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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Summer drive: Benson’s etc.

Hot day, feeling sluggish, mulling over a list of places to go: I finally just got in the car and started driving. Cue George Harrison’s Any Road.


Along the Haselton Farms trail in Benson Park

Zipping through Rt. 111 in Hudson enroute to yet another Forest Society property (I’ll get that patch if it kills me), I realized that I was near Benson Park. I hadn’t been on the property in years – since it was Benson’s Wild Animal Farm, in fact. I made a quick detour, found the park, and walked a good three miles on its trails and paths. The trails I chose weren’t crowded, even with a couple of Pokémon Go groups intent on doing whatever it is they do.

Download a trail map before you go. I settled for taking a photo of the map at a kiosk on site. Kids, don’t try this at home; batteries are fickle friends.

The history of the property is available on the Town of Hudson web site. Indulge me as I recount a grossly oversimplified version:  once upon a time in the town of Hudson, New Hampshire, there was an amusement park called Benson’s Wild Animal Farm. We Of A Certain Age can recall bringing our families there once a year for the annual Sanders company outing, back when Hudson seemed to me way-the-heck-out-there.


Several small gardens in Benson Park can serve as shady spots for lunch.

(I have since walked to the Canadian border, where I adjusted my notions of what in New Hampshire constitutes way-the-heck-out-there.)

The Finer Minds at the state capital decided that a Circumferential Highway would ease all of Nashua’s traffic problems. (I hear you tittering over there in the back.) The Benson’s property was bought up by the state to mitigate the expected loss of wetlands for the highway project. Years passed, and the Circumferential Highway project quietly expired, leaving only exit 2 off the Everett Turnpike to remember it by. Eventually, the Finer Minds released the Benson’s property to the town of Hudson.

More years passed, many people put enormous efforts into rehabilitating the property, and Benson’s Park is now a Hudson jewel with a playground, dog park, memorials, and a trail network. The longest single trail, Haselton Farm, is about two and a half miles long; many shorter ones allow for extended hikes.


Not your typical trail feature.

On the Haselton Farm trail, some of the pavement remains from the Wild Animal Farm days, and the occasional sewer-access cover along the way serves as a reminder that this used to be a more developed area. On this 90-degree summer day, the trail was wonderfully shady, and a light breeze made bug repellent unnecessary.

This was the best spur-of-the-moment stop I’ve made in a long time. It’s great fun to find a place like this fairly close to home. I’ll be back.


9/11 memorial at Benson Park, featuring a beam from the World Trade Center.


I left Benson’s and stopped at the Bockes Memorial Forest just a few miles away before hunting down a pair of historical markers in Salem and Hampstead. Only short walks at each of these stops.

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Last stop was at an old friend of a place, the rail trail near Lake Massabesic in Manchester and Auburn, where I found everything I needed: shade and breeze and views of the lake.


Lake Massabesic 

May you enjoy some shady hikes of your own this summer!


I seldom get to the Dartmouth/Lake Sunapee region of New Hampshire, despite its many attractions. My husband The Runner had a race around Mascoma Lake in Enfield recently, and I went along for the ride on a warm early-summer day.

On a quiet Sunday morning, a walk along wildflower-lined Route 4-A was no trouble. Tree swallows were everywhere! I seldom see those birds where I live. I spent time on the quiet paths of the Shrine of Our Lady of LaSalette. Enfield Shaker Village is just across the street, and it surely rates a visit on another trip. I turned onto Main Street, the only bridge over the lake, to get to the Northern Rail Trail on the lake’s north side. I could have gone west to Lebanon or (on an ambitious day) southeast to Grafton, roughly following U.S. Route 4. This was a lazy day, though, and I simply meandered on the trail and on town roads as I waited for the runners to come through.

Never turn down a Sunday drive with someone special.  You might discover a lovely spot.

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.



Manchester Cedar Swamp: rhododendron heaven

I’m much obliged to reader Steve for bringing Manchester Cedar Swamp to my attention. This Nature Conservancy property straddles the line between Hooksett and Manchester, New Hampshire, not far from Hackett Hill Road. Among its features is the giant rhododendron, which happens to be a July bloomer. (Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam is another great spot. The park’s web site says peak bloom there is just fading.)

Parking is in a well-marked spot on Countryside Boulevard, 0.4 miles from Hackett Hill Road. Bring your bug repellent and enjoy the walk. Three interconnected loop trails total 1.8 miles.


Show Monadnock some love

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests is having work days on Mt. Monadnock’s trails tomorrow through Tuesday, July 12-16, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. each day. I don’t know if I can get there one of those days, but I’m going to try. Monadnock State Park is hugely popular, as anyone who has been there on a summer weekend knows, and the trails can get badly chewed up in the course of a year. I’ll bet you have your own Monadnock stories; feel free to share in the comment box below. Here’s a poster with more information about the project:

Forest Society's Monadnock trail days 2013

Haven’t been to Monadnock? Really?! It’s worth a trip to Jaffrey or Dublin or Troy to find a trailhead. There’s a summit with outstanding views, and the mountain is laced with trails of many different lengths and degrees of difficulty. I am not a fan of big crowds, so I try to time my visits accordingly. One Columbus Day weekend, I counted 140 other people on the summit with me. A couple of months later, in a nearly snow-free December with a 4:15 p.m. sunset, I was one of four people who made it to the top one afternoon to enjoy crystalline views in a biting wind. I preferred the December trip.

My favorite spot on the mountain isn’t the summit. It’s Bald Rock, from which I can sit in solitude and watch the crowds on the summit. Views to the east and southeast from there are wonderful, dominated by the Wapack Range. Bald Rock is named for this distinctive boulder, with the word “Kiasticuticus” carved into it; no one has been able to tell me who did the carving or what it means. I took this photo years ago, and I take full responsibility for failing to compensate for the harsh lighting.

Bald Rock, Monadnock State Park, NH. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

Bald Rock, Monadnock State Park, NH. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

The White Dot trail from park headquarters in Jaffrey is the most popular and my least favorite. It’s not the crowds that bother me so much as the steepness. I am not a mountain climber. (The Halfway House trail, from the parking lot on Rt. 124, is much more my speed.) My story of defying death on New Hampshire’s most popular mountain: I was coming down from the aforementioned December hike in a hurry (mistake #1), alone (mistake #2), after starting too late in the day (mistake #3) on the White Dot trail (mistake #4). I wanted to get to my car before sundown. I slipped twice. Once, I simply scrambled back to my feet and kept zipping along, having learned nothing from that first spill. About two minutes later, I slipped again. This time, I was on a kind of polished granite chute. My walking stick snapped as I fell, and I had no way to break or slow my fall. I wound up sliding down on my back, head-first. Those few seconds seemed to last forever. I knew I’d keep going until I hit something hard, and the results were not likely to be pretty. I shortly did indeed slam into a rock – and my backpack took the hit. I did not deserve that luck. I haven’t tried anything quite as dumb since then.

So avoid that kind of idiocy, and get out on the trails!

New Hampshire State Parks site

Forest Society site

Mt. Monadnock from Temple Mountain. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

Mt. Monadnock from Temple Mountain. Photo by Ellen Kolb.