Worcester makes it easy for residents to enjoy nature.
Spend hours walking through the woods, take in the beauty of a waterfall, see owls and other wildlife up close, and then … pull up a chair for a freshly made hot lunch or go shopping?
This is outdoor recreation in Worcester, where the wonders of nature mix seamlessly with the amenities of city life, allowing residents to readily stay active and healthy.
“Part of one’s well-being needs to include a component of outdoor recreation, and it’s so easy to do that here,” says Erin Giza, who lives in the Tatnuck Square neighborhood of Worcester with her husband and their 8-year-old son. “You can get out and enjoy nature and feel like you’ve completely escaped the city and then just walk right back to your front door or stop somewhere to eat.
“My husband and I both grew up in very rural areas, and it’s nice for us to be able to feel like we’re still in our little country town, but then we have all the other benefits of a city. So, it’s really the best of both worlds.”
One of the main reasons for the easy access to outdoor recreation is the presence of 62 parks spread throughout the region that feature elements of both nature and city.
These include the nearly 500-acre Green Hill Park (which has an 18-hole golf course, a petting zoo and a 30-acre lake), Coes Pond Park (with approximately 5 miles of walking trails and a popular children’s playground), Institute Park (the site of several summer festivals and concerts) and Elm Park (one of the nation’s earliest designated public parks, dating to the mid 1800s, with basketball courts, tennis courts and a disc golf course).
“It’s important to be able to get people off the couch and into the community to enjoy what we have here. I have found that people who don’t make outdoor recreation a priority, for whatever reason, are constantly surprised by all the green and blue spaces we have in Worcester.”
Beth Proko, Indian Lake Watershed Association
In addition, Worcester helps encourage children to take part in outdoor recreation through Recreation Worcester, a free program that combines curriculum-based learning with athletics and the arts. The program takes place during the summer at 12 city parks.
Trails & Lakes
Beyond the parks, the Greater Worcester Land Trust and Mass Audubon oversee approximately 3,000 acres of land and trails for public use. Highlights along the trails include The Cascades (with its 60-foot-high waterfall), the 33-acre Cook’s Pond (home to herons and other waterfowl), the 53-acre KinneyWoods (a beautiful hardwood forest filled with streams) and Donker Farm (Worcester’s only working farm, with sheep, chickens and geese).
“The Land Trust has worked to make a lot of these properties connected, so you can get from one part of the city to another without walking along the streets,” Giza says. “You feel like you’re in the mountains instead of the city.”
Additional outdoor recreation opportunities can be found at the 193-acre Indian Lake, the largest body of water located completely within Worcester.
The lake has three public access points – Morgan Landing, Shore Park and Indian Lake Beach – with a boat ramp, areas for swimming and fishing, picnic tables, a tennis court and a 3-mile trail that encircles the water.
62 parks are spread throughout the Worcester region
Several special events are held each year at the 7-acre Shore Park, including concerts, food truck festivals and lessons for beginning kayakers and canoers. In 2021, Indian Lake began offering the Blue Space Angler Event Series as a way to introduce residents to the sport of fishing.
“It’s important to be able to get people off the couch and into the community to enjoy what we have here,” says Beth Proko, president of the Indian Lake Watershed Association. “I have found that people who don’t make outdoor recreation a priority, for whatever reason, are constantly surprised by all the green and blue spaces we have in Worcester.
“These are huge assets for the city. It’s such an important piece of our health, as a city and as individuals, to be able to have opportunities to get outside and recreate and walk and explore. The more we can invest in these spaces and really highlight all the advantages they provide, the better it is for today and for future generations.”