Keeping It Local

Granite State Walker sprang to life when I realized that the low-key southern New Hampshire paths I loved weren’t getting the attention they deserved. I’ve spent more than a decade now blogging about these little gems close to home. For my readers in the Granite State’s southern tier, itching for recreation as the COVID-19 pandemic turns everything upside down, this might be a good time to review the nearby spots where we can walk and decompress.

Go ahead. Get out there. It’s worth the effort to find an uncrowded place to walk. Aim for solitude instead of isolation (there’s a world of difference). Social distancing is important, and some of us need to stay extremely close to home, but don’t rule out every outdoor option. Remind yourself that it’s spring, even if this seems like a crazy time. The peepers are waiting for you. The pollen may have found you already.

Can’t get out now? Plan for future hikes. The current unpleasantness is temporary.

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Oak Hill Trails, Concord NH

  • What are your favorite spots in your own town? Are the trailhead parking lots full?Maybe there’s a new park to discover nearby. Look up Parks and Rec or Conservation Commission on your city or town website. You may find trail descriptions and maps available for download.  Maybe there’s a newly-acquired property you haven’t heard about yet.
  • Facebook and Instagram can be gold mines of information on current trail conditions. Follow or “like” pages such as Friends of the Goffstown Rail Trail and Londonderry Trailways (to give just two examples). You might find reports that one trail is experiencing too-heavy use on a particular day, while another one five miles away is much quieter.
  • The Forest Society has more than a hundred properties statewide for you to discover. Forget the one on Mount Major, where the parking lot looks like a mall on Black Friday. That still leaves a bunch of beauties, and there’s probably one near you. Website bonus: virtual tours, where you can check out properties online and plan for future hikes.
  • There’s probably a New Hampshire state park near you. There are some access limitations due to COVID-19.
  • This isn’t the time to push any physical limits. First responders have enough to do at the moment without fetching injured hikers.
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Stratham Hill Park, Stratham NH: a guide to what you can see from the observation tower.

Are you avoiding even solo road trips? Join the club. I’m lucky to have a walkable neighborhood: no sidewalks, but no through-roads, either. That’s where I’ve done most of my walking for the past couple of weeks. I find that a daily walk is an absolute necessity, not so much for the physical exercise as for the mental shift.

Bonus for the soul: I’m seeing neighbors I’ve never met, who are also trying to fight the shut-in feeling that comes with these days. We observe social-distance protocols. The six-foot rule does not bar smiles and greetings.

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Mbari House by Geoffery Nwogu, one of many sculptures along the trails at the Andres Institute of Art, Brookline NH. 

I love the free Map My Walk app on my phone, which faithfully keeps track of my route and distance whether I’m going around the block or up to the Canadian border. I’m seeing how many miles I can rack up doing loops on my neighborhood’s streets. Maybe you like to leave watches and phones at home while you’re out, and that’s fine, too.

Traditional school’s out, gyms are shut, businesses are closed, paychecks may or may not be forthcoming, and #stayhome is trending. My walks are a refuge from all that. 

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Madame Sherri Forest, Chesterfield NH

Updated Trail Journal

For hikers, backpackers, slackpackers, and trail lovers everywhere, especially in the Granite State: I’ve gone back to add a few updates to my 2009 Cohos Trail journal, in case anyone is inspired to follow in my oh-so-inexperienced footsteps. You’ve gotta start somewhere.

The 2009 hike was my 50th-birthday present to myself. The journal, now that I look back on it, is both a record of ten joyous days and a cautionary tale of what not to do on a backpacking trip. (Don’t forget to pack camp shoes, for one thing.)

The update includes notes on what accommodations are still available, trail re-routes, and where to find good fudge along the way. Great fudge, actually. You’re welcome.

Originally posted at ellenkolb.com.

Golden Time

As Octobers go, this one has been a beauty in my corner of New Hampshire. We’re in that annual golden time, post-bugs and pre-ice. Literally golden, too. The trees are glowing.

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October on Nashua River Rail Trail

 Pulpit Brook Trail, Bedford and Amherst

trail sign, Bedford NH

Pulpit Brook trail, Bedford NH

I hadn’t visited Bedford’s Pulpit Rock conservation area in years. A recent mailing from the Bedford Land Trust advised me that the Pulpit Brook trail from that property now extends into Amherst and the Joppa Hill farm. When I compare a newer map of the Pulpit Rock area to my old map from 1997, it’s striking to see how much the conservation area has been expanded with the cooperation of area landowners. I like seeing a greenway linking towns.

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Mid-October: some leaves are just starting to turn.

