The Regional Review

Volume IV - No. 2

February, 1940

Mt. Tom and Massachusetts State: An Object Lesson

State Supervisor Park, Parkway and Recreational Area Study
Boston, Massachusetts

It is axiomatic that state parks are acquired, developed, maintained and operated for the maximum use and enjoyment of all the people. Our state park systems today include varied types of areas, each possessing its special intrinsic qualities for the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of the recreation seeker. Until recently, many park executives considered their job complete after they had provided certain recreational facilities and made necessary provision for their maintenance and operation. It was taken for granted that park visitors would obtain automatically all the possible benefits from the use of an area and its related recreational facilities.

While it is true that some park visitors know how to enjoy themselves in the out-of-doors, they are in the minority. To the great mass of people, particularly those living in cities, outdoor recreation is comparatively new. Their recreational habits and interests have been formed under urban conditions. Nature is strange and bewildering to them. For them to get the fullest value from their outing, they must have an appreciation of nature and the forms of recreation which it makes possible. Interpretational leadership assists them in acquiring this appreciation. It is thus natural that officials are becoming more interested and more conscious of the need for leadership in bringing about greater use of their state parks. Stimulated by the success of demonstration leadership programs carried out on southern parks, efforts to try such a program in a state park in New England were initiated. Some conservative New England opinion was at first expressed against such a venture. It was intimated that existing state parks in the region already receive heavy use and that park visitors did not need, and would not participate in, such a program.

Among those who recognized the possibilities of the proposal was Charles Bray, Secretary of the Mt. Tom State Reservation Commission, who, with his fellow commissioners, decided to experiment with a leadership program at their park. This foresighted decision proved to be another outstanding achievement in the Commission's long period of public service to the thousands of Mt. Tom visitors. The 1939 Mt. Tom recreation program, the first of its kind in any state park in Massachusetts, or for that matter, in New England, proved to be a decided success. The primary objective was to offer park visitors new and stimulating forms of recreation that utilize the resources of the area. As an example, participation in the nature recreation program gave patrons a keener appreciation of the natural beauties of the park and aroused their interest in pursuit of related outdoor hobbies.

Tangible evidence of the popularity of the program is to be found in the thousands of park patrons who engaged in (1) nature recreation (guided nature walks and the use of the self-guided nature trail); (2) campfire program, and (3) day outing activities. The success of the program was due to the great number of cooperating agencies and individuals who donated their time and services. Principal among the contributing agencies was the Massachusetts State College. Since the assistance it rendered represents a concrete example of how such educational institutions can aid similar or related recreational undertakings in non-urban parks the story of its actual participation is worth noting.

It happened this way. When the Mt. Tom State Reservation Commission gave assurance of sponsoring the program and of employing a recreation director, a conference was held with Harold M. Gore, Professor of Physical Education for Men at Massachusetts State College, concerning the possibility of student help in working out details of the plan. A graduate student in Mr. Gore's department, Robert Hunter, chose the problem for his thesis in part fulfillment of requirements for the master's degree. As Mr. Hunter progressed with his problem, it was considered advisable to assign two additional students to assist in planning and to designate the recreational facilities required to carry out the recommended program.

A state park thus may be seen doing service as an excellent laboratory f or college work. Robert Cole, a student in the Special Problems Course in Recreational Physical Education, studying under Dr. William G. Vial, Director of the Nature Guide School, was given the responsibility of planning and laying out the self-guiding nature trail, along with the preparation of all necessary signs and labels. Mr. Cole made numerous inspectional trips to the area before a decision was reached on the final location of the trail. The project required considerable classroom work and research. The assignment was carried on under guidance of Dr. Vinal and correlated with Mr. Hunter's work.

Robert Joyce, the third student (also taking the Special Problems Course) was assigned the task of designing an amphitheater. At the time he was working on that problem, he was studying under Dr. Frank Waugh, head of the Department of Landscape Architecture. Classroom work and special field trips again were the order before construction of the amphitheater began. When the facilities were approved by all concerned, Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees, in typical fashion, did an excellent job of constructing them.

An advisory committee was formed by Mr. Hunter to assist the Mt. Tom Commission, and in particular, the Recreation Director, in carrying out the recommended program. The next step was to appoint a director. A happy choice was made by the Commission in the selection of Mr. Cole who, as already indicated, had training as a naturalist under Dr. Vinal, in addition to basic courses in the philosophy of play and recreation under Prof. Gore and fundamental study in landscape architecture under Dr. Waugh. Before Mr. Cole's official entrance on duty, he was given practical laboratory experience, under the supervision of Dr. Vinal, in conducting various groups of students and neighborhood organizations on nature walks.

The assignment of the three students taking the Special Problems Course and the collaboration of three major departments of the Massachusetts State College in developing this specific recreation program resulted in a unique and valuable contribution to the field of recreation research. The successful experience clearly indicates one method through which colleges can assist in the solution of some of the problems of recreation.

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Date: 04-Jul-2002