My most recent entry about the Back Bay Fens section of Boston's Emerald Necklace park system inspired me to keep that theme and take my running to the opposite end of the Emerald Necklace to its end at Franklin Park. During the fall, the cross country course is used hundreds of time by high school, college and open runners. It even hosted the 1992 IAAF World Cross-Country Championships.
I was introduced to Franklin Park as a clueless freshman attending the annual Harvard, Yale & Princeton cross country meet as a member of the Princeton team. So clueless was I, that I was partially responsible for the entire junior varsity men's race veering off course. Luckily, I redeemed myself later in the fall when I learned from my faults and assisted in saving the majority of the varsity men at the IC4A Championship from meeting the same fate. Since that fateful fall, I have run many races, logged many training miles, and coached high school athletes in races at Franklin Park. Despite its popularity as a racing destination, at almost any other time it is rarely in use for recreation, outside of the occasional use of playing fields. When I am out running in the park (weekend or weekday), I am often all by myself with miles of trails and parkland at my disposal. This park is the hidden gem of the Emerald Necklace and perhaps of all of Boston. More on this in my Thought of the Day below.
The Run (map): I started the run at the Glen Road entrance at the Jamaica Plain side of the park. I ran up the hill and joined the trail for the cross country course at around the 1/4 mile mark. At this point, the course heads down hill, past White Stadium and up Bear Cage Hill. Bear Cage Hill has an actual deserted bear cage on the top that was part of the original zoo. Running down the back side of Bear Cage Hill, I ran past the "Giraffe Entrance" of the current Franklin Park Zoo (ironically not anywhere near the Giraffe exhibit), down the finish stretch of the cross country course, and past the finish line I crossed over to the golf course side of the park. I followed the series of paths and roads around the course to Scarboro Pond, located on the back side of the course. Then following the pedestrian paths away from the pond I returned to the golf course loop back to the crosswalk and then back to the cross country course. I jumped back on the course for "The Wilderness" section of the course, which is a half-mile long trail through the woods. Upon exiting The Wilderness, I took a left off the course and headed downhill back to my car. Thought for the Day:The fact that so few Boston residents take advantage of the trails through Franklin Park is somewhat frustrating to me. As I mentioned above, when I run in the park I often do not see many other runners. The loop around the golf course gets some use, but it is largely under-utilized. Less than a mile away the Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Pond, and Olmsted Park sections of the Emerald Necklace are often full of people running, walking, biking and just hanging out. These sections, however, are on the border of Brookline, which is one of the most affluent and desirable communities around Boston. So desirable that Red Sox owner John Henry has a mansion just up the street from Jamaica Pond on the Brookline side. Franklin Park, on the hand, is on the border between Jamaica Plain, Dorchester and Mattapan. The sections nearest the park remain less affluent neighborhoods with large immigrant populations. They are neighborhoods often described, by both Boston and non-Boston residents, with the kinds of stereotypes associated with the "inner city." Because of its location, people tend to worry more about personal safety, as though around every corner there might be a drug deal going down, or a mugger hiding behind every rock just waiting for an unsuspecting jogger. In other words, people are afraid to go to Franklin Park out of prejudice. Brookline and the "safe" sections of Jamaica Plain are mainly white, and the folks who utilize Franklin Park on a daily basis are not. Residents in Jamaica Plain pat themselves on the back for embracing the diversity our neighborhood has to offer. Their exercise habits, however, reflect another reality.