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Four of Worcester’s Thriving Neighborhoods?

Rachel Shuster

Worcester is a thriving city with a growing vibrancy that permeates throughout each neighborhood. Whether you’re born and bred in Worcester or new to the city, you can’t help but notice the city’s transformation.

When we talk about transformation and growth, four of Worcester’s neighborhoods really stand out – Downtown, the Canal District, Shrewsbury Street and Main South. All have a rich history which is the foundation for the city of Worcester, but have seen tremendous economic and cultural development and vitality emerge over the past several years, with only continued growth for the future.

Let’s take a closer look at Worcester’s four!

Downtown Worcester

For City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr., the Downtown Worcester neighborhood has been one of the most profound changes in the last 10 years. 

“Worcester, like a lot of older industrial cities, had a vibrant downtown with specialty stores like dress shops, kitchenware, etc.,” Augustus says. “Then in the late 60s early 70s, the big thing was malls and suburban malls. Worcester hollowed out in the downtown area. There was a change in shopping and people’s habits and that certainly affected the downtown.”

Other factors also contributed to the shift in Downtown. “There were also five high schools in the downtown neighborhood at one time,” Augustus says. “Thousands of kids and employees would come down and shop or go out after school in the neighborhood, but over time, those schools shut down and took away all that traffic and vibrancy. Because of the empty storefronts and partially filled office buildings, at 5:30, downtown became a ghost town.”

With focus on bringing in businesses, restaurants and housing over the years, the Downtown neighborhood now has restored its vibrancy with a new depth.

“Now we have created a Downtown that is truly a neighborhood with thousands of people living in the neighborhood,” Augustus says. “Now, If I’m leaving Downtown after work to go home, I’m replaced with someone coming home to Downtown.”

The area has truly become a neighborhood where people can live and thrive. “People who live there in the new housing developments like 145 Front at City Square may walk out to 110 Grill or Deadhorse Hill to have dinner or the Beer Garden for a drink,” Augustus says. “I see people jogging and exercising and walking dogs. That didn’t happen two years ago. That’s been the most profound change – getting the residential component in the mix.” 

Development projects and businesses have also attracted people to the neighborhood. The Hanover Theatre and Conservatory for the Performing Arts, Mechanics Hall, DCU Center and Worcester Public Library all bring people in and entice them to keep coming back. 

“We want to create density for all those people – they need to eat, hang out, buy their groceries, have their everyday needs,” Augustus says. “That helps attract those businesses. Businesses follow people. Having a culture, an infrastructure and vitality on the street – you wouldn’t think twice about walking around. Those feet on the street are going to give the perception and the reality of a safe and vibrant neighborhood.” 

Of course, even a thriving neighborhood experiencing ongoing areas of opportunity. “We are not immune to challenges like panhandling, homelessness, mental health, the opioid epidemic – there is a visible presence in Downtown,” Augustus says. “That can create impressions – or a reality – that make people uncomfortable.” Just as there are continued efforts to bring vibrancy and life to Downtown, the efforts to address these issues are just as critical.

“My dream is to have every building fully participating in the renaissance that is Worcester – no buildings that are half full, no floor in those buildings out of commission or not up to code, no empty storefronts,” Augustus says. “If you go back and look at the urban renewal plan from 5-6 years ago, we targeted properties in Downtown, and we’ve done about 85 percent of that. That wasn’t tearing down buildings but rebuilding, renovating, and bringing in new owners. Now the market is doing that for us – the market is creating demand.”

Main South

“Main South is a dynamic, diverse, and close-knit community filled with wonderful small businesses and multigenerational families,” says Casey Starr, Director of Community Initiatives for the Main South Community Development Corporation (CDC). “There is a rich cultural tapestry represented here and reflected in the art, culture, and food of the neighborhood. For many decades, Main South has been a port of entry into the city for many immigrants – a place where people from all over the world call home and are welcomed.”

Starr moved to Main South for college in 2003 and has lived in Main South from 2003 until 2017. “It will always be my favorite neighborhood of Worcester,” she adds. 

