Summer drive: Benson’s etc.

Hot day, feeling sluggish, mulling over a list of places to go: I finally just got in the car and started driving. Cue George Harrison’s Any Road.

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Along the Haselton Farms trail in Benson Park

Zipping through Rt. 111 in Hudson enroute to yet another Forest Society property (I’ll get that patch if it kills me), I realized that I was near Benson Park. I hadn’t been on the property in years – since it was Benson’s Wild Animal Farm, in fact. I made a quick detour, found the park, and walked a good three miles on its trails and paths. The trails I chose weren’t crowded, even with a couple of Pokémon Go groups intent on doing whatever it is they do.

Download a trail map before you go. I settled for taking a photo of the map at a kiosk on site. Kids, don’t try this at home; batteries are fickle friends.

The history of the property is available on the Town of Hudson web site. Indulge me as I recount a grossly oversimplified version:  once upon a time in the town of Hudson, New Hampshire, there was an amusement park called Benson’s Wild Animal Farm. We Of A Certain Age can recall bringing our families there once a year for the annual Sanders company outing, back when Hudson seemed to me way-the-heck-out-there.

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Several small gardens in Benson Park can serve as shady spots for lunch.

(I have since walked to the Canadian border, where I adjusted my notions of what in New Hampshire constitutes way-the-heck-out-there.)

The Finer Minds at the state capital decided that a Circumferential Highway would ease all of Nashua’s traffic problems. (I hear you tittering over there in the back.) The Benson’s property was bought up by the state to mitigate the expected loss of wetlands for the highway project. Years passed, and the Circumferential Highway project quietly expired, leaving only exit 2 off the Everett Turnpike to remember it by. Eventually, the Finer Minds released the Benson’s property to the town of Hudson.

More years passed, many people put enormous efforts into rehabilitating the property, and Benson’s Park is now a Hudson jewel with a playground, dog park, memorials, and a trail network. The longest single trail, Haselton Farm, is about two and a half miles long; many shorter ones allow for extended hikes.

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Not your typical trail feature.

On the Haselton Farm trail, some of the pavement remains from the Wild Animal Farm days, and the occasional sewer-access cover along the way serves as a reminder that this used to be a more developed area. On this 90-degree summer day, the trail was wonderfully shady, and a light breeze made bug repellent unnecessary.

This was the best spur-of-the-moment stop I’ve made in a long time. It’s great fun to find a place like this fairly close to home. I’ll be back.

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9/11 memorial at Benson Park, featuring a beam from the World Trade Center.

 

I left Benson’s and stopped at the Bockes Memorial Forest just a few miles away before hunting down a pair of historical markers in Salem and Hampstead. Only short walks at each of these stops.

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Last stop was at an old friend of a place, the rail trail near Lake Massabesic in Manchester and Auburn, where I found everything I needed: shade and breeze and views of the lake.

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Lake Massabesic 

May you enjoy some shady hikes of your own this summer!

Forest Society invites all to discover NH

Call it the Society for Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the SPNHF, or the simpler Forest Society: however you say it, here’s an organization that wants to show off its holdings. The payoff for you and me: a patch. I’m a sucker for patches. My favorite in-state patch so far is the Tower Quest from the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands (earning that one was great fun!), but the Forest Society is tempting me with a patch of its own.

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The Granite State Walker at the Merrimack River near Forest Society’s HQ in Concord, NH

The Forest Reservation Challenge involves visiting 33 of the Forest Society’s New Hampshire holdings. No deadline that I can see, which is a good thing, since the 33 holdings are scattered all over the Granite State. These things take time. For all of us with either limited time or a limited budget for gas, there’s a “Tier 2” challenge: visit several properties in one region of the state, plus answer questions about each property. Alas, selfies are involved, which is a mild annoyance for those of us who are not photogenic (I illustrate this post with Exhibit A). That’s how the good folks at the Forest Society know that we’re not just using old photos from our friends’ collections.

