A return to Wellesley’s entire Lake Waban path, at least for a day

It’s been 4 years since the path around Lake Waban, arguably the nicest nature route in town, was closed to the public as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. Wellesley College reopened its portion of the 2.5-mile loop in November of 2021, but the Hunnewell-owned section has remained off-limits to those outside that circle. At that time, the College issued a memo that included: “However, earlier this year the Hunnewells informed the College and the Town that they will not be reopening their portion of the lake path to the public.”

We’ve never heard directly from the Hunnewells about why the path has remained closed, though would welcome an update. We’ve heard everything from bad behavior by users (e.g., unleashed dogs, vandalism) to disagreement about public use by the landowners. Neither town nor Wellesley College officials have had updates to share on this.

Lake Waban trail hunnewell section topiary garden

But I did take a triumphant circuit around the lake on Saturday along with others after the gates were unlocked on both ends (one near Pond Road, the other nearer the Wellesley College president’s house). A group of Wellesley College students on the path told me they get emails every so often that the loop will be open.

“Is this a top secret email list?” I asked? “Yes,” they said. (Other students have since told us the path openings tend to coincide with things like exam weeks and happen about once per semester.)

Whether the gates to the path are opened occasionally is for tax or other reasons, we’re unsure.

The campus was buzzing on Saturday afternoon with sports teams in action  (I saw a great catch by visiting WPI’s centerfielder end the first game of a softball doubleheader), students enjoying food trucks and inflatables, and parents and newly accepted students making the rounds (and perhaps talking about that $92K -plus tuition/room/board price tag for 2024-2025). There was also the surprising sight of people walking, running, and escorting (leashed!) dogs all the way around the lake, even past the famed Hunnewell topiary garden, which includes a bunny… perhaps an Easter leftover.

Lake Waban trail hunnewell section

There remain lots of signs—some old, maybe some new—warning people to stay off the trail and surrounding property. So there’s no visible indication based on the signs that a permanent reopening is in the works.

I assume the huge reduction in foot traffic on the trail in recent years has resulted in positive environmental changes, though I wasn’t sure if I was seeing any. There appeared to be fresh plantings on the berm near the ornamental balustrade that curves around the shore in front of the topiary (the marble railing itself appeared to have been restored). I didn’t see a lot of wildlife, but noticed cormorants posing on a fallen tree above the water. The homes overlooking the lake seem to have undergone upgrades.

Whether you’ll find the gates unlocked if you head over, I’m afraid we can’t say. But you could get lucky.

If it’s any consolation, you can walk ALL THE WAY around the new Hunnewell Elementary School building.

(Note that the Lake Waban trail is not part of the town-owned trail system in Wellesley.)

You can get a close-up of the Hunnewell Estate on May 4 on a horticulture tour via the Wellesley Historical Society (tickets are $75).

wellesley college gate trail

Lake Waban trail hunnewell section

Lake Waban trail hunnewell section

Lake Waban trail hunnewell section

Lake Waban trail hunnewell section

Lake Waban trail hunnewell sectionLake Waban trail hunnewell section

lake waban hunnewell sideLake Waban trail hunnewell section

Lake Waban trail hunnewell section

Lake Waban trail hunnewell section


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