Gate 54A is the first place in the Quabbin I ever visited, and so it is first in my priorities of dialogue. This gate is one of four gates that pilot directly into Quabbin Park, and is nearest to Winsor Dam. Being situated in the vicinity of DCR (Dept. of Conservation and Recreation) HQ, it is one of two central avenues to access the dam and Visitor’s Center (the other road is not actually a Quabbin gate, but only a road leading to a parking area). The focal attraction for this ingress, however, has less to do with tourism, and more to do with landmark and with the best man-made view in the Quabbin; a place I call Enfield Tower.
Enfield Tower is sometimes referred to as Lookout Tower or Quabbin Park Tower, but is not to be confused with Enfield Lookout, which is north of the tower, down the slope, and does not proffer quite the same viewing range as Enfield Tower.
Gate 54A is accessed through a driveway in the Quabbin Reservoir which draws from Route 9 in Ware. When you get toward the end of this driveway, there will be a pullover parking lot on the right, before the road forks. If you opt to fork left (which is more of a straight-ahead direction), then you’ll need to park in this side lot because there’s a locked gate, as driving by anyone other than DCR personnel is prohibited. Otherwise, as I did, you may fork right in your vehicle to continue along the road.
Immediately on your left as you make that right turn, you can glance down and see a small waterway. As you move further around the left bend, you lose sight of all water and become inundated with forest on both left and right.
Your next view of the water will be via a picturesque seascape on the left that allows you to pull in, pull over, or turn around. Whichever you select, you’re sure to enjoy the view.
In due course, you will come to a rotary at the top of the hill. When you do, you will need to go through the rotary and take the first right in order to set about the short driveway to the parking lot beneath Enfield Tower. But look fast; almost as soon as you commence your ascent from the rotary, you can look to the right and up the hill to catch your first foretaste of the tower in its gallantly unassailable view over the Quabbin Reservoir. Once upon the inner recesses of its top tier, you will be able to see out of its Air Traffic Control Tower-like windows all the way from Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire to Connecticut on a clear day.
Beneath the knoll to Enfield Tower is a sizeable plateau used for parking, and the driveway loops around the parking field along the ridge. However, you can park virtually anyplace except the length of the driveway to the tower itself; once again, prohibited except to DCR personnel vehicles. This open field/parking lot leaves copious room for vehicles to drive around the loop or park, while observing a comfortable yet proverbial bulwark between playing children and traffic. There are also a small number of footpaths available to the grown trailblazer in the Southeast corner.
The walk up the hill to the tower is indeed not for the indolent, however it’s effortlessly consummate by any person capable of walking by themselves. My kids, at the time ages 9, 4, and 3, were able to walk it, and I was able to push my 1 year-old in the stroller with no complications or real challenges.
Once at the pinnacle, I quickly understood why so many people get married there. The view from the ground alone was extraordinary. From that position, in front of the tower, you could see water below and mountains peeking through the vapor in the far west. The grounds are very well maintained and groomed. The vegetation is left to grow, uninhibited by man’s presence or persistent visitation.
Subsequent to climbing several flights of stairs, I made it to the crown of the tower and was able to look out and see much more illustrious views out of the large windows.
To the west is Belchertown, and to the north is Prescott Peninsula, now a part of New Salem. This view, which is almost all-inclusive of the Quabbin, should inspire at least a fleeting prologue of its history and purpose.
Now let’s back up to that fork in the road. After departing Enfield Tower and going back through the rotary and back down the hill to that parking area on the right as you come in on the entry road, I parked the car and then ventured back in the direction of the left fork in the road, but this time on foot.
To my children’s as well as my own excitement, we saw a family of wild turkeys itinerant in the tree line along the road to the gate. Wild turkeys are not an atypical scene in certain parts of the Quabbin, nor is it unheard of to bear witness to bobcats, beavers, deer, bears, moose, loons, and an innumerable host of other indigenous wildlife. The first we saw, however, was wild turkey!
Immediately upon crossing past the gate to Winsor Dam was a bridge that passed over The Gorge. At the time, the water level was relatively low, but an inspiring sight nonetheless. Soon after, the well-groomed grounds of Enfield Tower as well as the “remarkable” view of The Gorge became pale compared to the humbling majesty of Winsor Dam!
Your first glimpse of this Quabbin Wonder will be in the form of an enormous, pitched hill which is mowed from left to right, in aggregate, horizontal tread from top to bottom. A path on the left side of the road leads down to the base of the hill which snakes around through the backside of Quabbin Park. As you continue along the road, to your front and where the road ells to the left, you will see a pillared monument dedicated to the Engineer who designed the dam (and after whom the dam is named). As it states, the dam is 2,640 feet long and 170 feet high.
The high road, which spans athwart the top of the dam, begins by mirroring the snake-like course of the base path described a moment ago, but then straightens out across the overwhelming preponderance of the dam. On both sides are tremendous views; on the left –the sloping, grassy hill; on the right –the view of the water from its southern-most point.
As I trekked along, I encountered a Cedar Waxwing perched on the outcrop. Yet another wildlife encounter dissimilar to anything you might see in most other places.
I realize that birdwatchers and animal lovers will not see anything superficially exceptional with the wild turkeys and Cedar Waxwing, but understand that I am making known these sightings as a reference for perspective. We spent a sum of 2 or 3 hours in our first voyage to the Quabbin, and had seen 2 things that most of us had never seen before.
The Quabbin is an enchanting place. It lives up to its name as the Accidental Wilderness as well as the title of New England’s Best Kept Secret. Don’t consent to any of my diatribes filling your head with illusions of what the Quabbin is, because it’s something different to everyone, and each one sees every element of it in distinctive ways. Whether you are a lover of nature or not, an intrepid explorer or a couch potato, a hiker, a climber, a camper, fisherman, hunter, or computer geek, the Quabbin will leave a lasting impression for your entire life.
I would pioneer my life in the Quabbin with Gate 54A all over again. It’s a grand preliminary spot. The Visitor’s Center is in close proximity so you can get all the information the internet won’t provide and the view from Enfield Tower is genially teasing, as it allows you to see most of what there is to ascertain without being ensconced in its opulence. If nothing else, it’s a rousing venue to engage your senses and tempt a further, more intimate review of The Quabbin Reservoir in Central Massachusetts.