Main South has a rich history rooted in community. “Main South has an industrial history and once served as the hub for manufacturing and employment opportunities for residents,” Starr says. “After the factories shut down and/or moved, the neighborhood struggled through an economic decline. The Main South CDC was incorporated in 1986 due to a lack of safe and affordable housing and the need for an organization that could bring about sustainable change and be governed by residents. One of the best parts of the Main South neighborhood is the strong partnerships that exist amongst agencies, institutions, and community members who all work in collaboration to improve the community.”

Several planning and development projects have occurred over the years, creating just what the Main South CDC set out for – a revitalization of the neighborhood. The Kilby-Gardner-Hammond Revitalization Project provided affordable housing units, the construction of a new Boys & Girls Club and a new bike path. The Main South Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation (BCJI) Project set out to develop a community-based and comprehensive approach to addressing the physical, social, and gang-related disorder that was persistent in the neighborhood for decades.

“Main south is a dense and vibrant neighborhood with the right mix of residential, commercial, intuitions and schools,” Augustus says. “We went through a period of decline, but now this area is fully participating in the renaissance that the entire city has been going through the past 10-15 years.”

At one point you’d find abandoned properties and lots and factories closed, but now you’ll find those properties and factories converted into housing on Beacon Street. “We’ve got a big development for the Table Talk Pies headquarters and Clark University’s lacrosse field which is used by the Boys & Girls Club,” Augustus adds.

Nowadays, you’ll rarely see an empty store front or minimal foot traffic. “There are a lot of people on the street and a very nice mix of food vendors, traditional retail like clothing, kitchenware services, salons, etc.,” Augustus says. “There’s great vibrancy and diversity and ethnic makeup of businesses, business owners and customers.”

The newly created Main South Business Association is also building community amongst Main South business owners. “They are working collaboratively to support a successful business district in the neighborhood,” Starr adds. 

Bringing this vitality to Main South has been the result of many. “There have been helpful forces at work,” Augustus says. “The Transformative Development Initiative (TDI)’s Main South fellow, Ivette Olmeda has been an amazing presence. She has worked with property owners, helped them be aware of programs available during COVID, put up decorations during holidays and so much more. She has helped with the cultural and branding efforts in the area, bringing the community together to articulate a vision and need.”

Main South also has the highest concentration of community gardens in the city, with gardeners from all over the world. “Main South is home to the YouthGROW Farm, Worcester’s largest urban farm site that is farmed by our neighborhood youth,” Starr says. “The neighborhood has a strong sense of pride and community, and there are always residents, business owners, institutions and organizations working in collaboration to improve the neighborhood and quality of life.”

While the Main South neighborhood has developed and continues to thrive, there are still clear opportunities to focus on moving forward. “Old perceptions – we need to update people’s understanding of what Main South is,” Augustus says. “That being said, we still have issues with quality of life – panhandling, substance abuse, mental health issues, are still challenges. We continue to work with stakeholders, residents and businesses to address these issues.”

The vision for Main South remains focused on continuing to rehabilitate underperforming properties and convert them into housing or commercial businesses. Continuing on this path will only create more growth and development for an already thriving neighborhood. 

“We envision a diverse, inclusive, vibrant and safe community; where local residents live in quality affordable housing, earn a livable wage, have access to services and thriving small businesses, and where ongoing collaborative partnerships provide a promising future for all,” Starr says.

Canal District

With a tidal wave of economic and cultural development, incoming businesses like restaurants and shopping and city projects, The Canal District has become a destination.

“At the Canal District Alliance (CDA), we want to create an environment where people want to live, work and play,” former president and current secretary of the board of the Canal District Alliance (CDA), Mullen Sawyer says. “We have been intentional to look for local ownership, not big chain and box stores and preserve the historic nature of the district.” 

So much of the American industrial revolution took place in Worcester because of what the economic canal brought. “It changed economics forever – quadrupled the population and increased commerce and business profoundly,” Sawyer says. “It became the desired mode of business because it was cheaper – a tax evasion strategy.” 

