Gate 31, otherwise known as Fishing Area 2, requires a fee and is one of only 3 places you must pay to park in the Quabbin. Should you resolve to go boating in the Quabbin, this is, in my opinion, the best of the three sanctioned launch areas. 1) because it allows a “top-to-bottom” method for exploration and, 2) because it also offers the option of launching a boat either directly into the Quabbin or in an adjacent lake section of the Quabbin.
Should you decide to delve into the Reservoir itself, you will either have to have a certificate from an authorized agent stating that your boat has been cleaned in accordance with Massachusetts State Law and DCR guidelines due to invasive Zebra Mollusks, or you will have to rent a motor boat from the DCR. In either case you will need, at a minimum, a one-day fishing license, a fishing pole, and a motorboat, as they are the ONLY authorized mode of transport permissible in the Quabbin (Pontoons not allowed) and children under 12 must wear life vests. If kayak or canoe are your choice, the adjacent pond I mentioned will be your venue. Otherwise there are rates for a half-day of boating as well as a full day and parking with a boat trailer will cost more. Boating season varies from year to year as does the launch and return times within each season. It’s best to contact the DCR directly to view schedules.
If you wanted to circumvent the parking fee, you could park outside the gate along the main road, but there may be laws against that and you could be subject to a fine. I only mention it because I see people doing that frequently. However, should you do so, be sure to bring a stroller or a wagon if you have small children. The walk to the parking area is not far for an adult, but kids will fritter the better half of their energy reserves just getting to the first waypoint along this journey, and certainly won’t be in any frame of mind or body to walk back when the fun is over.
Gate 31 can be found not far down the road on Route 122 in New Salem after turning where Route 202 (Daniel Shays Highway) splits from 122 at the flashing, yellow light. You will first catch sight of a giant sign that reads, “Fishing Area 2.” When you take the right turn into the driveway, you are immediately under a canopy of trees on a paved road that leads you through the gate and past a small utility shed on the left. After a bend to the right you are directed to turn left, toward the parking lot, at which time you can catch your initial glimpse of the water that makes the Quabbin a reservoir. Be sure to stop at the stop sign by the cabin and let them know whether your purpose is to go boating or just park and walk around. On my first outing they actually let me park for free since I told them I wouldn’t be long and they weren’t exactly short on residual parking spaces.
If you’re looking to hear about the boating experience and see the superlative views from the water, then you’ll have to come back and read “Quabbin Waters” followed by the gate from which I launched. This spot references the grounds immediately contiguous the Gate 31 area.
FYI prior to entering the parking area, there’s a nice bike trail to the end of the driveway on the left side, which allows you to continue on to the Fairview Hill area and beyond.
When you have parked your car, you will be able to navigate in 4 different directions around the parking area. The first is back to the bike trail I mentioned. Second, the boat launch area. Third, the pond situated across from the parking lot and down the road. And fourth, through the gate to the old main road, which leads northward to Spriggy Brook and then west to Millington (presently New Salem).
Looking into the water beyond the boat launch area, you see what you would expect from the Quabbin with blue waters and green trees. Directly across the water is Bassett Island, a lush, green, dense bouquet of trees hovering over the water. A narrow channel goes left (east) around the isle and a larger body of water travels around its north side to carry you into the northern-most parts of the Quabbin.
The total quantity of time you could spend in this first fragment of Gate 31 is perhaps no more than 15 minutes, as there is not much to see or do. I also prefer secluded locations, sparsely occupied by visitors and, depending on the day and time, Gate 31 normally has more visitor traffic than most places. If nothing else, they have 2 employees in the shed or working at any given time. There are restrooms on the hill here, too, in case you find the need.
If you travel across the street in the direction of the pond, you’ll see racks with canoes by the water that you can also lease from the DCR in the shed. Heading out to this inlet of water offers some analogous views to what’s on the other side, but appears to be less maintained and traversed. Lilly pads blanket the right side toward the shore, and arbitrary pond debris trails outward into the depths. Still, amid these innate interruptions, the lively content of the milieu capture your imagination with stalwart blues and effervescent greens. The tranquility of this nestle is shocking considering just a stone’s-throw away are the sights and sounds of steady sportsmen traffic and government toil.
The fourth area of Gate 31 takes you down a very lengthy road that, technically, doesn’t end until you get to Moosehorn Brook in New Salem. My journey took me only to just a little farther than Horseshoe Dam, just before the paved road turns to soil.
And speaking of paved roads- this old, main road is stroller-friendly, though you will hit a couple of patches of dirt that will compel either momentum or muscle to get through. The rolling hills of this road wind in archetypal, New England fashion, offering brilliant vistas left and right at every turn. Horseshoe Dam is one of the first, interesting sites along this road. It’s a pockmark, for lack of a better term, that allows water to drain and siphon away. It’s abutted to its upper side by two tangential pylons, which join in the center and shoot outward in order to partition the two boating areas. As you are on a viaduct in front of Horseshoe Dam, you can turn 180º to see another stunning sight in and around the waters. To me, this bridge by Horseshoe Dam is a “pivotal” one. It is here that you can view both boating areas in the Quabbin at the same time. Here, disparate to Bassett Island, the trees are recessed so as to impart a narrow, rock-strewn beach afore the trees, extricating the green from the blue.
As you continue your walk along the old, main road, you see more of the same, striking vegetation crowding both sides of this meandering, bouncy lane. Where the pavement ends, having been stroller-bound, I decided to turn around and head back. When I did, I realized that the “back-view” actually made the walk look completely different. I can ascribe this to the offset and waxing and waning of protruding vegetation along the road. They say that when you’re in the desert, you should look behind you every so often as you walk, so that on the way back you won’t get lost as easily. The same is true for any environment, really, as this day proved. If there were not one road the entire way, I just might have taken a wrong turn.
Green arrow indicates launch site for DCR rental boats, yellow will be discussed in “Quabbin Waters: Gate 31.” Above launch site shows path to pond and road to Horseshoe Dam.
Bicycle paths are normally marked on the trails, but it’s always best to check the DCR website for the latest information.
Bassett Island as seen from the boat launch
Pivoting from Horseshoe Dam to the Reservoir
The road as seen from Horseshoe Dam back to the boat launch