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Henry David Thoreau’s famous sojourn on the shores of Walden Pond in the 1840s inspired awareness of America’s precious natural resources and marked the birth of the conservation movement. Now a National Historic Landmark, the pond and its surrounding woods continue to foster in visitors a deep connection with nature and a sense of responsibility to protect it. Today the 335 acre Walden Pond State Reservation annually attracts 500,000 people from all over the world, who journey here not just for recreation but for inspiration.

shovels at walden pond visitor center ground breakingThose visitors will soon have another amenity to enjoy. Earlier this month, Governor Deval Patrick joined community leaders, other public officials, environmentalists and project partners to break ground on the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s new $8 million Walden Pond Visitor Center, designed to incorporate a wide-range of sustainable materials and technologies.

The center is slated to be a Zero Net Energy Building (ZNEB), a building designed to produce as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year. To accomplish this, the 5,600 square foot building will deploy various energy reduction strategies and innovative technologies, including extensive wall and attic insulation, high efficiency windows, LED lighting, a solar domestic hot water system, cold climate air source heat pumps and a 100 kW solar PV canopy over two of its parking lots. The canopy is projected to produce over 115,000 kWh each year, more than enough to offset the building’s estimated 79,000 kWh of annual demand.

Additional sustainability design elements include natural cross-ventilation, recycled building materials, low and no VOC paints and finishes, and the use of locally manufactured and sourced wood materials for exterior siding, decking, framing and flooring.

Governor Patrick said it is fitting that the new center is being built with energy efficiency in mind and powered by green technology. “As the birthplace of the conservation movement, Walden Pond is an important natural landmark for the Commonwealth and nation,” he said. “These improvements are about good stewardship for this generation and the next.”

Proposed Visitor Center Design

Proposed Visitor Center Design

DCR has received support from key partners in this project, including the Massachusetts Legislature for project funding, the Walden Advisory Board, Thoreau Society, Walden Woods Project, and Concord Municipal Light Plant, the local utility. In addition, DCR received more than $300,000 in Leading by Example and Zero Net Energy grants from the Department of Energy Resources to help make this project a reality.

The new center will have an interpretive exhibit, public restrooms and a bookstore, as well as offices and meeting space for park staff. Those who drive electric cars will have a place to charge them as they enjoy the park’s many recreational opportunities.

Would Thoreau himself have approved of the new visitor center? We like to think he would have, given his belief that each town should have a park that serves as “a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation” and that people “can never have enough of nature.” By enhancing the visitor experience without putting additional pressure on the beloved park, the center serves as a model for sustainable development, one that will continue to inspire for generations to come.

Written By:


Commissioner, Department of Conservation and Recreation

Jack Murray has more than twenty five years of career experience in the public, private and nonprofit sectors with an emphasis in transportation and environmental management. He currently serves as Commissioner at The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation where he oversees the State Parks Agency and more than 450,000 acres of parkland.

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