For many years, the Canal District was a thriving Jewish quarter of community. “When I grew up, Water Street was where you got bagels and bulkies,” Augustus adds. “A lot of grassroots people bought properties and had a vision of what it could be like. It was many years of doing one property at a time and slowly executing on that vision.” 

The CDA has been at the forefront of that charge. “The CDA formed to revitalize this neighborhood –some people thought we were crazy,” Sawyer says. “It was abandoned and there were no plans to develop it. We very quietly and methodically continued. Being authentic and retelling history would give us a unique opportunity to develop interest in the community. It’s worked beyond our wildest expectation.” 

Today, a billion dollars in development is being put into the ground, bringing good jobs, places to live, and high quality of life to the inner city. Developers like Meridian Construction are bringing new opportunities to the community that can compete with New York and Los Angeles. “We are hearing from developers that they want to be part of the tradition we’ve established – authenticity, history and culture,” Sawyer says. 

More recently, there has been an interest in family activities. “The last several years, we spent time on public safety, trash and parking, so it’s nice to see that we are attracting family friendly organizations and businesses because that’s the ultimate success of our vision,” Sawyer says.

The Worcester Red Sox and Polar Park coming to Kelly Square is one of the most impactful cultural and economic additions to the neighborhood. 

“I knew when the planning for the ballpark started, that it would be the economic project that people in Worcester would truly realize the quality of the community and start getting rid of any self-deprecating tendencies,” Sawyer adds. “The ballpark was always intended to fit in with the history and vision of the neighborhood and be complimentary, not problematic. And that’s exactly what’s happening.”

The Canal District has grown to become an entertainment district. “People come from all over to shop at antique vintage stores, explore the Worcester Public Market, eat at places like Birchtree Bread Company, Lock 50 or specialty shops like The Queen’s Cups, see a hockey game or practice at the Fidelity Bank hockey rink and now watch a ball game,” Augustus says. “The layout of the neighborhood also lends itself well – it’s not just one street but different areas to explore and walk around.”

Just like the other Worcester neighborhoods, the Canal District has its challenges. “Here we find similar challenges as other neighborhoods, but helping Worcester get a little away from the car culture and into the walking culture is something we’re focused on with the Canal District,” Augustus says. “It’s our job as a city to make that walk attractive and safe. The private sector is doing their share. We still have growing pains but it’s getting better.” 

The future for the Canal District is to remain focused on economic and cultural development, affordable housing, public safety and continuing to bring in a diverse community and visitors from all over.

“We will continue development related to and around the ballpark,” Augustus says. “We’ve got the Table Talk Pies facility that will impact this neighborhood, The Cove, a 13-story, 318 unit residential and commercial development replacing the former Lucky Dog Music Hall/The Cove Music Hall and other housing options totaling to 1,000 units of housing, a hotel, a lab building and more.”

Shrewsbury Street

Commonly known as “restaurant row,” Shrewsbury Street has always been a thriving area of Worcester, offering some of the city’s best eats, a rich history and more. Many Italian immigrants came to Worcester and settled in this area, making it the heart of the Italian community in Worcester.

“It’s a great, unique neighborhood,” Augustus says. “It’s always had great restaurants, diners, and classic things everyone knew. With Shrewsbury Street, you always think of food. Over time, it’s become more diverse making it ‘restaurant row’ rather than a ‘little Italy.’ You’ve got Mexican, Greek, and other culinary options which also brings diverse and eclectic people from all over. It’s become a neighborhood on people’s destination list. If you’re visiting, you’re more than likely to end up there eating. This area continues to play a role in creating more diversity in the city.”

Some of the restaurant classics and stand outs include La Scala, Via Italian Table, Nuovo, Brew City Grill & Brew House, 111 Chop House, Flying Rhino Café and Watering Hole and diners like The Boulevard and The Parkway.

Shrewsbury Street also has fun spots and activities like Wormtown Brewery and Redemption Rock Brewing Company, Cristoforo Colombo Park for recreational activity, bars such as Funky Murphys and The Pint and much more.

