TOWNSEND -- Memorial Day, the traditional opening day for swimming areas, has just passed and folks at the nearby state recreation area are preparing for the crowds that will follow.
"We're busy getting the ponds ready to go," said Bruce Colburn, acting lead supervisor. Willard Brook State Forest and Pearl Hill State Park are two of the Massachusetts Department of Recreation and Conservation properties that fall under his guidance.
Nine long-term seasonal workers have returned. The dams have been closed to fill the ponds. Loads of new sand were spread before the areas officially opened over the Memorial Day weekend.
Swimming is just one of the popular activities at these Townsend and Ashby open spaces. Trails are open for hiking and mountain biking and both parks offer camping. The sites at Pearl Hill are rated among the top 100 in the country by Reserve America, Colburn said. Reservations can be made online at www.reserveamerica.com. The areas are staffed part of the day and into the evening, so late arrivals can be accommodated.
Dogs on leashes 10 feet long or less are allowed at campsites, but alcohol is not. "You will be asked to leave," Colburn said.
The feared arrival of invasive insects has caused a big change in the rules affecting firewood. Wood may not be brought into the parks and none may be removed. Bundles of firewood can be purchased for $5 a bundle.
State officials have placed traps in order to look for Asian Longhorned Beetles and the Emerald Ash Borer. None have been found so far.
Staffing has been reduced over the last few years. Only one person works year round. The swimming areas no longer have lifeguards but there is a payphone at each pond.
The campgrounds are not staffed all night long, but there have been few problems, Colburn said. "The local police have been terrific," he said.
The two parks are just a part of the state land patrolled and taken care of by Colburn and his crew. Areas for passive recreation abound.
The Nashua River Rail Trail, running from Ayer to Nashua, N.H., is a popular spot. DCR makes sure the trailsides are mowed and the trail is kept clear of leaves in the autumn. "I try to do it as often as I can," Colburn said.
Responsibility for maintaining the summit of Mount Watatic also falls to the DCR crew. The area is managed by a group that includes DCR, Mass. Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Ashby Land Trust, the Ashburnham Conservation Trust and the towns of Ashby and Ashburnham.
Mount Watatic is becoming increasingly popular because of the wonderful views from the top, he said. On a recent Sunday morning, parked cars overflowed from the parking area onto the shoulders of Route 119 in Ashburnham.
Colburn also keeps an eye on the Townsend State Forest and the Squannacook River State Forest in Townsend and the J. Harry Rich State Forest in Groton.
Many people are not aware of all the outside recreational opportunities in the Townsend area, Colburn said. He hopes to see more people than ever using the parks this year.