Discover what Greater Springfield has to offer.
Discover what Greater Springfield has to offer.
Located in the Victorian garden district known as Forest Park in Springfield, Massachusetts, is a beautiful recreation park of the same name. The town itself was developed between 1880 and 1920, and the park was established in 1884. Today, it remains a popular tourist stop for both visitors and locals to visit.
Forest Park Lily Ponds Springfield, MA | Image Credit: Seussinspringfield.org
Forest Park now covers 735 acres of land that overlooks the Connecticut River. However, it started as just 65 acres, donated by Orick H. Greenleaf in 1884. Soon after, 178 more acres were donated by Everett Hosmer Barney, a wealthy philanthropist.
Both Greenleaf and Barney convinced their wealthy friends into donating the remaining land that would comprise the park as it is known today for 735 total acres. They joined the Board of Park Commissioners, along with John Olmsted, whose kin, Frederick Law Olmsted would later go on to become the landscape architect to design the features that Forest Park contains today.
Barney's house, an exquisite 2.5-story Victorian mansion built in 1890, was also on the property through the carriage house is the only portion that remains in the modern world. That house, along with an array of attractions, is why people flock to Forest Park.
With winding wooded trails and breathtaking views, Forest Park exudes beauty at every turn. Amid the natural surroundings, Olmsted the landscape architect included an outdoor amphitheater, a zoo, and aquatic gardens, among other things. Forest Park has plenty to keep all ages entertained throughout the year.
Most notably, there's the Forest Park Zoo plus an array of playgrounds, an ice skating rink also used for ice hockey during colder months, sports area, and a swimming pool which was the first public swimming pool (opened in 1899), ponds, and plenty more. You're bound to see a variety of birds and other wildlife during your visit.
Even if you spend a full day in Forest Park, likely, you won't get to do and see it all. For most visitors, these main attractions are a must for any itinerary.
Barney's beautiful home is available to tour. While only the Carriage House remains from his estate, it is often used for different events. Weddings and large parties make up the majority of functions held in this historic setting, though park visitors can take a look and revel in the beauty of classic Victorian architecture.
For visitors with children or those that simply love animals, the Forest Park Zoo is a must visit. Here, you can see over 200 animals, both domestic and exotic, from birds to zebras and everything in between. The zoo also has a learning center to help create awareness for animals and their environment.
Open daily from 10 am until 4 pm, you may also find that the zoo's local community programs like Zoo on the Go and Zoo Camp are available while you're visiting. You can also arrange for Zoo Birthday Parties with the animals to delight your child. For adults, the fee for the zoo is $10 while military and seniors pay $7 for entry. Children between the ages of 1 and 12 have an admission fee of only $5 per child while children under the age of one are granted free admission.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful parts of Forest Park is The Rose Garden. The gazebo here is a favored choice for those holding outdoor weddings and is perfect for photos ops. However, any visitor is welcome to discover this gorgeous garden where you can walk amid the roses and enjoy the fragrant air.
The Duck Pond is another tranquil spot in Forest Park, perfect for a relaxing stroll with the kids. You'll see Mallard, Pintail, and other duck varieties but that's not all. Swans, Blue Heron, Canadian Geese, and Egrets all flock here as well. This is a great area for a picnic too.
For active visitors, the abundance of recreation at Forest Park will keep you busy all day. There are 23 public tennis courts, including clay courts. If you've ever wanted to take up tennis, you'll find programs for adults and kids. Or get into your favorite sport on the basketball courts, soccer fields, Walker Baseball Field, and bocce courts. Additionally, the paths and trails here make for a prime setting for fitness. Walk, bike, or run while enjoying the view. In the summer, enjoy a swim, and in winter, lace up your ice skates!
Throughout the year, there are numerous events at Forest Park including movie nights, outdoor concerts, and plenty more. One of the biggest events happens during the winter called Bright Nights. This lighting spectacle features light-up exhibits coordinated in time and color, featuring many works from Dr. Seuss who was a native of Springfield. Achieving national acclaim, visitors eagerly await the two-mile-long drive through the park to enjoy this family holiday tradition that runs from the third week of November through the holiday season.
Additionally, the Summer Sizzler series is hosted here, which offers the chance to compete in cross country and road races. In the winter, the Snowstorm Classic is hosted at Forest Park.
If you're on Interstate 91, Forest Park is easy to find. You'll want to take exit 2 over to Summer Avenue and you'll find the park entrance. For those with Massachusetts plates, the entry fee is $3, for out-of-state plates, entry is $5. This entry fee doesn't include admission to the Forest Park Zoo, however. You can enjoy the rest of the grounds at your leisure, be sure to pack your food for your visit as there are no eateries located inside Forest Park, not even at the zoo.