Silver Mountain, Lempster

The Forest Society’s Five Hikes in Five Weeks program led me to this unassuming little hill with fine autumn views. The drive in was a little hairy: Lempster Mountain Road is paved and fine, and from there South Road is unpaved and sort-of fine, until it isn’t. The last few tenths of a mile of road before the trailhead feature a single lane with deep ruts. It must be all kinds of fun in mud season. At least it’s dead-flat.

But after a couple of minutes of bouncing along…what’s this? A parking area with decorative stone posts. On a dirt road in Sullivan County, no less.

From the parking area, the woodsy walk up to the open summit of Silver Mountain is easy.

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Autumn on Silver Mountain, Lempster NH

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Silver Mountain summit cairn; Mt. Ascutney in the distance at right

Kidder Mountain, New Ipswich

Here’s another spot I hadn’t visited in ages, just off the Wapack Trail. I had hiked up to Kidder with my son about fifteen years ago, and I recalled it as another one of those easy hills with great views (like Silver Mountain, come to think of it). I’m sorry I waited so long to come back.

The summit vegetation has grown in over the past few years, but the views to the south and southeast are still satisfying. There’s a great view of the southern Wapack Range from Barrett Mountain to Mt. Watatic.

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Southern Wapack Range seen from Kidder Mountain, New Ipswich NH

On my recent visit, I shared the summit with a young family. One of the children was a boy, maybe five years old. He surveyed the Wapack Range, and announced excitedly, “I see a volcano!” His dad took the news calmly. The boy wanted a livelier response. “I see lava!” At that point, I thought okay, I’ve got to see what this is about.

Mt. Watatic

At right: Mt. Watatic, faintly marked with old ski trails that spark the imagination.

I moved a little closer to see what the boy was pointing at. It was little Mt. Watatic just across the border in Massachusetts. It had a ski area long ago, and there are still faintly-discernible ski trails. To a five-year-old, those old trails looked like lava flows. I hope I never forget the look on that little boy’s face as he watched Mt. Watatic expectantly, hoping against hope that it would blow its top and show those Monadnocks who’s boss.

Sometimes the best part of a hike isn’t the hike.

Happy October!

Enjoy a “Continuing Adventure”

If you’ve been a New Hampshire hiker for any length of time, you’ve probably come across the writings of Dan Szczesny. His latest is “The Continuing Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie,” available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle. Here’s my Amazon review. 

If you’ve never read Dan Szczesny’s “The Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie,” this Kindle treat – an extended chapter, really – will send you scurrying for it. The “Continuing Adventures…” goes way beyond the hikes recounted by Dan in the earlier book. Dan and his hiking companion Janelle met as neighbors when Janelle was a child. Over time, they became family, in no small part due to their time together on the trails.

In “Continuing Adventures,” now-teenage Janelle is co-author, telling her own story in a voice complementing her mentor’s. She writes of healing and growth along the way, illuminating a backstory that puts the earlier book into a new and richer perspective.

Book cover Dan Szczesny

Summer on the trails

It’s time to dig out my blaze orange gear. My favorite hiking season is at hand. I have no complaints about the season just ended, though. It was a beautiful summer in New Hampshire and beyond.

Mt. Kearsarge, Rollins State Park, Warner

The fire tower on Kearsarge was getting a serious makeover this summer, with heavy mats laid over the trail from Rollins State Park to accommodate construction vehicles. Hikers were still welcome, though. The broad ledgy summit offered its usual fine views.

Mt. Kearsarge summit, NH

view from Mt. Kearsarge summit, Warner NH

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Mt. Kearsarge fire tower gets a makeover, summer 2019

While I was there in July, a group of kids from a Boys and Girls Club arrived on the summit with their chaperones, having hiked up from the state park on the other side of the mountain. One boy, maybe ten years old, bounded around like a puppy. “Dude! I’ve never been to the top of a mountain before!” I suspect he’ll go in search of more.

North Country trip

Four days of car camping in August brought me to trails in Pittsburg and Jefferson and a few places in between. Ramblewood Campground in Pittsburg (a five-star establishment, in my book) and Percy Lodge and Campground in Stark served as homes-away-from-home.

It’s tough to pick my favorite part of the Cohos Trail. On this trip, though, Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson staked a pretty strong claim. I circled the refuge one sunny afternoon, stringing together several trail and road segments to make an 8-mile loop. Once out of the woods, the view was all about the surrounding peaks: Mt. Martha to my south, the Presidentials to the east, and the Pliny Range to the north. That just might be the most rewarding flat hiking route I’ve found so far in New Hampshire.

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Cherry Pond, Jefferson NH. looking toward Pliny Range.

I didn’t limit this trip to Cohos Trail segments. I discovered Second College Grant, a Dartmouth College property the size of a town, where I enjoyed a serene walk alongside the Dead Diamond River. Another day, perhaps I’ll return for a hike up Diamond Ridge.

