A gallery of trail bridges

Everywhere I hike, I benefit from trail builders and maintainers. One of the most important things they do is design, install, and maintain bridges. I’m grateful for those structures, from the deceptively simple-looking bog bridges through soggy areas to the big metal spans replacing broken-down trestles over rivers.

rail trail bridge over Merrimack River in Manchester New Hampshire
The Hands Across the Merrimack bridge, where the Piscataquog Rail Trail crosses the Merrimack River in Manchester NH.

Some of them are lovely. Some are downright homely. A few are used: there’s one metal trail span in my town that was acquired from another municipality where it was no longer needed. There are bridges over rivers and bridges over busy highways.

Erecting a bridge on a trail isn’t a simple matter of saying “let it be so.” Sometimes, wetlands permits are required. Local commissions and even the state Department of Transportation might be involved. For bog bridges, materials need to be hauled in, often some distance from the nearest trailhead. Sometimes it takes a helicopter to lower a span into place. Maintenance is a constant concern, as wood rots and metal corrodes.

Thank you to all the bridge-builders out there!

Here are photos of a few that have helped me get from point A to point B now and then. From your own travels, what are some of your favorites?

Talk about trails

When 2020 kicked off, I had never heard of Zoom. Since March, thanks to COVID, I’ve had online meetings on the Zoom platform several times a week. (And still, I’m apt to forget to unmute myself when I’m called upon to speak.) When I’m lucky, as I’ve been this month, I get to Zoom about trails.

My thanks go out to the New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition board members, who welcomed me to a recent online meeting to talk about our mutual interests. I learned more than I shared!

autumn leaves

I’m likewise grateful to Jeanine Notter, who welcomed me and former New Hampshire Rep. Lenette Peterson to her “Chattin’ With Jeanine” show on Merrimack Community TV for a half-hour conversation about our favorite places to hike in the Granite State. Even the TV show was a Zoom event, with everyone logging in from home while an MCTV tech whiz put it all together.

Ellen Kolb NH Granite State Walker
Screenshot courtesy Merrimack Community TV/Chattin’ With Jeanine

I love sharing trail stories with fellow Granite State walkers. We learn from each other. If you’re a program host and you’d like to shine a light on southern New Hampshire’s trails, please let me know if I can be part of your conversation.

Winnipesaukee view

A ten-dollar view for a two-dollar hike: that’s how a way-more-experienced hiker once described an easy scenic hike for me. Not a literal description, of course. The hike was free. The view was out of all proportion to the effort I’d put into getting there.

And so it was on a recent stop in Alton, when I visited the Forest Society’s Morse Preserve as part of the “5 Hikes” program. There’s a patch, you see…but I digress.

Lake Winnipesaukee and Alton Bay, New Hampshire. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
From Pine Mountain, Morse Preserve, Alton NH: Lake Winnipesaukee and Alton Bay. Photos by Ellen Kolb.

Alton’s Pine Mountain

A short uphill hike led me to the modest summit of Pine Mountain, where I was treated to a vista that included Lake Winnipesaukee and summits near and far.

Nearby was Mount Major, Alton’s principal crowd magnet, famed for the views from its summit. I once went there with a friend. The trail was mobbed from top to bottom. The parking lot was overflowing. And that was before COVID. I didn’t even make it to Major’s summit. Not a bad day, but too much company for my hiking taste.

If only I’d known about Morse Preserve then…! On my recent visit, I enjoyed the vista with three other people and a well-behaved dog. Hawks caught thermals overhead. Patchy hints of autumn flared here and there. An interpretive sign from the Forest Society identified the various peaks in the distance. Blueberry bushes were all over the place, resting up after what must have been a bountiful July.

No views to the south, but that’s just nitpicking, and I ought to be ashamed of myself for even mentioning that.

Let the Forest Society’s information be your guide to finding this enchanting place. Anyone interested in the area’s broader trail network should consult Belknap Range Trails.

The Belknap Range offers an extensive trail network.

Gilford

Later the same afternoon, Gilford played Miss Congeniality to Alton’s flashy prizewinner. The entrance to another Forest Society property, Weeks Forest, is located across Route 11-A from Gilford’s municipal government complex. Weeks has a couple of miles of flat trails, lined in September with late-summer wildflowers. It’s a pleasant spot. Getting there requires a nerve-wracking walk, or trot, across 11-A (parking is in the municipal complex lot).

Slender trees forming archway, Weeks Forest, Gilford NH
I entered Weeks Forest through an archway of sorts.

Gilford also has a couple of historical markers. I stalk those like they’re big game. I reward myself with a photo and a brief history lesson at each marker. The day’s catch: something old (a story of how Gilford was named for a North Carolina Revolutionary War battle, if you please) and something relatively new (a tribute to the town’s Outing Club).

