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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After a COVID-influenced year of curtailing my activities, I’m keeping some appointments that don’t involve videoconferencing. One benefit to out-of-town drives is that I’ve been able to check out new trails. On one day I had just enough spare time to sample the Winnipesaukee River Trail in Tilton. Another day, during a Seacoast trip, I enjoyed a tripleheader of varied paths. A more routine errand to the Manchester Airport gave me an excuse to see how the Londonderry Trail looks in spring.
Winnipesaukee River Trail
This is not to be confused with the Winni Trail, where the “Winni” stands for “Winnisquam.” The Winnipesaukee River Trail may someday connect with Winni, though, if several links are developed. Like Winni, the Tilton segment is rail-with-trail.
The Winnipesaukee River Trail goes from Franklin to Tilton via Northfield, with a little bit of road walking included. I recently visited the easternmost mile. Parallel and very close to U.S. 3, the path is surprisingly quiet, shielded by a row of buildings from some of the traffic noise. The river was pretty but quiet due to lack of rainfall; a depth indicator painted on a bridge abutment was well above the current water level.
A lengthier visit extending to Franklin would have been more rewarding, but my time was limited. I enjoyed a peaceful half-hour along the river. My turnaround point was startling, after the quiet walk: the commercial cluster by exit 20 on I-93. Had I wanted a snack, that would have been a place to consider, with the trail’s terminus flanked by fast-food places. My starting point had some options as well, with U.S. 3 serving as Tilton’s Main Street.
The Winnipesaukee River joins the Pemigewasset River in Franklin to form the Merrimack, the waterway that defines south-central New Hampshire.
Rochester and Dover
I rarely get to Strafford County. When I did earlier this month, I visited three very different trails.
The Farmington Rail Trail extends from the town of Farmington to the city of Rochester near Spaulding High School, roughly paralleling NH Route 11. I had been warned that it was sandy enough to leave even fat-tire bicyclists in despair. Being a walker, I dismissed that concern. Silly me. It was like walking on a beach, giving my legs more of a workout than I’d bargained for. I probably needed that anyway.
Next stop: the Lilac City Greenway, short and sweet. The northern portion of it runs along Rochester’s main drag, serving as a sidewalk. It’s paved, nicely landscaped for spring, and adorned with abstract sculptures. I benefited from a combination of Charles Martin’s guidebook and Google Maps, which warned me that the municipal parking lot close to the greenway is accessible only to northbound traffic on Route 125.
Then, south to Dover. Without realizing it, I’d saved the best for last. The Dover Community Trail, developed relatively recently, was wide and quietly scenic. I parked at the western end, at the Watson Road trailhead. The fairly large parking lot (room for about 20 cars) was nearly full when I arrived at midday on a workday. Even so, there was no sense of crowding on the wide, well-packed trail that extends about three miles to the center of Dover.
The Cocheco River flowed alongside the trail, and several anglers in hip waders were trying their luck. I was passed by a few lunch-hour runners, and in turn I passed a few easygoing dog walkers. My map told me that offices for county government and a large insurance company were nearby, but they were completely out of sight and sound, built on higher ground.
I’m sure the downtown end of the trail has a much livelier character. I wasn’t looking for lively that day. The Watson Road trailhead was the right place for me to start my walk.
Here’s a familiar destination for me: Londonderry Rail Trail from the Harvey Road/Airport trailhead. What did it look like on a drizzly spring morning? Delightful. A film of pollen glazed portions of Cohas Brook reservoir, but the trees in flower looked so good that I didn’t mind all the allergens floating around.
There are plenty of “destination” trails in New Hampshire worth a full day’s exploration, but I value quick trail stops, too. They can give a busy day a special kind of spark.
I’m about to join a cheerful crowd of Granite Staters in a 24-hour fundraising event to benefit the Manchester City Library Foundation. Around the clock on Wednesday, April 7, 2021, we’ll take turns reading aloud, with a different theme each hour. The event kicks off at midnight with an hour devoted to Nature. At about 12:20 a.m., I’ll read a short selection from The Cohos Trail guidebook. Author Kim Nilsen included some New Hampshire natural history in that wonderful guide, and that’s what I’ll share.
Not a night owl? Go online to the project anytime on April 7. Different readers, different books.
New Hampshire author Dan Szczesny will be the featured reader during that midnight hour. Readers of this blog, take note: Dan’s currently working on a book about New Hampshire’s fire towers. I’m looking forward to some serious hiking inspiration when that’s published.