Harold Parker State Forest is a state forest located in the towns of Andover and North Reading, Massachusetts. The park was named after Massachusetts State Senator Harold E. Parker who represented the area in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate. It is managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation which protects forests throughout the Commonwealth as part of its mission “to conserve and enhance the natural environment for the benefit of present and future generations.”
As of 2014, Harold Parker has more than 500 campsites, many of them with electrical hookups, all within walking distance of restrooms, hot showers, and laundry facilities. There are also 10 miles (16km) of hiking trails, mountain biking routes, and ski slopes. Other amenities available at the park include boat rentals, playground equipment, swimming beach, softball fields, soccer fields, volleyball courts, horseshoe pits, tether and ladder ball, cross country skiing, picnicking facilities, and nature center. The park is staffed seasonally by three full-time Naturalists/Environmental Education Instructors and one seasonal Environmental Education Instructor.
In 1934, at the urging of A.G. Willard of Andover, L.P. Wilson of North Reading offered to donate land to the Commonwealth if certain conditions could be met; among these were that the state set aside $1 million to develop a road system and make other improvements, and establish a forestry school. With help from the federal government under the New Deal’s Resettlement Administration, the state established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) whose workers arrived at Harold Parker beginning on June 21, 1935.
They began work on clearing roads and planting trees, and soon found themselves dealing with fire hazards, erosion control, and stream bank stabilization. After completion of their initial project, which included building an observation tower, they moved on to other areas of the forest including construction of buildings, bridges, culverts, picnic grounds, and trails. Projects completed by the CCC included Camp Hero, Camp Logan, the Bay Circuit Trail, the Shawmut Drive-in Theater, the Stone Circle, the Blackberry Maze, the Observatory, and Peabody Museum. Additional projects undertaken by the state include a campground loop road, water tank installation, bridge replacement, and tree thinning.
The campground opened in July 1936, but closed less than two years later due to poor weather conditions. When it reopened in May 1938, it had been expanded into what would become known as the Big Woods Camping Area, comprising about 290 campsites divided roughly equally between tent sites and rustic cabins accommodating up to six people each. Another major development added in 1958 was the Minnie Lee Pavilion, a large open structure housing dormitory-style rooms sleeping up to 40 people each, designed primarily for use by groups such as the Boy Scouts and Venture Outdoors.
The pavilion replaced earlier facilities such as the Cliff House and River Bend campgrounds, both of which had been built in the 1930s and served until the 1960s. In 1997, MassDOT decided to replace the aging Minnie Lee Pavilion with a new facility near the existing parking lot. However, local citizens successfully lobbied to preserve the park’s name, resulting in a compromise in which the new facility would bear the name of the nearby town of Andover while retaining the nickname of the Minnie Lee. Groundbreaking for the new facility took place in October 2000, and it was dedicated on September 5, 2004.