Gilford NH Outing Club historical marker. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
The Gilford Outing Club marker sits at the base of what must be a fine sledding hill in winter

Home by the scenic route

I stretched out the afternoon’s road trip as long as I could before surrendering to I-93. A wrong turn sent me down some of Belknap County’s finest dirt roads, which I shared with flocks of turkeys blissfully unaware that hunting season began this week. I took it easy through Belmont and Canterbury on Shaker Road. I deserve a cookie, or at least a pat on the back, for resisting the urge to turn onto a road that leads to Concord’s Oak Hill trails and fire tower.

That’s a hike for another day.

Nashua loop

An hour’s free time let me string together a Mine Falls path with the Nashua Heritage Rail Trail to make a pleasant loop for an afternoon walk.

sign for Nashua Heritage Rail Trail, New Hampshire
A Heritage Trail sign gives the story behind the trail, for those who stop to read closely. Photos by Ellen Kolb.

Once upon a time, the railroad line that’s now the Heritage Trail was on the same line that became the Nashua River Rail Trail. It’s not likely that the two trails will ever connect again, what with the Everett Turnpike and a few decades of real estate development in the way.

Today, the paved Heritage Trail parallels West Hollis Street from City Hall to just short of Simon Street. There are numerous road crossings and congestion through the Tree Streets behind City Hall. To the west, the trail is quieter. There’s a sign along the way indicating where to veer off to get to the 7th Street entrance to Mine Falls Park.

Nashua Heritage Rail Trail, New Hampshire. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
Nashua Heritage Rail Trail, near western terminus.

Mine Falls Park, as ever, was a beautiful place to visit. The cove’s water level in this drought-stricken season was lower than I’ve ever seen it. Even so, the park’s woods and waterside plants were irrepressibly lush.

Mine Falls Park bridge, Nashua, New Hampshire. Photo by Ellen Kolb
Whipple Street access bridge from Mine Falls Park.

How To: A bit of road walking was involved in the loop. I parked on Whipple Street, walked up Simon Street to Will Street – watching out for the tractor-trailers on their way to the nearby UPS depot – and then picked up the Heritage Trail. When I got to the sign on the trail pointing me to Mine Falls’ 7th Street entrance, I turned onto 7th Street and followed it across Ledge Street to the park entrance. I turned left at the canal and kept walking back to the Whipple Street entrance. A little shy of 3 miles, all told.

Gifts from August

While a couple of my local recreational areas have been closed due to the too-much-love phenomenon (complicated by the no-sense-of-stewardship phenomenon), I am still getting out for good walks. August started out hot and hazy. It’s going out with hints of fall: fresh breezes, low humidity.

Pack Monadnock

On the one and only hilly hike I tried recently, Pack Monadnock via the Marion Davis Trail, I slipped on a bit of wet ledge and fell on my best-padded feature. I’ll have the bruise for another couple of weeks. It was worth it, just to be back on Pack. Even on a hazy day with a noisy storm approaching – which is what had me zipping downhill too quickly – Pack Monadnock makes for a nice hike.

View of Mount Monadnock from Pack Monadnock with Wapack Trail sign
The view of Monadnock from Pack Monadnock is unimpressive in summer haze. All photos by Ellen Kolb.

Pack Monadnock is in Miller State Park, one of the New Hampshire state parks that is operating under an advance reservation system for parking permits. Yes, COVID restrictions are still with us. I’ve used the reservation system at a few parks since last spring, and after some initial annoyance, I’m OK with it. It rules out spur-of-the-moment trips to certain parks, but there are always other trails to consider.

Close to home

Bench in a forest
The overlook I discovered: peaceful, not flashy.

Closer to home, my favorite nature preserve in town has been a soothing refuge all summer. I recently discovered a little overlook that I somehow hadn’t known about, complete with bench, in a quiet part of the preserve. What does it overlook? A bone-dry stream-bed, that’s what. We’re in a drought. Birches in the preserve have shown their stress by dropping leaves early. The larger ponds and marshes in the preserve are at low water levels, but they’re still full of life.

Dragonfly on log in pond
I sat pondside to watch for herons, and got distracted by the dragonflies.

Beaver Brook, Hollis

I took my own advice and sought out a less-used trailhead at Beaver Brook, where the Jeff Smith Trail meets NH Route 130 in Hollis. I was rewarded with a couple of hours of near-solitude on surprisingly varied trails.

Large maple tree hosting large fungus, mushroom, located in New England
Maple tree hosting the day’s most dramatic-looking fungus

The mixed hardwoods were no surprise. I loved coming across a meadow with an old cellar hole and a stone wall nearby, dead giveaways that there had once been a farm there. My favorite trail turned out to be one that I hadn’t known about before, through a patch of woods dominated by white pines. Pine needles cushioned my every step.

