The Walden Pond Visitor Center

Thoreau Society Shop at Walden Pond

The Thoreau Society is proud to announce that the Thoreau Society Shop at Walden Pond has moved into its new home at the Walden Pond Visitor Center. 

In 2015 the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) began the construction of a new visitor center at Walden Pond State Reservation. The construction phase of the building was completed last fall with a ribbon-cutting ceremony which took place on September 27, 2016. 

The new visitor center is a state-of-the-art facility, designed with green technology in mind. Impressive for its small carbon footprint, the building is expected to achieve LEED Gold status. A special solar, photovoltaic canopy array in the parking lot will help to power the facility. Thoreau would be pleased with its economy. 

A crowd pours into the new Walden Pond Visitor Center after the ribbon-cutting ceremony this past September. Photograph by Chynna Lemire.

Several collaborators worked to bring the vision for the center to fruition. Ken Bassett, chair of the Walden Pond Advisory Board, a citizens’ advisory group, helped to lead the process in bringing key players to the table, including the Thoreau Society, the Walden Woods Project, and the DCR. After several public meetings and input from the Advisory Board, the DCR hired Maryann Thompson Architects of Watertown; landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., of Cambridge; and ObjectIDEA of Salem, who helped design the interpretive displays. 

The big news for us came last summer when the Thoreau Society won the public bid to manage the Shop at Walden Pond. The store is an important outreach component of the Society’s Mission to stimulate interest in and foster education about Thoreau’s life, works, and legacy. In the past our staff has helped greet the nearly 500,000 annual visitors to the park and will continue to do so in the store’s new location. And as part of the Society’s commitment to the preservation of Thoreau Country, 10% of the net sales proceeds from the store will directly benefit Walden Pond State Reservation. 

We are also happy to report that, in assessing the long-term funding needs of the park, the DCR has designated the Walden Woods Project the official Friends of Walden Pond group. The Friends will raise funds to make Walden Pond accessible to all people, to keep the pond healthy, and to serve the needs of a diverse population from the region and from around the world who come to this iconic place. 

Since its founding in 1998, the Thoreau Institute, located in Lincoln, Massachusetts, has closely collaborated with the Thoreau Society. Together we are working with the DCR to make select items from the Thoreau Society Collections held at the Thoreau Institute available for display in the exhibit space. With over 25% of visitors coming to Walden Pond from countries outside the United States, according to a recent survey, the new visitor center presents a perfect opportunity to highlight Thoreau’s legacy for a broader audience. 

 The Walden Pond Visitor Center promises to be an engaging educational experience for all who visit: interpretive displays will offer an interactive experience encouraging visitors to share their own special places — their “Waldens” — and will show the positive impact of renewable energy use at the Visitor Center; a timeline history of Thoreau’s years at Walden Pond; a topographic map of Walden Pond State Reservation; a living legacy exhibit showing Thoreau’s influence worldwide; and several interactive exhibits designed for children. Thoreau is an iconic American figure, and who better to highlight his legacy than Ken Burns? Famous for his PBS documentaries, Burns is the executive producer of the welcome video for the multimedia room. 

The Thoreau Society Shop at Walden Pond. Photograph by Chynna Lemire.

Thoreau is rightly considered a founding voice in the conservation movement with his support of wild lands in his now famous words: “… in Wildness is the preservation of the world.” More specifically, he advocated for the local environment as well, writing in an 1859 Journal passage, “All Walden wood might have been preserved for our park forever, with Walden in its midst….” A generation following Thoreau and working within the Boston area, including Wilson Flagg, Elizur Wright, Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles Eliot, George Davenport, and Sylvester Baxter, helped to form the Blue Hills and Middlesex Fells Reservations, both of which are currently managed by the DCR.

It was within this context of a regional commitment to preservation that in 1922 the Emerson, Forbes, and Heywood families deeded Walden Pond and environs to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, “preserving the Walden of Emerson and Thoreau, its shores and nearby woodlands for the public who wish to enjoy the pond, the woods [and] nature, including bathing, boating, fishing, and picnicking.” The deed of gift would later be followed by additional purchases within Walden Woods by conservation trusts in the towns of Lincoln and Concord, in addition to land preserved by the well-known efforts of the Walden Woods Project. 

A grand opening ceremony is planned for this summer, after the educational displays are completed. For questions or concerns about the project, you can contact Mass.Parks@state.ma.us or DCR’s Office of Community Relations at 617-626-4973. 

Michael J. Frederick has been the Executive Director of the Thoreau Society since 2006

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