TOWNSEND -- Want to go swimming? Maybe hike Mt. Watatic? Perhaps you would rather ride your bicycle or even go camping.
In a 23-square-mile area, with Townsend right in the center, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation provides places for all these activities and more.
It doesn't cost much either, a welcome thought for financially-strapped families.
The swimming areas at Willard Brook State Forest and Pearl Hill State Park both see heavy use during hot summer days, said Bruce Colburn, Acting Lead Supervisor for DCR.
Over the July 4 holiday, an estimated 1,000 per day visited Damon Pond, the swimming area at Willard Brook. Parking is only $5 per car and day visitors are drawn from nearby towns and from as far away as the metropolitan Boston area, he said.
"It was a very busy one. It went very well," Colburn said.
After the crowds left, he and the staff had their hands full cleaning up the mounds of trash left behind. "The crows and skunks help," he said.
Colburn was named acting supervisor when Ed Torcoletti retired at the end of June.
"This is a career I've loved my entire life," Colburn said.
Colburn worked his way up through the ranks at different DCR properties, starting as a laborer after he returned from the Vietnam War as a disabled veteran.
His connection with Willard Brook began in childhood when he used to ride his bike from Brookline Road to Damon Pond to swim.
It was more than
He now sits behind the same desk his father did so many years ago.
Keeping the properties safe and attractive for visitors does not leave much time for sitting at the desk.
A trip from end to end of the Nashua River Rail Trail takes up at least two hours, Colburn said. Seasonal DCR employees pick up trash around the parking lots but he still needs to make sure the trail is clear of obstacles.
The campgrounds draw people from virtually everywhere, he said.
Travelers on a tour of the country stop on their way through and the tenting areas are a good place for a quick weekend escape for locals.
"We're the cheapest show around for a weekend," he said.
Sites begin at $8 per night. Pearl Hill is rated one of the top 100 tenting campgrounds in the country, he said.
He recommended making reservations at www.reserveamerica.com or by calling 1-877-422-6762. Campers can also stop at the park headquarters on Route 119, but sometimes the sites are already booked.
The state built a yurt to accommodate larger groups and provide handicap accessible facilities at Willard Brook. The round, cloth-covered structure has a ramp, bunk beds and electricity. It is the largest yurt in the state system.
Both campgrounds allow leashed pets. Dogs must be current on their rabies vaccine, licensed and cannot be left alone.
When the summer season is over and the crowds go home, the bathrooms and campgrounds close and the seasonal workers leave.
Off-season activities continue. The park headquarters is a deer check station and birders count hawks at Mt. Watatic.
The Friends of Willard Brook and the Friends of the Nashua River Rail Trail run programs and help with maintenance year-round.
Next spring, as summer approaches, other volunteers will arrive. The North America Family Campers Association, Squaw-No-Cook Chapter, shows up each year. They set up their campers and pitch in for the annual spring clean-up.