Bash Bish Falls State Park is a state park located in the town of Mount Washington, Massachusetts. The park contains two waterfalls on the North Fork of the Charles River, which flows within Boston’s Metropolitan Statistical Area. It is managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. Bash Bish State Forest includes approximately 1,300 acres (5km2), most of which consists of mature hardwood forests. There are several waterfalls on the North Fork of the Charles River including Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls.
The river cascades about 20 feet over a 400-foot run down the face of South Mountain. The mountain itself stands some 600 feet above the surrounding countryside. The park has hiking trails leading to views of these falls and others farther upriver. The park is used as the home field station for radio telescopes such as those belonging to the Harvard University astronomy department. These facilities are housed in the nearby Hopeville Pond Observatory. The park hosts the annual International Astronomy Festival each June. The festival features amateur and professional astronomers demonstrating their skills, offering information about current research projects, and providing access to space science exhibits. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as “the largest small town party in America”.
Each summer evening begins with a keynote address by a prominent astronomer, followed by three scientific presentations and a variety of other entertainment. Over 30,000 people attend the event each year. The festival takes place at the Taconic Outdoor Education Center just outside of the park entrance. The center provides camping sites, picnic areas and extensive grounds maintenance during the week of the festival. At weekends, the area becomes a full service campground with tent and trailer sites, electric vehicle charging stations, and boat rentals. Campsites range from the very simple (an open grassy area with no amenities), to fully furnished cottages (with central HVAC and satellite TVA/Cable). Toilets and showers are provided at the campsite, but waterfowl may not be stored overnight. Renters should bring their own sheets, blankets and towels. No pets are allowed inside the park.
The observatory is closed to visitors between dusk and dawn, so that the telescope operators can focus on the sky without light pollution from street lamps and neighboring houses. During these times, only official festival guests are admitted to the facility. Official festival guest status does not guarantee entry to the observatory; rather, it gives priority treatment to those with special passes required for regular admission to the park.
Today, the site of the former residence serves as the park headquarters and visitor center. Visitors can tour the foundations of the old building, which still contain much of the original structure. The park also manages a campground, cabins, and cottage colony. The park’s name stems from the fact that it was once called Bash Bish Falls Estate. The name was changed in 1940, shortly before the sale of the property to the Mt. Washington Apple Commission. The park’s forests form part of the Northeastern coastal forests ecoregion. The park’s ecology is similar to the surrounding rural landscape, featuring farmland fields dotted with trees and shrubs. The park’s grounds feature soccer and softball fields, playing courts, tennis courts, and playgrounds.
In 1896, George Larkin was hired as caretaker for the property where the falls are today. He remained at the estate until his death in 1922. His son, also named George Larkin, died around 1930 after falling from a tree in the orchard. A third generation of Larins – John Alden and Mary Ethel (known as Betty) Larkin – were born into the estate. They worked there with their mother until it was sold in 1947 to Robert Shaw who operated apple farms on the land until 1963 when he leased it to the Mt. Washington Apple Commission, which continues to operate an apple farm there under contract with DCR.
In October 1973, DCR purchased the property with plans to develop a residential community. However, strong local opposition led to the project being dropped in 1975. With support from Richard King Mellon, the Trustees of Reservations acquired the site in 1980 and opened it as a public preserve. The adjacent Bash Bish State Forest was created in 1981. On November 8, 1997, DCR received a deed conveying all rights, title and interest in the park and forest lands to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This marked the end of formal operations by the Mt. Washington Apple Commission, although individual members continue to work to improve the park through volunteer efforts.
The park’s recreational opportunities include:
- cross-country skiing
- horseback riding
Wildlife observed at the park includes:
- wild turkeys
- black bears
Birds observed at the park include cardinals
- red-tailed hawks
- blue jays
Common species of plants include:
- white pine