Businesses on and around Shrewsbury Street are quite eclectic. “There are many automotive places, medical offices, gyms, law offices, small specialty stores and pharmacies,” Augustus says.

When it comes to opportunities, Shrewsbury Street shares similar and unique challenges as it’s fellow neighborhoods. “The city has a large Department of Public Works (DPW) campus right off of Shrewsbury Street,” Augustus says. “The goal has been to put a new DPW facility somewhere else and sell those 9 acres and add to the density and residents in the Shrewsbury Street area. Now that we have the ballpark and more capacity as we navigate COVID, we can re-focus on that project and hopefully bring more residents into the area.”

Augustus also noted that an apartment complex with over 340 units has been approved for development for the former Mount Carmel church lot. The complex – Alta Seven Hills – will include more than 500 parking spaces on a 5.3 acre lot on Mulberry Street. This complex includes one, two and three-bedroom apartment units, and amenities including a pet spa, swimming pool, and an electric vehicle charging station. “This will bring in hundreds of more people in the area,” Augustus adds.

All four of these neighborhoods add to the thriving and growing nature that Worcester is, has been and continues to experience. Each neighborhood has a deep appreciation for its history, embraces diverse and eclectic communities, has unique yet shared challenges and is ready for continued development. Those who continue to support and champion the city’s growth and development are excited about what the future holds for these neighborhoods and beyond.

“We just recently got the 2020 census data back. Worcester hit its highest population in its 300-year history,” Augustus says. “People are voting with their feet. We are finding that they are staying after college and proactively moving here. The quality of life these neighborhoods give people, the relative affordability, the arts and culture, the recreation scene, the culinary options – all these things are keeping and attracting people. They each have their own identity but, something we are continuously focused on is how we can better connect them. We are now the fourth largest city in the northeast. These neighborhoods are helping us grow our city.” 

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Rascals cuts loose

April Goddard

After the last year that we have all had, many of us are eager to get back into the social scene and weekend outings that we have missed so much. Right here in Worcester, Rascals, (in a space formerly occupied by the Dance Ranch) makes good on their slogan “A good time place for good time people”. It has been a popular line dancing spot since the early 90’s, and has since expanded by diversifying entertainment through new ownership. It’s website raves that “it is the hottest new live venue to see your favorite local bands every Saturday night”, and is additionally the only country line dancing bar in Worcester. The facility is over 8,500 square feet and boasts a 3,000 square foot dance floor. And very often, you can find the owners Frank Pupillo and Chris Goodney greeting customers at the door. 

With years of experience in the entertainment and restaurant industries, it’s no wonder Rascals is a huge local hit. Goodney, local comedian and DJ also plays host to many of the bar’s line dancing nights. Pupillo, a local musician and front to the tribute band Shot of Poison is also a promoter of local music and entertainment booking at Rascals. The pair acquired the space in summer of 2019 and were open for business the following November. Through their innovation and experience, they built upon the concept of the original country line dancing bar and created a live music venue and entertainment space. They still maintain the original country nights. 

Unlike your typical bar, Rascals offers a wide range of entertainment. They have live music on Saturdays, accompanied by National touring music on weekdays and weekends alike. They have nationally recognized comedians, open mic Sundays, and keeping with the classic space, line dancing instruction three nights a week with country music nights Fridays. Along with local and national music entertainment, they are also the home of the Ladies for the Night Drag show. An additional variety of shows and social events are coming soon, from Singles Meet Sundays, Going show, and Comedy Open Mic, along with additional variety shows. The spacious venue has an overall capacity of 540 people, and in addition to scheduled entertainment is a perfect place to host an event. 

Some of Rascals most popular events have totally sold out. Comedian Bob Marley sold out the last 6 shows at the venue, along with several sold out Drag shows and tribute bands, which bring in large crowds of hundreds. 

An extensive entertainment schedule can be found on their website. If you are looking for “A good time place for good time people” Rascals is your spot for go-to local entertainment. To find out more, head over to their website at Rascalsworcester.com.

Xxxx

Upcoming events at Rascals

9/8 Geoff Tate

9/10 Metal for MS with D.R.I.

