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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When the temps hit 100…

My state is having its annual heat wave. My car’s thermometer registered 104° today. It’s hot enough to make me forget for a few days that icy driveways are only a few months away. It’s even hot enough to make an indoor treadmill look appealing. But I found a good place for a half-hour walk today: a rail trail under a nice shady canopy of trees.

Summer day Goffstown rail trail

The Goffstown rail trail was my destination today. You might have a shady refuge just like it near you. Packed sand underfoot, trees overhead, river nearby. Restful and cool, until the trail crossed a power line cut and the shade disappeared for a hundred yards or so.

From the trail’s bridge over the Piscataquog River, I could see a couple of kayakers who were no doubt in for a whopping case of sunburn. Still, the river was their refuge from the heat, so good for them.

Piscataquog from Singer bridge

As I turned around at the bridge to return to my car, a smiling bicyclist flew past me. She called back to me over her shoulder, “isn’t this a glorious day?”

Yes, it was.

More ideas: Five years ago, I made a list of five of my favorite southern New Hampshire hot-weather hikes

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.)

Favorite rail trails

I’m reading a biography of Theodore Roosevelt. A description of a jam-packed campaign tour that he undertook in 1912 via rail includes Nashua, New Hampshire and Ayer, Massachusetts on a list of stops.

Hello, Nashua River Rail Trail. It appeals to my inner history buff that whenever I’m there, I’m retracing a path that was once traveled by a former President.

Who knows how many other distinguished passengers were once conveyed by rail along paths I take today? I’m sure there are stories I haven’t heard yet.

The NRRT has long been my favorite local rail trail, but the Goffstown Rail Trail along with its Piscataquog cousin in Manchester has become a contender. The connection between the Goffstown and Manchester trails was worth the wait. I’m particularly fond of the segment between West Side Arena and Danis Park Road. I get to use the pedestrian bridge that finally replaced the abandoned trestle over the Piscataquog River, and then I walk with just enough people on the trail to make it a pleasant experience. It’s a place of peace and quiet but not isolation.

I’ve yet to explore the full length of the Rockingham Recreational Trail between the Manchester/Auburn line and Newfields, but the westernmost segment alone does not disappoint with its views of Lake Massabesic.

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View from the trail’s main parking area, just south of the Massabesic traffic circle.

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Massabesic Lake seen from a boat launch along the trail: imagine the variety of birds to be seen and heard here.

My single visit to the trail along the old Troy-to-Fitzwilliam line left me determined to come back and explore more of Cheshire County’s rail trails.

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Heading from Troy to Fitzwilliam on a foggy day: silent, eerie beauty.

The Presidential Rail Trail and its crown jewel, the Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge, are too far away for me to visit more than once a year. An easy mile-and-a-half hike from Airport Road in Whitefield leads to one of New Hampshire’s hidden treasures.

For eight years, I’ve relied on Charles F. Martin’s comprehensive book New Hampshire Rail Trails for information about the location and history of these and other trails. You could order the book online, but I prefer finding my trail guides at local book shops. The browsing always yields new resources for planning future trips.

Union Leader on the Goffstown rail trail’s mysterious cemetery

I was surprised one day on the Goffstown rail trail to come across a little cemetery along the trail, behind the Hillsborough County government buildings. It was neatly kept, but clearly old, and the stones bore numbers instead of names. I wondered if it had been the county’s “potter’s field” at one point.

The New Hampshire Union Leader recently published an article that shed a little light on the situation. Thanks to reporter Jay Bouchard and trail walker Steve MacDonald, I now know a little more about this fascinating spot. Read “Town’s rail trail brings exposure to mysterious county cemetery.” 

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Cemetery beside the Goffstown Rail Trail. Photo by Ellen Kolb.