Midweek, Mt. Monadnock

When the Forest Society announced its challenge last year, offering a patch for anyone visiting 33 specified Forest Society properties, I jumped on board immediately. Since then, I’ve had great fun discovering some new trails. Others are already familiar – Mt. Monadnock’s trails, for example.

Monadnock State Park is only one piece of the patchwork of ownership on the mountain. The Forest Society has a reservation there as well. For the most Monadnock hikers, borders between properties are imperceptible.

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The view south from Mt. Monadnock’s Halfway House clearing

On a recent visit to Monadnock, my indifferent level of fitness ruled out a summit hike. I settled for an easy walk to the Halfway House clearing, featuring a wonderful view to the south with Gap Mountain foremost.

The well-marked parking lot on NH Route 124 on the south side of the mountain is where to pick up the Halfway House trail and the parallel Old Toll Road path. (Bring $5 for park admission; there’s an iron ranger when the booth is unattended.) The Old Toll Road is a wide, well-drained boulevard with a packed crushed-gravel surface. Uphill, to be sure, but easy. It leads to a tiny patch of private land with an imposing house on it. Past the house, the boulevard becomes a trail: rocks, roots, spring’s inevitable mud. No problem. The Halfway House clearing, named for an inn that once stood there, is less than a 5-minute walk ahead.

Old Toll Road, Spring

Old Toll Road, mid-spring

I looked up to the summit and saw no hikers. That’s unusual, as local hikers will attest. Normally the summit seen from that distance looks like an anthill.

A cool breeze kept the bugs away on the overcast day. I knew I was likely to be rained on any minute. I didn’t care. Solitude on a Monadnock trail is meant to be savored.

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A peek at Monadnock’s summit from the Halfway House clearing

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Notes From a Midday Ride

I broke away from work on this weekday just long enough to take my bicycle out for the first ride of the season on the Nashua River Rail Trail .

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Feature from mural along NRRT. Ellen Kolb photo.

I like the mural in Groton, in the underpass crossing Route 111. I think local students must have painted it. It’s a map not of local streets, but of the Boston and Maine rail lines, including the decommissioned one that now serves as a trail. Nice bit of history, paying respect to the trail.


A beaver resisted all my attempts to photograph it. I almost missed it, in a swampy area alongside the trail: only concentric ripples gave it away. It’s good to see the wetlands looking like wetlands again, as gentle spring rains heal the effects of last year’s serious drought. Last September I had no more chance of seeing a beaver at trailside than of seeing a pod of whales.


The NRRT was dedicated fifteen years ago, and the road crossing at Route 113 in Pepperell has always required extra caution, from motorists as well as bicyclists. The ice cream shop across the street is one compensation. So is the pocket-sized park that’s been developed just south of 113. The shrubs are in bloom. Benches and markers have been spruced up. Something new – at least to me – is an air pump anchored in place, ready to tend to a summer’s worth of flat bicycle tires. That’s being neighborly.

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A little history to go with my stop along the trail.


The river that gave the trail its name is not visible from the trail, except for a lovely mile-long stretch in Pepperell and Groton. Every time I see it, I think of the guidebook I received when I moved to New Hampshire more than thirty years ago, which had this to say about the Nashua River in Pepperell, where there’s a dam:

…but for the dirty water this would be a fine smoothwater trip. From [Groton] to East Pepperell, the river is not attractive, as the increase in water level has flooded swampland and killed the trees. [AMC River Guide Volume 2, Appalachian Mountain Club, 1978]

By 2002, the Guide’s third edition told a different story.

The Nashua River has enjoyed a major restoration in the last 25 years. The industrial pollution is gone now. Birds, wildlife, and fish are returning, and paddling the Nashua River is now an enjoyable experience.

Walking and biking alongside the river is pretty enjoyable, too.

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Nashua River, Pepperell, Massachusetts. Ellen Kolb photo.

 

Close to Home

One of my town’s conservation properties is practically next door to me, yet I hadn’t been there for more than a decade. I made up for that today, walking to Wildcat Falls on a warm spring day.

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Wildcat Falls on the Souhegan River, NH

The Souhegan River runs through my town, and I live only a couple of hundred yards away from it. The river wraps around my neighborhood. On the other side, a stone’s throw away, is the Wildcat Falls conservation area. I show my age, or at least that I’ve lived in town awhile, when I call it 80 Acres.

80 acres was the unimaginative name for – wait for it – an 80-acre parcel of undeveloped land along the north side of the river, near Wildcat Falls. Thumbs-up to whomever renamed the parcel to reflect its most remarkable natural feature.

