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.
The Granite State Walker on Mt. Monadnock.
At The Rocks in Bethlehem, N.H.
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.
At the Forest Society’s headquarters, Merrimack River, Concord.
On the way to Hay Reservation in Newbury.
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.
I headed to Hancock hoping to find some autumn color, but foliage season is only skimming the Monadnocks so far. The brilliant colors are a couple of weeks away. I had a beautiful drive nonetheless, followed by a good walk up Mt. Skatutakee on the property of the Harris Center for Conservation Education. (Check the “Trails” tab on that site for maps to local trails.) Great early fall conditions: sunny, cooling down, no bugs.
With or without fall color, Skatutakee’s summit is a good spot for lunch, just as I recalled. I was last there about thirteen years ago on a spring day when the blackflies were ferocious and ladyslippers were everywhere. I remember great views from that day, so the shrubs at the summit must have been trimmed back at the time.
I started too late in the day to add Thumb Mountain to the hike, with its Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down trails connecting to Skatutakee. That’s an inviting route for another day.
Harriskat Trail. Leaves are falling, but the maples haven’t turned yet.
The view from the Skatutakee summit south to Mount Monadnock was limited by the leafed-out trees.
Caterpillars are out and about.
North Pack Monadnock (at left) and Pack Monadnock, seen from Skatutakee’s summit.
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.)
My winter walks so far have almost all been on pavement, even though we’ve had plenty of snowfall. It was time to find a local trail and maybe give the snowshoes a workout. I headed for Horse Hill close to home.
It had been a few days since the last snowfall, so the Loop Trail was packed down. No snowshoes needed, although spikes were handy. The weather’s brought some thaw/refreeze cycles, leaving icy spots here and there. (I’m using a new set of StabilicersLite that I picked up at my local L.L. Bean outlet, having finally worn out my old YakTrax.)
A quiet walk in the woods was perfect at the end of a day spent in front of a laptop screen. Pavement wouldn’t have been nearly as refreshing.
Temps reaching 40° left a kiosk’s snowcap drooping at a rakish angle.
A tree looked freshly girdled, probably by one of the beavers from the nearby pond. The tree beside it bore a few fresh marks, as though a beaver had sampled it and thought “nah…I like the other one better.”
This morning’s newspaper carries news of the passing of Helen Closson of Manchester, New Hampshire at the age of 94. The headline describes her as “a force for good.” The long list of her civic activities bears this out. As a Granite State walker, I will always think of her as the woman who brought us the Hands Across the Merrimack pedestrian bridge over the Merrimack River in Manchester.
The Hands Across the Merrimack bridge. Ellen Kolb photo.
The bridge is a gem, pleasant in itself, all the more valuable for its setting along a rail trail that now stretches from the south end of the Millyard well into Goffstown.
Turning an abandoned rail trestle into a pedestrian walkway is a team effort, and my gratitude for the bridge ought to be extended to many people. Mrs. Closson, though, was the team leader who saw the project through to the end.
I appreciate the gift.
Manchester, New Hampshire, as seen from the Hands Across the Merrimack bridge over the Merrimack River.
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.
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.