The history of Dogtown is quite extensive. It was settled in the colonial days of New England. Early settlers tried to farm the land of Gloucester, but gradually realized growing food on a landscape of rocks was more trouble then it was worth (All the better for bikers). Eventually they decided it was more advantageous to fish, and hence the residents migrated to the coastline. Supposedly after the wealthy residents moved to the shoreline, the vacated houses of Dogtown became the equivalent of a modern day ghetto, inhabited by societal outcasts and vagrants. It was during this period in the 18th century that the Dogtown acquired it's name, describing the packs of wild dogs that roamed the area.
By 1830 the entire Dogtown village was deserted. The land was then acquired by the wealthy William Babson (of Babson College fame). Mr. Babson enjoyed the land as a natural/spiritual getaway. He also liked to express his conservative viewpoints using the natural landscape. To this day many of his trite ideas are inscribed on many of Dogtown's larger boulders. Don't be surprised to happen upon a rock telling you to "GET A JOB".
Upon his death, Mr. Babson donated the land to the town of Gloucester. Now 170 years later, the area is preserved as a natural reservation. All the old houses are now gone, however the careful observer may find remnants of old cellars.
Rules & Regulations History
I spoke with the Dogtown Advisory committee. And was told that there are no restrictions on Mountain biking. All they ask is to practice common courtesy, and to keep the area clean. One note of caution is that hunting is allowed there during normal hunting season, which is primarily in autumn.
Equestrians are also very found of Dogtown. I doubt you will find any group of people more interested in banning mountain biking then equestrians. As a result do your best not to startle a horse. If you find yourself approaching or overtaking a person on a horse, get OFF your bike and announce your presence to the rider. Ask them permission to walk your bike past them.
Take 128 north towards Gloucester. Before you get into the city limits of Gloucester you will pass over a Large bridge spanning a salt water river. Shortly after you pass over this bridge, route 128 will enter a large traffic circle (Grant Circle). Follow this circle 270 degrees around and exit off on route 127 (towards Annisquam). Follow route 127 for about 1/2 mile and it will curve to the right and pass over a small bridge and some salt water. Immediately after you cross the bridge, route 127 will curve around to the left. You do NOT want to follow 127 to the left, instead look to take a right onto Reynard St. Follow Reynard to the end (1/4 mile) and turn left onto Cherry St. Look closely to your right for a small, broken-down (almost a driveway) looking road, with a small sign for Dogtown commons at the end. Follow this road to the end until you come to a gate and can not go any further.
Get on your bikes and continue on the road you drove in on past the metal gate for about another quarter mile. Which way you should go from here depends on your ability: The ubiquitous supply of rocks that made farming a nightmare, make mountain biking dogtown an exciting challenge. Don't let these rocks discourage you, for there is plenty of moderate terrain. I do not recommend Dogtown for first timers, although an intermediate will feel right at home. Dogtown is confusing! Unlike other places like Middlesex fells there are no trail maps waiting for you at the entrance. In fact, I am not even going to bother to explain which trails to ride the first time you get there, because Dogtown is too confusing to find these trails. I recommend first timers to bring a compass. There is different styles of riding depending on where in the park you are.
Although there is some easy terrain in Dogtown. I do not recommend first time riders going there. Dogtown is too confusing and the beginner will likely find himself lost in a maze of difficult singletrack before too long. Instead I recommend the beginner who desires to ride in the Gloucester Area to visit Ravenswood Park, which is located about 2 miles south of Gloucester center on Route 127.
Following your compass NNE: Here you will find your way to towards the whale's Jaw (Two extremely large boulders that supposedly resemble a Whale's Jaw. Unfortunately one broke in half, and now it just looks like one huge boulder and two smaller ones sitting next to each other) and if you diligently head due north you will come to Goose Cove Reservoir. These trails are better for the intermediate rider.
The experience rider will find enjoyable riding all over the reservation. Besides riding where the area listed in the Intermediate section I also recommend heading to the ESE corner of the reservation. You will know you are there because this is where the boulders with messages such as "GET A JOB" are located. WARNING: Do not follow the railroad tracks in this area, this is a swampy area and the mosquitoes are death.
Getting Back To Your Car
It is actually surprisingly easy to get back to the starting point, even when you are completely lost. If you entered the reservation where I recommend then you parking the SW corner of the reservation. As a result if you follow you use you compass to head SW you are guaranteed to get back to the entrance.
If you are completely lost or broken down you are never more then 1 mile from route 127 (route 127 completely circles the Dogtown reservation). I recommend heading due west until you hit route 127, and then following 127 south until you come back to the starting point.
By Chuck Joyce