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Lynn Woods ranger preps 2,200-acre reservation for spring and summer

Lynn Woods Ranger Dan Small makes his way down a path as he goes to replace the marker sign for Needham's Clearing. (Spenser R. Hasak)

LYNN — It’s a quiet place defined by pristine natural settings and Lynn Woods Ranger Dan Small said all of that is about to change as spring takes hold in the 2,200-acre reservation off Pennybrook and Great Woods roads.

The woods’ chief custodian for 20 years and a Lynn resident, Small is busy preparing for the April 27 annual Earth Fest cleanup and he is replacing signs along roads and paths in preparation for a sharp uptick in people running and walking in the woods.

With its running and hiking paths, reservoirs and hills with panoramic views, Lynn Woods is a local natural resource and recreation spot rich with Lynn history.

Used year-round, the woods’ busiest seasons are spring and late summer and fall. Parking lots and entrance roads off Penny Brook Road and Great Woods Road provide primary access into the woods for hikers, runners, dog walkers and mountain bikers.

“Spring came early and it’s already crazy on Saturdays. You can’t get a parking space,” Small said.

Founded in 1881, and listed on the city website as “the second-largest municipal park in the United States,” Lynn Woods encompasses Breeds Pond and Walden Pond and is managed by the Lynn Water and Sewer Commission.

Small is a Water and Sewer employee but his job ranges from clearing trees blocking paths to assuring woods users that the reservation is a perfectly safe place to walk into and enjoy nature provided adventurers bring along a little common sense.

“I get asked all the time if it’s safe. I think there was a perception that it wasn’t safe. It took awhile to shake that,” Small said.

Enjoying the woods means wearing sturdy shoes, carrying water, keeping dogs on leashes and staying on the paths. With help from Salem State University student intern Kasey Harris, Small designed, carved and painted 60 direction signs during the winter to replace a hodgepodge of differently shaped and lettered signs. He will replace another 60 signs next year.

“These should be good for another 30 years,” he said.

Next Saturday’s woods cleanup starts at the Pennybrook Road entrance at 8:30 a.m. with coffee for volunteers and the cleanup starting at 9 a.m. The cleanup lasts until noon when pizza, live music and a snake show round off the day.

Small credits woods users who walk or run in the reservation throughout the year with keeping him posted about downed trees or other maintenance needs and picking up trash.

Swampscott resident Laurie Regan doesn’t consider herself a woods regular, but the school teacher enjoys walking on its trails with sons, Jack, 9, and Lochlan, 1½.

“I like that it’s quiet and we like discussing different bugs and trees,” Regan said.

There’s plenty to do in the woods besides hiking and running, Small said. History abounds just off the trails with dirt mounds revealing remains of home foundations dating back 300 years.

Beyond where it intersects with Parkland Avenue, Dungeon Avenue becomes a ghost road traversing the bottom of Breeds Pond. Small said the road was originally used as a way into the woods in the 1850s and became submerged over subsequent decades as Breeds grew from a mill pond to its current size.

“When the water level is low, you can still see traces of the road,” he said.

One of his long-term projects is preserving Lynn Woods’ variety of trees. Disease has taken a toll on chestnuts, elms and ashes. But hickory, oak and red maple trees thrive in the woods.

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