The breeze in the trees there reminded me of growing up in south Florida, where fifty years ago long-needled Australian pines dominated every local park. Those trees were non-native and invasive, but I didn’t know it at the time; they were just normal trees to me. The memory of the sound of the wind through those long needles has stayed with me. The pines in New Hampshire with their shorter needles play a slightly different tune, just as soothing.

Tiny late-summer pink wildflower in New England
Less than an inch wide and only a few inches above ground, this wildflower caught my eye.

Queen Anne’s lace and goldenrod tried to get my attention, but a tiny pink wildflower beat them both. I don’t know what it’s called. Perhaps it’s something common, but it was new to me: a gift from August.

Three towns in a row

Recent walks and rides: Londonderry, Derry, and Windham. Each town has its own portion of New Hampshire rail trail on the old Manchester-Lawrence rail line. There are gaps, but the segments are being stitched together a bit at a time.

Windham Junction NH

These are paved trails. They’re like boulevards without cars. They’re high-traffic compared with most of their unpaved cousins, but they’re off-road and therefore safer than hoofing it down any local street. I just stayed to the right, passed with care when I needed to pass, and kept my speed down. (I never have trouble keeping my speed down.)

Londonderry

No sooner was the Londonderry trail extended to Harvey Road in 2019 than an informal parking lot took shape near the trailhead, doubling as an observation point for watching the planes at Manchester’s airport. I love that kind of efficiency.

On my most recent visit on a hot summer day, I was surprised by a gentle fragrance as Little Cohas Brook came into sight. I gave the credit to the blooming water lilies. Loosestrife was in bloom as well: lovely purple color on what I’m told is a highly invasive plant.

Little Cohas Brook, Londonderry rail trail NH
Along Little Cohas Brook, Londonderry rail trail. All photos by Ellen Kolb.

Busy as the trail can be, I had no sense of being crowded on my midweek visit. There was room for everyone. I even had a bench to myself for a bit of birdwatching.

bench along Londonderry rail trail NH
Benches are a bonus along rail trails.

I like seeing mile markers that have been restored or re-created. They keep me mindful of a trail’s history.

Mile marker, Londonderry Rail Trail NH
“L” for Lawrence MA, “M” for Manchester NH.

A decorative cairn made me smile at another peaceful resting spot along the trail.

Cairn along Londonderry rail trail NH
Positive thoughts along the way.

Four and a half paved miles extend from Harvey Road to the town line at NH Route 28. From the southern end, I could see across the road to a yet-undeveloped stretch of railbed in Derry. Its day will come.

Local trail group: Londonderry Trailways

Derry

I spent a good afternoon walking on Derry’s trail that links Hood Park with Windham Junction. That’s about 8 miles round trip, with refreshments available from businesses near each end. Parking is available at both ends.

Derry rail trail NH
Lest I forget about social distancing, someone painted a reminder.

Nothing but an embankment and a strip of trees separated me from I-93 on the southern part of the trail. Once the trail and highway diverged, the scenery changed to wetlands full of red-winged blackbirds. Proceeding north, I entered residential areas, then passed a ball field, and crossed busy NH Route 102 in the center of town.

Crossing 102 was easier than I expected. Traffic actually stopped for me as I entered the crosswalk. That is not something I take for granted in central business districts, even on a weekend.

My favorite part of the trail paid tribute to poet Robert Frost, who spent a few years teaching at nearby Pinkerton Academy. “The Road Not Taken” had been stenciled on the trail only a day or two before my walk. More artwork has since been added.

Robert Frost poem on Derry rail trail NH
Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is a Derry Rail Trail highlight.

Local trail group: Derry Rail Trail

Windham

I confess to a special liking for the Windham rail trail. Annually – except during this COVID year – there’s a 5k race (3.1 miles) here that usually falls near my birthday. I consider the race a present to myself. Even on the hottest day, this is a cool and restful trail.

Boston and Maine caboose, Windham Junction, NH
This Boston and Maine RR caboose is now a Windham Junction landmark.

Windham Junction, with its restored depot and caboose, has a good-sized parking lot. That makes it a good starting point for a ride or walk north into Derry or south into Salem. My recent trip was just to enjoy the Windham trail itself.

Windham rail trail NH
Roulston Road crossing (no parking here).

The trail looked practically freshly-pressed. Recent maintenance work has improved the trail’s surface and drainage.

Windham rail trail NH
New pavement, new drainage work, trimmed shrubs: welcome to Windham’s rail trail.

Local trail group: Windham Rail Trail Alliance