From Stark, I took a quick drive to Milan Hill State Park to check out late-afternoon views from the fire tower. Not a hike, but still a treat.

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View over Androscoggin River valley from Milan Hill fire tower, Milan NH

New Boston rail trail

What a difference since my last visit about five years ago. I found the shady New Boston rail trail south of Lang Station upgraded significantly since my last visit. Trail volunteers, take a bow.

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New Boston rail trail, NH

I walked for the first time north of Lang Station on the trail to the Goffstown line. Very different up that way: a work in progress, or maybe just in the planning stage. I found blowdowns, mud, and at the Goffstown line, an overgrown swath separating the trail from Route 114.

Someday, if a whole lot of things work out just right, the New Boston trail will connect with the Goffstown rail trail, which already connects to the Piscataquog trail in Manchester.

Rhododendron State Park, Fitzwilliam

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Blooming in July at Rhododendron State Park

I think I missed peak bloom at Rhododendron State Park in July, but there were enough blossoms to make the drive to Fitzwilliam worthwhile. The loop trail through the rhododendron grove is shady and not too long.

Actually, this quiet little state park has more to offer than a few weeks of rhododendron blooms. A trail branches off the grove loop, heading up Little Monadnock mountain with its view toward Monadnock. A mile’s walk on a quiet road just outside the park entrance leads to Rockwood Pond and the Cheshire Rail Trail.  This summer, though, I was there for the flowers. I wasn’t disappointed.

Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon: life-list material

My husband and I spent nine too-short days in Utah and Arizona in early September, where I got my first-and-maybe-last look at some of the gems of the national park system:

Zion, where temps in the low hundreds did nothing to dull the scenery…

Zion National Park

Zion National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon, land of the hoodoos, where even a half-moon can’t blot out the stars at night…

Bryce Canyon, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park

and Grand Canyon’s North Rim, far from South Rim’s crowds, where the sheer scale of the canyon left me speechless.

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View of Grand Canyon from North Rim, Arizona

Along the way – it takes a lot of driving to see all three parks in only a few days – we found some beautiful lesser-known recreational areas: Cedar Breaks and Red Canyon in Utah, and portions of Dixie National Forest in Arizona.

As our return flight descended over the Monadnocks on the way into Manchester, I was happy to see our familiar green hills. This is home. Still, I treasure the awesome sights and beautiful places we saw out west.

Spring’s Been Good

I had an interesting assortment of  New Hampshire walks and hikes in May, due in part to work assignments in some towns I don’t visit often.  Bugs are out, but flowers are blooming.  Weather has been variable, with 80 degrees one day and 50-and-drizzly the next. Mud season was as messy as ever. It’s all good.

Northern Rail Trail, Enfield

I enjoyed a little piece of this long trail that stretches from Lebanon to Boscawen. Enfield’s section offered views of Mascoma River and Lake, with convenient trailside parking off Main Street.

Mascoma Lake

Mascoma Lake

Northern Rail Trail, Enfield NH

B is for Boston, 132 miles away via the old rail line.

Forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots lined the rail trail.

Former train depot, Enfield NH

The old Enfield depot now serves as a garage for an emergency services vehicle.

Forest Society Properties, Bethlehem and Haverhill

The Forest Reservation Challenge patch continues to elude me, even after more than two years of trying to visit all the Forest Society’s featured reservations. I haven’t given up, though. On an overcast day in May I found my way to the Dana Forest in Dalton and Bretzfelder Park in Bethlehem.

I saw on my drive north that the Presidentials and even the peaks lining Franconia Notch were veiled in clouds. It was a day for woods walks, not vistas.

 

Closer to Home

The woods roads in Fox State Forest in Hillsborough were deserted when I visited in May, and mud season was in full swing. I arrived armed with bug repellent and proper footwear.

Along the Nashua River Rail Trail, columbines are in bloom. I’ve noticed that more clumps of these scarlet flowers are establishing themselves here every year. Good to see.

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Columbines along the Nashua River Rail Trail

In Nashua’s Mine Falls Park, a new bridge is in place over the canal, although the bridge is not yet officially “open.” Once it is, the link to Ledge Street will give more families easy access to the park.

bridge in Mine Falls Park, Nashua NH

Mine Falls Park: a new bridge will soon link the park to a Nashua neighborhood.

For all the natural beauty along the Goffstown Rail Trail, there’s some historical interest as well. Whenever I walk past the old county cemetery, I stop to say a prayer and pay my respects. From nh-roots.org: “In this cemetery every grave is marked with a marble slab numbered which refers to a number in the record book giving a description of the deceased.” I don’t know if that record book has been preserved. The cemetery grounds are kept mown and trimmed, which may be the only remaining earthly tribute to the memory of the people buried there.

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Along Goffstown (NH) rail trail: county farm cemetery, located near the present-day county complex.