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Lake Cochituate in the Greater Boston region of Massachusetts is a popular recreational lake just a short distance from the city. The lake, less than 20 miles from Boston Harbor, is made up of three connected ponds that for nearly 100 years provided water to the city. Now retired to recreational lake status, the old reservoir has settled into a life of leisure, providing recreational activities to a large number of residents and visitors. In addition to fishing and boating, the 600+-acre lake provides numerous walking and hiking trails, a large day-use state park, water sports, and swimming and sun bathing to those who visit its shores. Located in a heavily populated area, Lake Cochituate is an ideal day or weekend destination among city dwellers. The Massachusetts Turnpike even crosses the lake between its North and Middle Ponds.
A favored lake for boating, the public launch sites at Cochituate State Park receive a steady stream of powerboat and sailboat launches on warm summer days. The Middle Pond, as it is called, is popular for sailing, windsurfing and swimming. Water skiing is limited to the South Pond only, which can be reached by means of a tunnel that will accept smaller boats. Jet skis are not permitted on any of the lakes. Canoes and kayaks are seen most days skirting the shorelines, much of which is still wooded and natural. Access to the North Pond is achieved by going underneath the turnpike channel. This passage is far larger than the one to South Pond, often called 'the keyhole' due to the tight fit it offers larger power boats. South Pond access actually uses an original tunnel under the old Saxonville Branch Railroad. The passage was once much higher, but the dam that controls water levels has been rebuilt twice to increase storage capacities, leaving barely enough room for many boats.
Fishing is considered excellent at Lake Cochituate. The lake contains white perch, largemouth bass, yellow perch, chain pickerel, black crappie, pumpkinseed, bluegill, yellow bullhead, white sucker, golden shiner, American eel and several other species of panfish and baitfish, along with stocked rainbow trout, broodstock salmon, northern pike and tiger muskies. The lake is considered one of the best in the state for trophy-size pike and muskie, with ice fishing extending the season for those anglers seeking these large game fish. Each basin of the lake is considered to have its own specialty fish, and wise local fishermen know where to go to catch their favored prey. There is a fish consumption warning in effect, particularly for bass and eels, due to PCB contamination. Some dredging is now going on to remove these contaminants from the bottom sediments. Indeed, because of pollutants introduced into the lake from a US Army facility on South Pond and several former factories in an old industrial park near the shore, several groups are actively working to ensure cleanup and prevent further damage to the lake's environment. The corporate headquarters of Boston Scientific is still situated on Middle Pond.
Although some of the lakeshore is privately owned, the majority is public land. Several parks grace the shores, the largest being Cochituate State Park. Besides picnic areas, playgrounds, boat launch and sand beach, a concession offers hourly and daily rentals of canoes, kayaks, paddleboats, and rowboats, plus a 'Kids Canoe & Kayak Summer Camp'. On the shore of South Pond, the Town of Natick leases a section of the state park, called Pegan Cove Park, which is managed by the Natick Conservation Commission and the Natick Recreation and Parks Commission. Although swimming and boating are not permitted from Pegan Cove Park, the area is popular for hiking, walking leashed pets, biking, fishing, and picnicking; cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice-skating are favorite winter sports. The hiking trails connect with those in Cochituate State Park and also those in the Cochituate Brook Reservation located between the Middle and South Ponds. The planned Cochituate Rail Trail (CRT) is a proposed multi-use trail which will extend from the Village of Saxonville in Framingham to Natick. An active group of conservation organizations works together to assure that the lake and its environs continue to improve.
The name Cochituate means "the torrent", or "the place of rushing water". That name was reserved for a band of Native Americans who lived along the the much-smaller Long Pond, but the name apparently originated with the rapids at the outflow to Cochituate Brook. The first dams in the area were built around 1720, joining the two basins of Middle Pond when water levels rose. The original four lakes, plus three additional ponds eventually were connected in 1863 behind the enlarged dam to provide water to the City of Boston via a 14-mile aqueduct. The reservoir system was a model of ingenuity: the successive ponds helped to filter sediments as the water flowed through them. A 'gatehouse' at the outlet incorporated a sink-filter to further remove sediments before feeding the water into the aqueduct system. The connecting water tunnels were sealed in 1951 when Boston stopped using the reservoir as a water supply. The North and South Ponds have a maximum depth of 69 feet, while the two basins of Middle Pond are 60 feet on the larger and 30 feet on the smaller basin. The ponds have a combined shoreline of over 12 miles.
There is no camping on Lake Cochituate. Occasionally, lodgings may be found in the form of private rentals on the few miles of private shoreline. Real estate is sometimes found for sale, but most is in the form of existing properties in this prime location. The nearby towns of Natick, Framingham and Wayland all offer hotels, motels, guest cottages, small inns and bed-and-breakfasts, so it is possible to stay near Lake Cochituate for a lengthy vacation. If you find yourself with recreational desires in the Boston Metro area, Lake Cochituate is the perfect destination.
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