About the Town Forest
The Ashland Town Forest is a beautiful parcel of land located in Ashland Massachusetts. It is comprised of over 550 acres of forest, streams and hiking trails. The forest is maintained by the Ashland Town Forest Committee (ATFC). In addition, the Sudbury Valley Trustees owns and maintains about 50 acres of adjacent land. This portion is called Cowassock Woods.
The primary purpose of the ATFC are the protection and preservation of the forest in its natural woodland state and the maintenance and further development of its extensive trail system. The ATFC works in coordination with the Ashland Open Space Committee and numerous volunteers to achieve these goals.
The Ashland Town Forest was established in 1942 by the acquisition of 508 acres of land; 16 additional acres were transferred to the town at no cost. It was previously a hunt club associated with the riding clubs of the Salem End Road section of Framingham. When purchased, the forest was primarily hardwood, 20 to 25 years old. In the next 8 years, more than 40,000 trees were planted, most obtained at no cost from the State Nursery and planted by the Boy Scouts.
Miles of road, now the basis of an extensive trail system, were cleared to provide better access for fire equipment. Even so, in 1953 a fire lasting three days and four nights burned over 50 acres.
In November 1984, Sudbury Valley Trustees (SVT) acquired 7.54 acres of land off Salem End Road. In April 1992, the abutting 43.5 acres were purchased (16.6 in Framingham and 26.9 in Ashland). “Cowassock” means “the place of pines”, and the area was the spring and summer campground of the Magunkook Indians. Brooks, forest, and fields met in ideal combination for fishing, hunting, nut gathering, and planting. Indian habitation is documented by anecdote, artifacts, and deeds transferring property to the first Colonists. There is strong evidence of prehistoric habitation as well.
The Colonial history of the area is the stuff of legend. The families of the Towne children — Rebecca Nurse, Sara Clayes, Mary Esty, and Edmund Towne — fled the Salem witch hunt and established the Salem End settlement of Framingham in 1693. (Salem End Road follows an original seventeenth century Indian trail.) Legend has it that the now collapsed caves in the Town Forest just south of the water tower were the first refuge for the Towne families.
The Ashland Town Forest has a natural "wealth" of granite outcroppings, upland and lowland swamp, vernal pools, mixed hardwood forest, several open pit quarries, and a former high-bush blueberry farm now overgrown with saplings.
Flora include many ferns, jack-in-the-pulpit, Canada lily, blue flag iris, sweet pepperbush, spicebush, swamp azalea, black gum, highbush blueberry, virgin's-bower, marsh marigold, lady's slipper, starflower, Indian cucumber root, Indian pipes, birds foot violets, shinleaf, pipsissewa, partridge berry, nodding trillium, and basswood. Two "stars" on the list are a large whorled pogonia and American black currant, both considered relatively rare in Massachusetts.
A 1951 inventory of trees int he Town Forest included red and white oak on the drier sites, red maples on the moist sites, natural pine, oak, hickory, grey birch, and black birch stands, and planted white pine, hemlock, red pine and spruce. These trees are the "air filters" for this corner of Ashland and Framingham.
Fauna include deer, red fox, coyote, fisher cats, and a wide variety of birds including pileated wood-pecker, woodcock, wood thrush, re-tailed hawk, turkey vulture, turkeys, and ruffed grouse. An inhabitant of special interest is the rare blue-spotted salamander.