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.

 

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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.

Visits to Nashua River Rail Trail

Look back over this blog’s decade of posts and one place gets mentioned in all seasons: the Nashua River Rail Trail. It extends 12 miles between Nashua, New Hampshire and Ayer, Massachusetts.

I’ve biked it and walked it, and if I were so inclined I could skate on it or ride a horse. (Neither is likely.) I love marking the seasons. I like the sound of the skydiving plane overhead and the sight of the colorful chutes as the skydivers make their jumps. I like seeing what’s being planted at the farm in Dunstable. I am enchanted anew each time I see the soda machine that a trail-abutting family has set up. I LOVE the ice cream stand by the trail in East Pepperell.

There are no bad seasons here.

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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.

First of June, Dunstable and Hollis

I shouldn’t have worried about not seeing columbines on my last walk along the Nashua River Rail Trail. I just hadn’t waited long enough. They were out this morning. So were ladyslippers, which I have never noticed along this trail. I spent a few minutes today on the short stretch of trail in Dunstable between the Massachusetts/New Hampshire state line and the first River Road crossing. I also took a side trail to look at the Nashua River, which is lazy and still today. My photo of the river shows only a sharp reflection of the trees along the banks. No apparent flow; just a mirror.

I didn’t have much company on this early-morning walk. I saw two bicyclists when I was nearly back to my car. I thought they were chatting with each other, until they got close enough so I could see they were each talking on a phone. Really, guys? But I shouldn’t judge. I carry my phone all the time, too. Those bicyclists missed some good flowers as they rolled past, deep in their respective conversations.

I also spent time on Beaver Brook land in Hollis today, north of Route 130. More ladyslippers – lots of them! They’ll be gone very soon, as the mountain laurel gets set to bloom. (And that’s a lovely sight.) I hiked around the wildlife pond with three other people who know the area well.

We stopped at the bridge that crosses the center of the pond, with a beaver dam nearby. One of my companions told us about bringing her five-year-old son to this spot. She told him beavers lived nearby. Being five and literal, the boy called out, “Mr. Beaver, you come out!” Just as Mom was explaining that beavers couldn’t answer him, a beaver surfaced, slapped the water with its tail, and swam away. Score one for the five-year-old.

What are you seeing this week?

Greening up

No columbines yet on the Nashua River Rail Trail. I knew today was kind of early in the season, but I was eager for the year’s first visit to this old friend of a trail. I spotted a columbine along the way in the Dunstable stretch about three years ago. The following year, a second plant sprang up a few feet away. Since then, I haven’t been able to spot them – pulled up? died? I don’t know, but I look for them anyway.

Tiny violets - harbingers of wildflower season

Tiny violets – harbingers of wildflower season

Blossoms were few this weekend – a dandelion, and a few of the tiny violets that I refuse to call weeds even when they’re all over my lawn. The deciduous trees along the trail are just beginning to leaf out, and little pines are taking root in the shadow of big ones. The skunk cabbages down in the wetlands are the brightest green in sight. Spring cleanup has already been done by some wonderful group, probably volunteers, who have moved the winter’s deadfall off the pavement.

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Columbine, seen along NRRT in 2012.

Most flowers are still a few weeks off, and yes, I’m impatient for them. Still, I liked what I saw today – if not for its own sake, then for what it means for the coming season. Clumps of green grasses and ground cover are poking up through the dead leaves along the edge of the trail. The farm in Dunstable has sheets of white row-cover already out on one field, so something’s been planted – will it be pumpkins or butternut squash this year? The soda vending machine that one whimsical family sets up annually in their back yard adjacent to the trail is back, and the price per soda is unchanged at $1.

No plane from Skydive Pepperell. I’m not sure if that was due to the weather or the calendar. From late spring through fall, I’m accustomed to the every-20-minutes rhythm of the Twin Otter as it takes off from its airstrip near the trail, makes lazy circles up to what I’m told is 13,000 feet to let out the skydivers, then descends and returns.

From a good NRRT neighbor: the soda stand

From a good NRRT neighbor: the soda stand

Weekend traffic was far below summer levels. Very few Type A’s, as I call the cyclists that seem to be on a mission, zooming past everyone else, calling out a courteous but abrupt “On your left!” as they fly by. This was a family day, featuring kids on training wheels or on very shiny bikes that were probably under the Christmas tree. One high-spirited six-year-old had a BMX-style helmet that probably cost more than his bike.

No helmet or bike for me this weekend, just sneakers and a hankering for wildflowers. They’re not out yet, but I’ll see them soon.