9/18 LoveSexy – Prince Tribute

9/25 BoomBox

10/9 Leicester Christmas Lights Comedy Show

10/16 kickboxing regionals

10/23 He Said/She Said Cover band

10/27 Survivor Viewing party with special guest Jonny Fairplay 

10/29 Ladies for The Night Drag Show

10/30 Halloween dance party with guest DJ Jonny FairPlay from Survivor.

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Indian Ranch Celebrates 75 Years of Live Outdoor Music

Maria Connors

Indian Ranch, nestled on the shores of Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, is celebrating 75 years as one of the most popular outdoor music venues in New England. Affectionately dubbed Nashville of the North for the variety of country music acts they first became known for hosting, Indian Ranch has curated a summer lineup larger than ever to celebrate such a momentous anniversary.

Indian Ranch has undoubtedly grown since it was founded in 1946, evolving alongside the landscape of music and live entertainment. Suzette Coppola, executive director at Indian Ranch since 2007, describes this as a natural process. As the performance space and campground grew, the decision to build Samuel Slater’s restaurant and introduce other forms of entertainment, such as Indian Princess, one of the few authentic paddlewheel boats still in use in the United States today, felt natural.  “Everything kind of blended together”, Coppola reflects, “one part of the business brought in another part of the business”. This sort of fluid growth and readiness to evolve has seen Indian Ranch through its 75th anniversary, and is now lauded as one of the oldest concert venues in the nation. 

While it gained notoriety as a country music venue, seeing many up-and-coming country stars cross the Indian Ranch stage before their rise to fame (think Charlie Daniels, Blake Shelton, and Brad Paisley) the priorities of the business have shifted as the music industry has changed. As country music became more mainstream, Indian Ranch expanded to classic rock, pop, blues, and acoustic. For Coppola, it’s important to continue reaching new audiences. Some of the bigger acts they’ve brought include Andy Grammar and Gavin Degraw, building off of a commitment to continuously expand the variety of musicians they host and offer something for everyone. Indian Ranch’s number one priority, after all, is their audience: getting the artist onstage in a timely manner, moving the crowds through quickly, Coppola asserts “that’s where people are enjoying themselves.”

To celebrate their 75th season, Indian Ranch is arriving bigger and better than ever, with a loaded roster for mainstage concerts, music on the beach, and tons of specialty boat cruises. Tickets are currently available for the Indian Princess Margaritaville Cruise, featuring all your favorite Jimmy Buffet songs performed live by Auburn musician Tom Revane and tours around Webster Lake. Some exciting names coming to the Indian Ranch mainstage this summer include Foreigner, Grand Funk Railroad, Josh Turner, Melissa Etridge, Get The Led Out, Tower of Power, and Scotty McCreery. For a full list of acts, visit: Indianranch.com/concerts. 

The Indian Ranch campgrounds are open for overnights, week-long stays, or the entire season, with 200 sites up for grabs. Indian Ranch’s facilities offer the perfect opportunities to get out of the city and into nature, with the luxuries of free Wi-Fi, lakeside dining, and your fill of live music. 

If your August is already booked up, Indian Ranch is ringing out the summer with Hairfest and Countryfest, September festivals that highlight local classic rock tribute bands and original country music. It may sound like a jam-packed season, but Coppola is ready to welcome the crowds: “This is who we are.”

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NEW in the WOO: All Systems Go

Rachel Shuster

Located at 225 Shrewsbury St. in Worcester, All Systems Go (ASG) is the spot to go to live out your gaming dreams.

“ASG is a free roam space that offers Nintendo Switch group areas, PC gaming, fully immersive racing simulators and a high-end lighting and sound system,” says Chief Marketing Officer and co-founder, Amber Beck. 

ASG opened on May 27, and it’s been a great experience ever since. While Beck and her partner Devin LaPlume, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder, don’t have any professional background when it comes to owning a restaurant, bar or entertainment business, they knew it’s what they wanted. “We travelled and we educated ourselves,” Beck adds.

