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

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

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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.

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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!

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.

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Mascoma Lake

Northern Rail Trail, Enfield NH

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

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Forget-me-nots lined the rail trail.

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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.

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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.

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.

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