Kicking through the leaves

One more thing to love about autumn in New Hampshire, as if there weren’t enough already: playfully shuffling and kicking my way through the fallen leaves.

I recently arrived in The Big City (well, big for New Hampshire) for a long-booked three-hour business appointment, only to find it had been cancelled due to a broken piece of equipment. I understood the situation but was miffed nonetheless. Then it occurred to me that with three open hours ahead, I could probably find a decent trail nearby.

Epping was only a few miles away, with its piece of the Rockingham Recreational Trail that I hadn’t yet explored. Off I went. I found a small pullout at the trail crossing on Depot Road, just off Rt. 101.

Rail trail, autumn scene, New Hampshire, with marker for old bridge along railroad
Rockingham Recreational Trail, Epping, New Hampshire. The marker indicates the former site of a railroad bridge along the route. Photos by Ellen Kolb.

Fall colors are weeks past. Leaves are down. It’s all quite low-key, which is actually perfect for recovering from a moment of being miffed at a blown appointment.

The trail was covered with crisp dried leaves that rustled with my every step. At some spots, the wind had piled them up. And so I did something I never had a chance to do back when I was a kid in south Florida, and something I used to get annoyed at my own kids for doing after a wearying session of raking: I kicked the pile. I made a racket. Those leaves flew into the air.

It felt great. I had fun. And when I found other piles, I kicked through those, too. I was alone, so I wasn’t worried about looking silly. Pretty soon, I was downright grateful for the busted thingamajig that had caused cancellation of my appointment.

Go ahead. Find yourself a leafy late-fall trail, and send those leaves flying.

Wetland along Rockingham Recreational Trail, autumn, Epping NH.

Autumn walk to a fire tower

Take time for Oak Hill when you’re passing through New Hampshire’s capital city. Concord has many fine parks and trails, but only one includes a fire tower. The tower on Oak Hill was rebuilt not long ago, so it’s as shiny-and-new as you’ll ever find it. A hard frost or two has smacked down the local insects. Autumn colors are muted now, more gold-and-bronze than scarlet-and-yellow. Trees are losing their leaves, and so views are opening up. Wear something that’s blaze-orange; ’tis the season.

Find maps to all of Concord’s trails at concordnh.gov/1033/Hiking-Trails. Oak Hill is #12.

Oak Hill is exactly that: a hill covered with oak trees. It’s all a walk in the woods except for the fire tower and a couple of vistas (conveniently marked on the trail map). Follow the Tower Trail’s yellow blazes from the parking area on Shaker Road. Once at the tower, a climb to the landing just below the cab will reward you with a 360 degree view.

With apologies for my unsteady camera work: Oak Hill’s fire tower with one of the neighboring communication masts. All photos by Ellen Kolb/Granite State Walker.
Mount Kearsarge in Warner, seen from the Swope Slope vista on Oak Hill in Concord, New Hampshire.

Return to Andres Institute trails

I needed a hill climb as a mental palate-cleanser the other day. Not a big hill, just one with a view. Brookline (the New Hampshire version) is not-too-terribly far away, so I scooted down Route 13 to the Andres Institute of Art with its hilltop view of the Wapack Range.

It’s been awhile since my last visit, I guess. I pulled into what had been the driveway, and found out it’s not the public driveway anymore. Go back to the visitor center at 106 Rt. 13, said the sign. Visitor center? And which way was #106? My phone’s GPS was slow as molasses to give me the answer: a stone’s throw north.

Once I got there, I was oriented. Even first-timers will have no trouble following the signs into the AIA’s property.

The property was once a tiny ski area (rope tows, not gondolas) on a little hill in Brookline. The ski area is long gone. The current owner is a patron of the arts with a passion for sculpture created by artists from all over the world who come to New Hampshire to work in granite. Their work adorns a network of trails winding around the hill.

At the summit is the payoff: a view of the Wapack Range, complete with seating. A striking sculpture entitled Phoenix is in the foreground of the vista. For a short walk uphill (a generous half-mile or so), it’s a pleasant experience.

Wapack Range from Andres Institute of Art summit: Kidder, Monadnock (pointed summit), Temple Mountain ridge

Late-day haze dulled the view a bit. The silhouette of the range was clear enough, though, and I even caught a glimpse of Mount Monadnock playing peek-a-boo behind Kidder Mountain.

On the October day I was there, the paths had a golden glow. Beech and aspen leaves are turning. Flashes of crimson from maples are hinting at the peak foliage that will be on display on a couple of weeks.

The AIA trails can be very popular, but my late-day midweek autumn visit was delightfully quiet. A mental palate cleanser, indeed.

Sculpture "Animals" by Tony Jimenez, Costa Rica, installed at Andres Institute of Art, Brookline NH
“Animals” by Tony Jimenez, Costa Rica, 2017, Andres Institute of Art

More about the AIA trails, from 2015: Easy Uphill

Madame Sherri’s castle may crumble, but trails remain

As reported by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the castle ruins at Madame Sherri Forest in Chesterfield are now a bit more ruined. Time, weather, and probably a few too many human footsteps resulted recently in a collapse of one of the arches supporting the stone staircase. That makes me a bit sad. I’ve always found the remains of the “castle” – actually a once-fancy house – to be a charming visual gateway to recreational land.

(See Forest Society photos of the damage.)

But don’t fret. There’s still enough of the old structure left to spark a smile and fire the imagination, even with caution tape in place. Even better, the adjacent trails are unaffected.

ruins of Madame Sherri Castle in Chesterfield, New Hampshire
Madame Sherri’s castle, before July 2021 arch collapse

The Chesterfield Conservation Commission maintains a list of trails and features. The 50-mile Wantastiquet-Monadnock trail runs through the property. My favorite feature of the forest is Indian Pond, a fairly easy walk from the forest’s small parking area.

The Madame Sherri Forest is still very much worth visiting. Enjoy what’s there.

Indian Pond, Madame Sherri Forest, Chesterfield New Hampshire
Foggy day at Indian Pond, Madame Sherri Forest, Chesterfield NH

Little things

I love vistas from mountaintops. Sweeping views can take my breath away. They’ll always have their place for me. Even so, I take time to look down as I walk. What’s along the trailside? What’s in bloom this month? What’s that little kid ahead of me exclaiming over, pulling mom or dad aside to see? Little things.

What’s growing

Local history

What’s current

When I parked at Gerrish Depot in Boscawen and walked south along the Northern Rail Trail, I knew I was near a veterans’ cemetery. What I didn’t know is that there was a spur from the trail directly to the cemetery, with a sign that offered an detour to trail users wishing to pay respects. Other trails use signage to inform users about expansion plans, inviting donations to maintain or extend a trail. Sometimes a trailhead kiosk will feature a flyer that tells me about a local festival or program.

Destination hikes – heading to a waterfall, a view from a notch, or a fire tower, for example – are always interesting. I like big payoffs, especially if I’ve had to stagger my way uphill for a few miles. I’ve learned to love my undramatic walks, too. They’ve taught me to look out for the little things.