Beck and LaPlume are originally from Providence, RI which is where they spent most of their weekends. “We were craving an experience to drink great cocktails while competing against each other in Call of Duty or Mario Kart,” she said. “We traveled to places like France and LA to experience gaming bars, but we felt as though the environment still wasn’t what we were craving. We wanted a modern, clean feel versus the nostalgic, gamey feel you get at most of these places. It was then that we decided that we would create what we were looking for.” 

The space is 6,200 sq. ft. with a 20 X 8 ft LED wall. “Our capabilities are vast in hosting any event,” Beck says.

As for pricing, Nintendo switch group areas are $15/hour, PC gaming is $7/hour or $5/hour if 5+ hours are purchased. Racing simulators are $10-15 mins and $20- 30 mins.

ASG also offers great food and drink options at great prices! “Our food and drink are [at] competitive pricing,” Beck says. “Our kitchen serves craft, brick-oven pizza, boneless wings and dough bites. Our brick oven pizza ranges between $9-$15. We also offer espresso drinks and cocktails. Our bar includes 16 tap handles with local beer. We purposefully sourced the best ingredients for our food and our espresso bar. Serving sub-par food and drinks is NOT an option here.”

Supporting local businesses is important to Beck and her team. ASG sources espresso beans locally for their specialty espresso bar. “My personal favorite part of the espresso bar is our espresso martini,” she says. “We pull fresh shots of espresso per order – they are just delicious.” 

ASG also plans to host special events for the community! “Our first event will be on July 3rd as a Fourth of July event,” Beck says. “Gaming tournaments are also on our radar.”

For Beck and her team, it’s important that the Worcester and surrounding communities feel the passion and love for gaming and good food and drink that they do. It’s a very special place for them, and they hope others feel it too. 

“There is no other space like us in Worcester,” Beck says. “We are an interactive entertainment space with great amenities, bringing something really special and fun to the community.” 

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A Summer Outside in Central Massachusetts

Maria Connors

Tourists with hiking backpacks on beautiful mountain landscape background. Climbers hike to mounts. Group of hikers walking in mountains.

While boasting the perks of an urban center, the city of Worcester and surrounding towns have no shortage of outdoor spaces and activities to enjoy as summer arrives. Whether you’re looking to hike, swim, boat, or just sit and enjoy the sun, there are an abundance of spots in Central Massachusetts that will let you do just that. We’ll be taking a look at not only some of the best places to get out into nature, but ways to enjoy the art and culture of the area in an outdoor setting.

Hiking

There is no shortage of day hikes available in Central Mass, and all of the ones listed here are under an hour’s drive from Worcester. Pack a lunch, lace up your hiking shoes and hit the trails!

Wachusett Mountain–Princeton, MA

While this mountain is perhaps best known for its ski slopes, it offers ample opportunities for hiking as well. Only a 50 minute drive from Worcester, Wachusett Mountain boasts 17 miles of hiking trails that hikers are easily able to cater to their physical goals or time constraints. Popular routes to the summit are Echo Lake trail, an introductory level 1.5 mile trip, Old Indian trail, a more moderate 3.8 miles, and the shorter Pine Hill trail, only 1.0 mile but a steeper and rockier climb to the summit that makes it a more difficult hike. Most of the trails should take under two hours, making it a perfect excursion that will have you home in time for dinner. 

Moore State Park–Paxton, MA

Step out into nature and back through history at Moore State Park, a 737-acre public recreation area with a myriad of trails, streams and historic mills built as early as 1747. The park is home to stonemill foundations, a retired sawmill, mill chutes, waterfalls and an abundance of gorgeous flowers and foliage in the summer. The wooded trails are shady and well maintained and there are opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing on Eames Pond. 

Purgatory Chasm–Sutton, MA

Purgatory Chasm offers a unique arrangement of rock formations and shady trails to spend the day exploring. While the trails through the forest are generally flat, climbing through the chasm itself is a more challenging and demanding endeavor. Hikers should wear appropriate shoes and keep in mind their physical ability and health when setting off into the chasm, as scrambling over rocks is a necessary part of this adventure!

