Society. The building is also handicapped-accessible on both floors, which Bennett said is extremely unusual for a Colonial-era building.

The tavern “was the place the Lexington militia gathered to confront the British on April 19, 1775 . . . I feel a very special tie to Buckman Tavern, where it all started,” Barrett said.

Karen Spilka

State Senator Karen E. Spilka, Ashland

When she first moved to Ashland in 1985, Karen Spilka didn’t even know about Ashland State Park, which would be the site of many family outings. Now the state senator is almost hesitant to share its attractions, because “it’s not super well known for state parks out here.”

“Winter, spring, summer, and fall, it’s just a never-ending opportunity for things to do and ways to enjoy the great outdoors,” Spilka said.

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When her children were young, she and her husband took them on their tandem bicycle to the park for picnics after work. She caught her first fish, a bass, in the park’s pond, the Ashland Reservoir. Now, Spilka and her husband, an avid mountain biker, hike and bike in the park, even in winter. She also enjoys taking their new puppy for walks in the “peaceful” preserve.

“That is my retreat and respite at times from the daily grind,” Spilka said.

Kathy Gross

Mayor Jeannette McCarthy, Waltham

One of Jeannette McCarthy’s favorite destinations is the Waltham Community and Cultural Center on Moody Street.

The building is home to a gym, fine arts auditorium, nonprofit agencies, four lanes of candlepin bowling, a “skate and scoot” room, and virtual game rooms, among other features, according to Sandra Tomasello, director of the city’s Recreation Department.

For the mayor, the community center has taken the place of the Wal-Lex Recreation Center, in its day a popular entertainment center featuring candlepin bowling and a roller rink that opened in 1947.

“Those of us who grew up in the city — all of us went to Wal-Lex at some point,” McCarthy said. “It closed in 2002.” And, 66 years after the original Wal-Lex opened, “I have re-created many of the things they had there,” the mayor said.

McCarthy invited members of the family that operated Wal-Lex to open the community center, which also features a Wal-Lex memorial wall. The center can even be rented for birthday parties, just like its predecessor.

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Erik Jacobs for the Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

Mayor Arthur Vigeant, Marlborough

Arthur Vigeant is eagerly anticipating the opening of the new and improved World War II Memorial Beach.

With the help of a state grant, the city has poured $1 million into renovations that make the beach handicapped-accessible, and include a new playground, new parking lot, basketball courts, and a walking path, according to the mayor.

“The upgrades have been phenomenal,” he said. “That’s something that we’re real proud of.”

He said he is looking forward to having residents take advantage of the facility during beach the beach will be open for swimming season.

“Not as many use the beach as we’d love to. I think now that it’s updated we’ll see a lot more activity down there,” Vigeant said.

Tamir Kalifa for The Boston Globe

Selectman Robert Fleming, Upton

When Robert Fleming thinks about the features that make Upton special, he is struck by the physical as well as the intangible.

From the Upton Men’s Club to the Bloomer Girls to the youth club, there are many active committees and organizations that give back to the town, according to the chairman of the Board of Selectmen.

“We’re only 8,000 people but it’s a great town,” Fleming said. “The social interaction of all the groups and organizations are really what make the town all it is.”

Another favorite part of Upton’s identity is its open spaces. Fleming said about a third of the town is state forest, and in a recent survey a large majority of residents said they don’t want the town to change, whether it be through commercial or retail development. Part of its land includes Upton Heritage Park, which is home to a cave of unknown origins that “predates the Pilgrims’ landing,” according to Fleming.

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“It’s drawn a lot of interest from archeologists and historians from across the country,” he said.

Tom Landers/Boston Globe

Jan Turnquist, Orchard House in Concord

Many visitors to Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House love the drawings on its walls created by the Alcott children. Executive director Jan Turnquist especially loves the owl above Alcott’s fireplace that her sister May drew when the author was sick after serving as a nurse in the Civil War.

“There was a nest of baby owls outside of Louisa’s bedchamber when she was recovering,” Turnquist said. “Her sister knew how much she loved them.”

Other favorite features of the house include the “unassuming” desk where Alcott wrote “Little Women,” the alcove on the staircase that “looks like the perfect place to read,” the nursery, and a well that until recently was hidden under the kitchen floor.

Outside of the house, Turnquist enjoys spending time outdoors in Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, or on the nature trails across from Concord-Carlisle High School that Henry Thoreau named “Fairyland” for their sparkling ice-covered trees in winter.

“It’s really quite magical,” Turnquist said.

She also encourages explorers to visit the old cemetery at the end of Main Street. It predates the adjacent Catholic church and is home to “fascinating” gravestones from the 1700s and 1800s.

Bonnie Mahan/Credit: Bonnie Mahan

Mayor Setti Warren, Newton

If you’re looking for something to do in Newton, look no further than the city’s parks, its mayor says.

Setti Warren and the Parks and Recreation Department have started a new series, “Picnic and Play in the Park,” in neighborhoods throughout the city to “highlight how extraordinary’’ the parks are, according to Warren.

The first Picnic and Play event was held last month, and more than 400 people attended, the mayor said. The next free event is scheduled for Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Russell J. Halloran complex on Albemarle Road in Newtonville, and will include swimming in Gath Pool, an inflatable obstacle course, and face painting. There are also events scheduled for July 23 in Newton Centre and August 13 at Newton South High School.

“It’s really about community-building and people coming together to enjoy our parks, and enjoy one another,” Warren said.

Wellesley College

Kim Bottomly, president of Wellesley College

Kim Bottomly is often told by Wellesley students that the school looks a little like Hogwarts. While you won’t find “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” covering Wellesley, some of Bottomly’s favorite features of the campus are books, such as the college’s rare, second-edition copy of “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres),” which was originally published by Copernicus in 1548, she said.

“This book is especially meaningful to me, as it was presented to me as a gift during my inauguration as president in 2008, as the first scientist to lead Wellesley,” Bottomly said by e-mail.

The college also owns first editions of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” and Newton’s “Principia.” These three tomes are considered the most important works in the history of science, according to Bottomly.

Another favorite historical artifact is the Browning Collection in the Wellesley College Archive. The collection features love letters exchanged by 19th-century poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning, she noted.

“They wrote almost daily from January 1845 until September 1846, a week after their marriage,” Bottomly said in an e-mail.

If that is not romantic enough, the collection also includes the mahogany door next to which Elizabeth Barrett waited for Robert’s letters.

Maggie Quick can be reached at margaret.quick@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaggieQuick.