The clock has struck mid-afternoon, and I’ve been at my laptop all day, pounding out posts for my sweet gig as co-editor of The Swellesley Report. My day has been busy, as usual, and I’d like to keep the momentum going. To do that, I must stay the pendulum’s swing. It may sound counterintuitive, but to keep going at work, I have to take a break from work. If I don’t rise and venture out, away from screens and the whole texting scene, late-day sluggishness will result. Time to hit refresh. I’m going to Lake Waban.
(Update 2021: Sadly for the general public, this walk is no longer accessible—unless you’re in with the Hunnewells.)
The 2.5 mile loop around the 40-feet deep lake is a year-round joy. The spot is beloved by runners, walkers, dog owners, photographers, catch-and-release fishers, and anyone who simply wants to enjoy a quiet path shaded by a canopy of mature trees. Bikes are not allowed. For the uninitiated, the woodland spot can be a little tricky to find. A good parking spot is the lot across from the Wellesley College Club, located at 727 Washington Street, on Route 16. Cross the street at either of two well-marked crosswalks. You can then access the path to the left of the College Club.
The entire lake is surrounded by private property, some owned by Wellesley College, some by the Hunnewell family. On the lake path, it’s important to remember that we are all guests of either the college or the Hunnewells. Visitors and their dogs are welcome as long as they keep to the paths, and their dogs are kept leashed. It’s a sweet privilege, so don’t let the “no trespassing” signs get you into a huff. They’re a reminder not to stray onto the properties of the several huge homes that ring the lake, perched on slight rises to take advantage of the view. Also, no jumping into the lake off the recently repaired balustrade, as I’ve lately seen high-spirited youths doing. Swimming is not allowed in Lake Waban. The lake was heavily polluted with lead chromate and other chemicals by the former Henry Wood’s Sons Paint Factory, which was in operation between 1848 and the early 1920s. The factory stood by the current college athletic track, and according to a study conducted by Wellesley College, the factory “regularly discharged pigment waste onto ground surface, into unlined on-site lagoons, and into adjoining water bodies known as Waban Brook and Lake Waban.”
In the 1990s, Wellesley College embarked on a major environmental clean-up of the area that included wetlands restoration and improvement of water quality. Although the lake is now considered clean enough for swimming, it still is not allowed. Old-timers recall a public beach area adjacent to the campus boathouse, but that’s a part of the past. I’ve heard the fishing is good in the lake, but just don’t eat your catch.
What you can enjoy are views of the lake against the backdrop of the beautiful architecture of Wellesley College, the topiary garden, the boardwalk through the marsh area, and the swans’ shenanigans as they boss around the Canada geese. The path itself is flat and easy, narrow in spots, with occasional tripping hazards such as roots and stones. The average walker will have little trouble with this easy, level loop, but those with mobility challenges might find it difficult going. Overall, the trail feels just long enough to be considered real exercise.
My favorite view: that from Pond Street looking across the lake to Galen Tower. As a child I read a lot of Grimm’s fairy tales, so I always suspect a princess is locked away up there. Then I remind myself that this is Wellesley College. Even if a princess somehow found herself banished to Galen Tower, the College “sibs” (as they collectively refer to one another) would quickly take care of business. First they’d spring the princess. Then they’d educate her. Finally, they’d send her out into the world to make trouble rather than being the victim of trouble.
For a humble townsperson living life far beneath the Tower, the Lake Waban trail has the ability to remove all troubles. That walk can open my mind to contemplative focus, something akin to a Psalm 23-style religious experience. It restoreth my soul. On especially good days, the loop leadeth me in the path of righteousness. Refreshed, I can get back to work. With perspective, I suddenly know which tasks to double down on, and which to let go.
Thanks for the clarity, Lake Waban. I toss a stone into your waters, and come away with energy. I look across your blue fields, and float through the rest of my day.
Will Wellesley College ban dogs on Lake Waban Path? Unlikely, but….
Another nice loop: Gates Pond in Berlin, Massachusetts
Can’t make it to a lake? Try a labyrinth walk
Sarah Chamberlain says
Thank you Deborah, you have clarified all my questions and have me heading out to Waban pond for some clarity.
Derek Lee says
I sent an email about water quality to a scientist who worked on the clean up. I was concerned because even now and for about 30 plus years I have been Windsurfing occassionally here. He actually said…”As long as you do not drink too much, it shouldn’t be an issue. So maybe the fact it was polluted is just a way to keep out everyone else from treating this gem the way I have since I was 17….