Mass Central Rail Trail–Northampton to Boston, MA

The 1938 New England Hurricane destroyed the Massachusetts Central Railroad in 1938, and finally the 104 mile corridor through the state is being repurposed into a rail trail perfect for hiking and bike-riding. Many trail segments are not currently connected, so trail users cannot yet traverse through the length of the trail. There are currently completed sections running through Oakham, Rutland, Princeton, Sterling, Holden and West Boylston, with various parking lots provided along the way for visitors to choose their starting point. Some sections of the trail are paved and the trail will take hikers and bikers through forested areas, across open fields and along wooded riverbanks, showing off all kinds of natural beauty our state has to offer. 

Lookout Rock–Northbridge, MA

Lookout Rock positions hikers off of a country back-road connected to the old Quaker Highway, with many trails looping through the area. Standing atop the rock offers a view of the Blackstone River snaking its way through the woods, often dotted with kayakers, and River Bend Farm and it’s canal, arch bridge, and sprawling farmlands. Rock climbers will find a few desirable crags to scale at this location, giving you the best panoramic views from the top.

Swimming and Boating

Central Mass has no shortage of ponds, lakes, and reservoirs to spend the day at–it’s just a matter of choosing your favorite! 

Shore Park Beach–Worcester, MA

Shore Park Beach is located on the northern shore of Indian Lake, an approximately 7.0 acre park located in a residential neighborhood. Fishing and boating (both motorized and non-motorized) are permitted on the lake, with a roped-in swimming area to keep swimmers safe. With a sandy beach, grassy and shaded picnic bench area, lifeguards on duty and a bathhouse with restrooms and a first-aid room, this beach is well-suited for a day out with the family. 

Whitehall Pond–Rutland, MA

Nestled in the forest of Rutland State Park, Whitehall Pond is the perfect place to end a hike or spend the day swimming. Visitors are welcome to swim, boat, and picnic along the shore, with charcoal grills available for public use. Aside from the sandy beach much of the waterfront is wooded, offering visitors a shadier swimming experience. 

Lake Quinsigamond–Worcester, MA

Regatta Point at Lake Quinsigamond offers facilities for swimming, boating, picnicking, and fishing, as well as tennis and basketball courts and a baseball field across the street at Lake Park. While you’re in the area don’t forget to stop for ice cream at Madulka’s, a staple of the Lake Quinsigamond shoreline. 

Hopkinton State Park–Hopkinton, MA

It’s easy to spend a full day outdoors at Hopkinton State Park, with 1500 acres of forest to explore via hiking trails and Hopkinton Reservoir to swim, boat and fish in. Boating in Boston provides seasonal boat rentals for visitors, so you can enjoy the water from a kayak or paddleboard. The reservoir also boasts stocked fishing, two lifeguarded beaches, first-come-first-served picnic sites and two reservable pavilions for larger events.

Arts & Culture

Fellow artists Lena McCarthy (left) and Lukas Therien (right) at Tower Hill Botanic Garden Show featuring Worcester’s own, 
“Croc Paints”, Dave O’Connor in February 2020. Photo by Kevin La

Outdoor entertainment is an essential part of any summer, and Central Mass has no shortage of spots to enjoy. Day or night, you’re sure to find the perfect place to enjoy a favorite pastime and the warm weather. 

Tower Hill Botanic Garden–Boylston, MA

Tower Hill Botanic Garden operates on 171 acres of beautifully cultivated trails, gardens, and orchards for visitors to enjoy. Tower Hill contains 17 distinct gardens, with much of the original woodland and open fields preserved in the current layout. Stroll through the gardens, watch the critters in the Wildlife Refuge Pond, and grab a bite at the Farmer and the Fork cafe. Towerhillbg.org.

deCordova Sculpture Park–Lincoln, MA

Indulge us while we stretch the boundaries of Central Massachusetts for just a moment–deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum is the largest park of its kind in New England, located 20 miles west of Boston. The park hosts rotating modern and contemporary outdoor sculpture exhibits across 30 acres of landscaped lawns, forests, gardens, and terraces along the shores of Flint’s Pond. A hands-on learning lab on the campus provides an interactive gallery where visitors can experience immersive installations and build and sculpt with loose parts. After exploring the outdoor park and learning environments, cool off at the indoor exhibits and grab a snack at the cafe. Thetrustees.org/place/decordova.