The Forest Society’s web site explains the challenge in full. I’m going to give it a try. You may find, as I’m discovering, that some Forest Society lands are actually fairly close to home. Some may be close to routes you already travel regularly. I’m looking forward to re-visiting some favorite spots and discovering new ones.

Whether I earn the patch or not, I’m going to have fun on the trails.

 

Blossoms in a dry season

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I’ve spent nearly three months hobbling with a knee injury, and physical therapy has finally begun. One of the less tiresome assignments is to Get Out There again, concentrating on distributing my weight evenly instead of limping as I walk. It was something of a triumph for me to cover three miles in an hour on the Nashua River Rail Trail this morning.

It’s bone-dry in my area, as in most of New Hampshire. Even so, buds and blossoms are turning up. A week ago, a few sprigs of grass were poking through the dry leaves at trailside. Today, bluets and violets were blossoming, and there’s much more greenery despite the drought. Rain is forecast for later this week – and a day of that should brighten up the trail in earnest.

What’s new in your area? What’s blossoming in spite of the weather?

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Like fall, without color

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If you peer closely at the photo, you’ll see ice on the this southern New Hampshire trail. I was in Horse Hill Nature Preserve for an hour on the first of March for cryin’ out loud, and this is as close to winter conditions as I could find. A sign at the trailhead warned about muddy conditions, but I had no trouble in regular athletic shoes. Boots would have been overkill. A sweater and thin gloves were my only concessions to the weather.

My snowshoes remain in the basement. I know winter’s far from over, and I may yet this month rave about a beautiful day in fresh powder. That won’t be happening this week, though.

All the local paved trails are clear. Dirt trails have some ice in shady spots. Overnight freezes make for some interesting texture in muddy areas. On a Seacoast trip I took a few days ago, it felt like fall at Odiorne Point in Rye and Peirce Island in Portsmouth.

I haven’t investigated the auto roads up Pack Monadnock and Mt. Kearsarge lately, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were in good condition for pedestrians with light traction aids. Let me know if you’ve scouted out those paths.

 

Miles to Go

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P is for Portland, Maine: northern terminus of what used to be a Boston and Maine rail line, 110 miles from this granite marker along the Nashua River Rail Trail in Massachusetts. The other side of the marker says W37, meaning 37 miles to Worcester. This is one of several markers remaining from the days of the active line.

It’s a fifty-degree February day, with open water alongside the trail. The three-mile stretch of trail I had to myself this weekend is a patchwork of clear pavement and slush and half-melted ice. I came upon a couple of skinny little blown-down trees that were easy to move off the trail. We have yet to see the season’s first serious sustained winds that will surely bring down a big pine or two.

This was a nearly-silent walk, perfect for a Sunday morning after Mass. There’s no hum from the Skydive Pepperell plane in the winter. The noisy geese that usually populate the swamps and ponds along the way were absent. No kids trying out their training wheels, no runners passing me, no backyard barbecues at nearby houses. There will be plenty of time for all that later in the year. For today, solitude suited me.

Join me: team up to support the Cohos Trail

Let me step away from my southern New Hampshire trails for a minute and draw your attention to my very favorite upstate place, the Cohos Trail. I’ve held forth at length about my long hike through the Connecticut Lakes portion of the CT up to the Canadian border, and slightly closer to home is the segment through the Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge that greets me like a friend whenever I visit.

The Cohos Trail Association – an all-volunteer group, I might add – has launched a crowdfunding effort to raise $7500 build more shelters along the 170-mile long path. The trail’s founder and leading light, Kim Nilsen, makes his pitch here to all who love the Granite State’s wild places.

Every little bit helps, and the Cohos Trail’s volunteers know how to stretch a dollar. You can learn more at the web site for the trail and at the Friends of the Cohos Trail Facebook page. 

And be sure to share the crowdfunding page! Thanks!