Checking in on NH State Parks

Earlier this year, as more people were drawn to outdoor recreation during the COVID pandemic, the most popular New Hampshire State Parks instituted a parking-pass reservation system to prevent overcrowding. Grating though I found the idea at first, I found on a trip to Pawtuckaway that the system seemed to be working. So how’s the reservation system now, more than half a year later?

At this point, only three parks still require advance reservations at least through November 22: Miller (Pack Monadnock), Monadnock, and Pawtuckaway. That leaves dozens of other state parks where there’s no need to reserve a spot in advance.

Wapack Trail sign, mountain, New Hampshire
View of Mt. Monadnock from Pack Monadnock in Miller State Park. Ellen Kolb photo.

Times being what they are, you might want to pack a mask or wear a neck buff that can be pulled up when needed. Governor Sununu has issued a mask order effective November 20 that includes outdoor masking if 6-foot distancing between people can’t be maintained. Somehow I doubt that enforcement on trails will be a priority, but please don’t take that as authoritative guidance.

Whatever park you choose, may you find respite and refreshment there.

Picking it up

Picking up litter is such a little thing, and I’ve really appreciated that act this year. Increased trail usage in my area has meant more trash on the trails, as people unused to using public lands haven’t yet developed good habits.

Does that sound patronizing? It’s kinder than my gut reaction, which is that people sometimes behave like jerks. Not a neighborly thing for me to think.

At any rate, I see folks rising to the challenge and picking up the trash. Some do so individually. (I keep a trash bag in my pack when I’m out and about, so I have one less excuse for passing by a dropped can.) Some people form or join crews, with the single purpose of cleaning up after thoughtless hikers.

woman picking up trash
Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay
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November in Boscawen

One of the southernmost trailheads for New Hampshire’s Northern Rail Trail is on Depot Street in Boscawen, just north of Concord. A little informational sign on the stretch of road shared by US 3 and US 4 points to the side street.

The trail surface invites biking, which means it’s fine for walking, too. The ambitious traveler with the right kind of bike could go clear to the other end of the trail in Lebanon in one trip.

I found the Depot Street trailhead on an overcast November afternoon that was warm enough for me to walk without my jacket. In the hour I was there, I covered about three miles. Along the way: a ball field, a farm with its big mown field, a bend in the low-flowing Merrimack River.

For more information: Friends of the Northern Rail Trail

Fall day in Candia

I drove down Depot Road in East Candia a little slowly, wondering if I’d be able to find the parking lot where the Rockingham Rail Trail crosses the street. I needn’t have worried; the nearly-full lot was impossible to miss. That’s nearly full. I tucked my car into one of the few open spots.

East Candia New Hampshire railroad depot sign
No depot building here, but a sign marks the spot where a depot once stood. All photos by Ellen Kolb.

The lot was a busy place. Couples and singles and families were taking bikes off racks or putting them back on. Hikers were setting out, many sporting seasonal blaze orange vests. It was as warm a day as November ever brings, and everyone wanted to take advantage.

Pick a direction: should I go east into Raymond, or west through Candia? Seeing several parties setting off to the east, I wished them well, and then turned my back to them to walk west.

rail trail granite walls
Rock cut along Rockingham Rail Trail, East Candia NH.

The Rockingham Rail Trail between Manchester and Newfields is more than 20 miles long. It’s a piece-at-a-time endeavor for a walker. I picked a winner of a day to amble out-and-back on a three-mile segment in Candia.

Temp in the 60s: what kind of November is this? Sunshine, few clouds, air as dry as could be.

There were more bicyclists than walkers on the trail. That didn’t mean walkers were overwhelmed; traffic was light to moderate. The few walkers kept their cheerful distance as we passed each other with smiles and nods – you stay on your side and I’ll stay on mine, we seemed to be saying.

Where houses were visible as I approached Main Street, the sounds and smells of a sunny late-autumn weekend took over: raking, leaf-blowing, the last round of mowing for the season, a carefully-tended fire to burn the clippings.

New England rail trail autumn
A sign along the way hints at the winter traffic to come.

My turnaround point was Route 43, or more precisely the tunnel under the ramp linking 43 with Route 101. The parking lot in East Candia was nearly deserted when I returned. I decided to spend a little time walking toward Raymond, but I was racing the sunset: after half a mile, I returned to my car.

I think I saw the trail at its most inviting for walkers. Once the snow flies and piles up, the Rockingham Rail Trail will become a snowmobile corridor. Until then, all you need there is your bike or your walking shoes.

My turnaround point. West of Candia, the trail continues through Auburn into Manchester.

New Hampshire Rail Trail Challenge Update

Here’s a Zoom meeting worth going online for. The New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition (of which I’m now a board member) invites you to a Rail Trail Challenge Update on Monday, November 23, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. The online event is free, but registration is necessary.

If you’ve been enjoying the Rail Trail Challenge, or if you’ve never heard of it and would like to know more, c’mon in.

Guest speaker will be Charles Martin, author of the New Hampshire Rail Trails guidebook now in its second edition. There will be time for questions and answers. I also hope to hear some trail reports and stories from Challenge participants.

See you then. In the meantime, you can learn more about NHRTC by checking out its website.

bicyclist on rail trail in forest
A bicyclist enjoys the Presidential Rail Trail in Gorham, NH. Ellen Kolb photo.

In praise of short walks

My polling place is at a nearby school, adjacent to the Grater Woods conservation area. I was scheduled to work on Election Day as a ballot inspector (a fancy name for people who hand out ballots). I had a long wait to vote, then a short time before my shift began; what to do?

Go to the Grater Woods trails, of course.

Grater Woods, Merrimack NH.

The trails were nearly deserted. The day was chilly, breezy, and sunny. I lingered for a few minutes at a little pond that’s usually a busy spot. This day, it was all mine.

I was ten minutes away from a polling station where the line of voters wrapped around the building, and I felt like I was in another world. A mental reset: that’s the power of a short walk in the woods, even on Election Day.