Farmers Markets

What’s summer without an abundance of fresh produce? Central Mass is home to countless farmer’s markets that provide an array of delicious, locally sourced fruits and vegetables from the region’s many farms. There’s no better feeling than knowing where your food comes from, so make sure to include a trip to the farmer’s market on your weekly errand run. 

REC Mobile Market

The Regional Environmental Council purchases produce in bulk from local farms and sets up shop in central locations for shopper’s convenience. Founded in 2012, this mobile market is the first successful endeavor of its kind in New England. Keep an eye on their website for updated schedules: Recworcester.org/market-schedule

Timberyard Brewing Co.–East Brookfield, MA

Timberyard Brewing Co. hosts “The Market” on their back patio every Saturday, offering fresh produce, baked treats, and other artisanal goods. With a brewery, taproom, full kitchen, and frequent live music to boot, Timberyard has something for everyone. 

Grafton Farmers Market–Grafton, MA

An entirely volunteer-managed market, the Grafton Farmers Market aims to serve their community through fresh produce, baked goods, artisanal foods, and hand-crafted items. With vendors coming from across the region to sell their products, the Grafton Farmer’s Market offers an expansive array of locally-sourced goods to take home this summer. 

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New In The Woo: MFitness Inferno Hot Pilates

Rachel Shuster

Located at 299 Shrewsbury St., MFITNESS, LLC Inferno Hot Pilates is full body, high intensity interval training using Pilates and the Tabata method in a heated room. Owner and Instructor Melinda Mercedes’s first class on October 5 was everything she hoped it would be and more.

“With COVID, I was stuck at home and looking for something new and refreshing to do,” Mercedes said. “I saw the creator of Inferno Hot Pilates was teaching online courses, and it really interested me. I took the courses and started teaching friends and family. That led me to open MFITNESS, LLC and start teaching classes. It’s something I am very passionate about.”

A thrill seeker by nature, Mercedes loves to find new adventures that excite and challenge her, including skydiving and studying abroad in college in the Dominican Republic and the Amazon. However, the Worcester native since the age of three after moving from the Dominican Republic, also has a love for feeling relaxed and investing in self-care. When she came across hot yoga in 2009, and Pilates in 2010, those were the perfect combination of new, challenging adventures that spoke to her passion for self-care.

 “When I studied abroad in the Amazon, I fell in love and wanted to bring that vibe here,” Mercedes said. “When clients come into the space, I want them to feel liberated. I love plants and nature, so you’ll find a lot of that, plus incense and blue lights. It’s just very laid back and relaxing.”

The relaxing, laid back vibe of the space is a nice contrast to the intense and hard work, but equally fun and inspiring part of the classes.

“Classes consist of workouts focused on abs, planks, burpees, mountain climbers, squats, etc., all performed on yoga mats to protect your body from injury and along to great music from every genre and all corners of the world” Mercedes said. 

Mercedes offers a variety of classes and class packages to meet your needs. “We have a one-hour class and a 45-minute express class,” she said. “In the express class, you can wear ankle weights, which aren’t typically used in Pilates, but I added them for a more intense workout.” Both classes use two-pound dumbbells and resistance bands.

Class pricing and packages include your first class for free, $25 for a single drop-in, a 6-class deal for $80 and an unlimited monthly package for $125. “If you bring a friend and they sign up for the unlimited monthly package, you get a free class!” Mercedes added. She will also be offering student deals and other specials around the holidays and in the future.

Mercedes is also taking every safety precaution as it relates to COVID-19. “We have 10 people in each class, masks available, hand sanitizer, and place tape on the floor so clients know their spot,” she said. 

Get your sweat and groove on with MFITNESS Inferno Hot Pilates and visit Mfitnesstrain.com or visit on Instagram @_mfitness5.