For Hale Director, Preservation is Key
Hale Executive Director Eric Arnold makes it his job to "look after the vision" of the reservation.
Eric Arnold may have one of the shortest commutes in Westwood. He merely has to step out his front door, make a left, climb a few stairs and enter his office.
It’s not your ordinary office either. Wood smoke permeates the air from the working fieldstone fireplace. A stuffed Fisher Cat graces the mantle and wood beams embellish the towering ceiling.
Once ensconced in this log cabin of a room, Arnold, the Executive Director of Hale Reservation is officially on duty. And while his commute may be short, his outlook for Hale is not; he spends his days looking toward the future.
“We are stewards of the property,” he said.
That means that Arnold and his staff of 15 must look to preserve the land, manage the expectations of the Westwood community, forecast the needs of campers, members and other visitors all while upgrading the physical plant to meet the needs of the next generation and beyond.
“My job,” explained Arnold, “is to look after the vision of Hale.”
That’s no small feat. Hale is a vast 1,100-acre outdoor space in the heart of Westwood. It boasts four ponds and twenty miles of hiking trails. According to Arnold, it is also unprotected land.
“We could have sold off those 1,100 acres anytime, as there are no restrictions with what we can do with the property,” said Arnold. He pointed out, however, that from its earliest uses, Hale was geared for outdoor learning.
“It was founded by Robert Sever Hale in 1918," Arnold said. "He wrote a letter to the Boy Scouts and asked that his property be used for outdoor education. It wasn’t open to the public until the late 1960s. Instead of working to keep people off the land, Hale opened its gates so that everyone could use it.”
And use it, they do.
Today, Hale serves over 5,000 children from 70 communities in the greater Boston area, attracting students from as far away as Lowell. It also offers a sold-out summer program, in which 420 families each year become members of the reservation’s private beach. Nine summer camps are available, as are programs for inner city youths.
“We get 800 kids out there on a warm summer day from all walks of life," Arnold explained. "It’s a true melting pot with kids from Brookline, Dorchester, Newton and Westwood."
The experience, he said, cannot be duplicated in a health club environment: “It is a community of people that care about the outdoors. It is a unique and different setting. It’s outside and it’s raw.”
Running just such an outdoor program is in Arnold’s blood. His father ran the Arlington Outdoor Education Program for over 25 years.
“I remember taking brownies from the walk-in fridge when I was just a kid,” Arnold said. “I had open access to the kitchen. I’d walk right in like I owned the place.”
Arnold, a Lexington native, went to college in Colorado, where he double-majored in Mass Communications and Geography.
“I was set to finish college early with just my degree in communications when I realized that a few more courses would allow me to double major," he said.
He thought he’d go the television route, but said it was just too competitive. Instead, he found himself back in Massachusetts teaching middle schoolers then running a camp and finally as Executive Director of Hale, a post he has held for the last 10 years.
In spite of the route he traveled upon leaving college, Arnold is convinced that his early focus on communications is a must in his job today.
“Public relations and marketing is a big part of what I do,” he said. “As we look to the future, we look to increasing the profile of Hale in the community and that’s a never-ending challenge.”
He enjoys that challenge though: “I like finding a way to bring people to Hale and help them experience the outdoors."
Arnold is working with his board, many involved citizens of Westwood and the Trustees of the Reservation to generate what he calls a natural corridor.
“I want people to be able to travel a long distance in the woods via connected properties,” he said.
Several key acquisitions by Hale have helped to make that a reality. Hikers can now travel four miles in a relatively direct route through Westwood and into Dover.
Also in his sights? Upgrades to the physical plant; he recently oversaw a redo of the reservation’s maintenance facility.
Next, Arnold hopes to put more roofs over more heads, especially when summer rains hit and camp is in full swing.
“I’d also like to increase the parking and upgrade the entrance to the park so visitors know they’re entering a special place,” he said.
He’s also keeping his eye on the watershed of the area.
“In the early 1960s, the dam that created Noanet Pond was built," he explained. "It stopped the water in Powisset Brook. We are consistently working to maintain the integrity of the dam and ensure high water quality for recreational uses."
He is also working hard to remove old outhouses and install current waste treatment facilities to protect groundwater and drinking water wells.
All this to protect Hale and manage it for future generations. And while the future of Hale may be bright, said Arnold, always looking forward takes hard work and very large sums of money.
“It is imperative for the long-term success and viability for Hale Reservation,” concludes the man who is doing his life’s work, providing the town of Westwood with open spaces and green places for the now and the later.