October’s walks

Blue sky, thirty-odd degrees, visibility unlimited: October at its best. This was a month of short hikes in a pleasing variety of places. Some of them have been guided hikes as part of the Forest Society’s Five Hikes in Five Weeks series.

Goffstown Rail Trail

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The Friends of the Goffstown Rail Trail have just unveiled a short but welcome upgrade to the sandy stretch of trail running behind the county government complex on Route 114. The new hardpack surface is much friendlier to bicyclists.

The trail is covered with leaves, which is no surprise in October. What did surprise me was the absence of fallen twigs and branches after several windy days.

This was a between-appointments visit to the trail. I wish I’d had the time to walk clear out to the Piscataquog river bridge and back.

Muster Field Farm

Muster Field Farm is up Sutton way, just south of I-89. It’s a working farm as well as a historical homestead. It’s on a quiet road that’s fine for walking, with other paths and roads nearby to create loop routes of varying lengths. There’s a farm stand on the property, and I was lucky enough to be there on a day when $5 got me a big bunch of colorful cut zinnias.

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Muster Field Farm, Sutton NH.

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The Harvey Homestead is part of the Muster Field property.

Monson Center

My previous visits to the trails in Monson Center near the Milford/Hollis line were in the summertime, with irises blooming and mosquitos biting. October brings a different atmosphere, bracing and clear.

Monson was an 18th-century town that lasted less than 40 years before its inhabitants petitioned the state to formally rescind the town’s charter and divide the land among surrounding towns. Today, the land is a Forest Society property. Located only a few miles from busy Rt. 101-A, the parking area on Federal Hill Road is easy to miss. I’ve overshot it myself. It’s worth finding, though, for its historical interest as well as its trails.

 

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Beavers flooded part of the Monson property, and herons have taken advantage, as their nests attest.

Moose Mountains Reservation

This was a bit of a drive for me, taking me up to Middleton, but it suited me fine during foliage season. My hike in Moose Mountains Reservation took me to Phoebe’s Nable. That’s right, Nable. I wondered if that was a corruption of “nubble,” but my companions didn’t think so. None of us knows how the feature got its name. No matter – the views from there were fine, and it was possibly the month’s best lunch spot.

The reservation has other trails I had no time to explore. This would make a fine destination for a half-day of wandering through hills, fields, and forest.

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The view from Phoebe’s Nable

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Destinations, Found and Missed

I really thought I could nail down that Forest Society patch for visiting 33 Society properties throughout New Hampshire. I’ve fallen short. Dalton and Sandwich did me in, which is to say I haven’t been able to manage a trip to Dana Forest or Eagle Cliff. I’ll settle for earning the patch via tier 2 status, AKA the easy way, which involves concentrating on one specific region and answering a few questions about the properties there. I shall send the Forest Society my entry in a New Year’s Day email.

Don’t think for a minute that my time on the patch project has been wasted. I loved every ¬†property I visited. Every mile driven was worth the time and effort. Sometimes, I’d go a few miles off-route on a business day just to find one of the reservations or forests on the project list. (Tip: always keep walking shoes in the car.) One gorgeous fall day, I spent hours on the Route 16 corridor plus-or-minus a few miles, discovering four Forest Society properties including High Watch Reserve. I wanted to stay up there on Green Mountain until the last leaf dropped.

Seeking inspiration for your hikes this coming year? Check out the Forest Society’s list. Make a list of state parks you want to visit. Do a web search of conservation commissions in the towns near you; you’ll find a treasury of local trail maps and descriptions.

Just get out there.

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.

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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

Recovery: I couldn’t have done it alone

After tripping on a parking-lot pothole and falling hard on my knee last February, I thought I’d lose a year of hikes. February’s a depressing month anyway and such dreary thoughts fit right in.

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Flat trails have been blessings to me this year.

I was wrong. This has been a wonderful year, and I’m grateful for every mile on every hike. This has not been a year for many hilltops, but after using a cane for awhile during rehab, I developed a new appreciation for New Hampshire’s rail trails.

My resources for medical care were not unlimited (can you say “high deductible”?), so I had to be stingy about medical consultations. The ones I had were worth it. I’m grateful to the orthopedist who quickly ruled out a fracture & then encouraged me to keep my spirits up. I owe a lot to the physical therapist who helped me regain strength and balance. Along with the massage therapist who has worked with me for years and the pros at my local community acupuncture clinic, the doc & the PT got me back on the trails.

Hobbling up Pack Monadnock and partway up Kearsarge and Mt. Prospect left me feeling like I’d conquered the world. The Forest Society Challenge inspired me to find new places for walks, making boredom impossible. I managed about 300 miles of recreational walking and hiking this year, which is about 290 miles more than I thought possible right after my accident.

(Watch out for potholes. Seriously. And don’t run in the dark. Voice of experience here.)

This has been a year filled with blessings. May we all enjoy the same in 2017. See you on the Granite State’s trails.

Heald Tract guided hike

I joined 17 people and one tiny-but-mighty dog for a leisurely three-mile amble through a portion of the Forest Society’s Heald Tract in Wilton, New Hampshire.

Castor Pond, where we enjoyed lunch on our hike. It’s home to heron and other water birds, as well as beaver and otter.

 

Our guide was David, a volunteer for the Harris Center for Conservation Education. Two of my fellow hikers owned property near the tract and knew a lot about the history of the area. This made for good company and good conversation for the three hours we spent together.

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We walked through an area with old wells and foundations, and heard tales of the people who had built them and settled the area. We saw the most imposing beaver dam I’ve ever laid eyes on. I heard kingfisher as we sat pondside enjoying our lunch. No one was in a hurry, the company was congenial, and the weather was fine. I left determined to keep an eye on the Forest Society and Harris Center calendars in the future for other walks like this one.

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This barn foundation dating back to the nineteenth century is about six feet high. The rest of the structure was lost to fire long ago.

For more about the Heald Tract including a map of the trails, go to forestsociety.org. Learn more about the Harris Center at harriscenter.org.

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This little terrier is an unlikely-looking hiker, but she proved to be an intrepid and friendly companion.

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The opening to this old well is about five and a half feet across – easily the largest I’ve seen.

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David from the Harris Center led the hike.

This weekend, a guided hike

I’m heading to Wilton this weekend to join a group hike through the Forest Society’s Heald Tract, guided by a gentleman from the Harris Center for Conservation Education. Solo hiking is usually my preference. I can learn from naturalists, though, and seeing a trail through someone else’s eyes always reveals something new.

On my first visit to the Heald Tract some years back, as I walked on a trail edging a pond, a pair of Canada geese suddenly began honking nearby. They had been hidden by some reeds near the shore. They swam away toward the center of the pond, honking loudly all the time, yet not taking to flight. It dawned on me that I might have gotten close to their nest and that the birds were trying to distract me from it. I don’t know why they didn’t just chase me. I backed away and took another trail, and soon the geese quieted down.

I saw my first grouse that day, but it saw me first and shot up from the ground as I approached. Startled me senseless for a moment. I recovered my wits in time to admire the bird as it fled.

Several organizations sponsor group hikes or trail work days in southern New Hampshire, as do some local conservation commissions. Watch for event calendars, such as those from the Forest Society, the Harris Center, and Beaver Brook (Hollis).