Wildcat Falls is the reason there’s a canoe take-out upstream where the river crosses Turkey Hill Road. Way too much granite and way too many fallen trees make the falls a spot that’s pretty to look at but lousy to navigate.

There are a couple of miles of trails winding through the conservation area and the adjoining state property. All I was interested in today was the falls: pleasant, very close, and too long neglected by me.

The walk to the falls from the parking lot goes through a sandy, pine-y area that reminds me of where I grew up in flat southern Florida, where rivers looked like canals and where waterfalls were pure fiction. Today’s sandy pines led me instead to the Souhegan, a modest river in the greater scheme of things, but quite a fine one to me.

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Near the parking lot for Wildcat Falls conservation area in Merrimack NH, sandy woods belie the river and falls that are only a short walk away.

The Wildcat Falls stop was an oh-by-the-way that I added to my travels as I came home from a couple of hours on the trails at Beaver Brook Association in Hollis. Beaver Brook features several parking lots and trailheads around its property, so that on sunny weekend days like this one I’m not likely to be deterred by a full parking lot there. The one lot at Wildcat Falls was nearly full today, but the residential street nearby is probably fine for overflow parking. (Don’t tell the neighbors I said that.)

I tried visiting the Andres Institute trails today, but parking was impossible. Save that one for a weekday.

 

 

New Monadnock Guide

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Rail trail, Troy NH. Ellen Kolb photo.

Southern New Hampshire wanderers, I’ve added Monadnock Region Outdoor Activities to my bookmarks, and you might want to do likewise. It lists trails, of course, but also parks, including local ones of which I was unaware. I like the links to local conservation commission sites; I’ve found that those commissions are sometimes the only source for maps of trails on a town’s land. My compliments to the Reluctant Enthusiast for putting this resource together.

This rainy spring day puts me in mind of my last rail trail hike out Monadnock way, between Troy and Fitzwilliam. I’m about ready to find that trail again. The newly-discovered web site ought to give me more ideas for a day in Cheshire County.

Snowshoes on Goffstown rail trail

We braced for two feet of snow with high winds, and got a little shy of a foot and a half. No wind to speak of, although neighbors to the north and east got slammed. No ice or mixed precipitation. Just fresh powder, plowed roads, and no obstacles between me and the trailhead of my choice.

I took  my snowshoes to the Goffstown rail trail and had it to myself for an hour on a weekday afternoon. I saw one set of fresh cross-country ski tracks. A set of snowshoe tracks looked a day old. Aside from that, the powder was mine.

And omigosh, holy boot camp, Batman…! This was only the second time this season I’ve used my snowshoes, and the last time was on a well-packed down path. This time, all the splendid snow gave me a workout. Every muscle from ankles to hips is now indicating that I should have some ibuprofen handy tomorrow. Worth it, though. Conditions were excellent.

Through the trees,  I saw and heard a red-tailed hawk doing lazy circles over the river. I figured I’d get a good look at it once I got to the bridge over the Piscataquog River. Darned thing waited until I got there and then flew away downriver.

(If you’re in the Goffstown/Manchester area: The little parking area at the Moose Club Park Road trail crossing is plowed enough to allow a subcompact car without snow tires to get in and out without needing a push. Heading eastward from there, the trail has no deadfall from the recent storm. At the Manchester end of the bridge over the river, there’s a wall of snow left by plow trucks clearing the road to the ice arena, and the boat launch parking area is temporarily inaccessible.)

Packed snow on the trail

My winter walks so far have almost all been on pavement, even though we’ve had plenty of snowfall. It was time to find a local trail and maybe give the snowshoes a workout. I headed for Horse Hill close to home.

It had been a few days since the last snowfall, so the Loop Trail was packed down. No snowshoes needed, although spikes were handy. The weather’s brought some thaw/refreeze cycles, leaving icy spots here and there. (I’m using a new set of StabilicersLite that I picked up at my local L.L. Bean outlet, having finally worn out my old YakTrax.)

A quiet walk in the woods was perfect at the end of a day spent in front of a laptop screen. Pavement wouldn’t have been nearly as refreshing.

Temps reaching 40° left a kiosk’s snowcap drooping at a rakish angle.

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A tree looked freshly girdled, probably by one of the beavers from the nearby pond. The tree beside it bore a few fresh marks, as though a beaver had sampled it and thought “nah…I like the other one better.”

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