#ReadOnCamera to boost a library (and a trail)

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.

What you need to know about this #ReadOnCamera event: watch online at www.twitch.tv/mcl_foundation. Follow the Foundation’s posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to learn more about the featured readers.

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.

Image by Manchester City Library Foundation
Blogger Ellen Kolb reading Cohos Trail guidebook
The Granite State Walker getting ready to #ReadOnCamera

Subtly Spring

“Show me some spring pictures,” a reader recently asked me. He was looking for budding trees and fresh green growth. Perhaps I can oblige him in another week or so. For now, the signs of spring are subtler.

It’s mud season, but the trails at Horse Hill Nature Preserve in Merrimack were in remarkably good shape the other day. The herons were back on Lastowka Pond, croaking and courting. I could see that the beavers had been busy along the shoreline, taking down a big tree that barely missed a bench as it fell. Deeper into the woods, I smelled freshly-cut lumber on a refurbished bog bridge.

Simple wooden bridge on forest trail
Early-season work by trail maintainers: a refurbished bridge. Photos by Ellen Kolb.
Trees with beaver damage
The beavers are in town: this pair of trees had been untouched a week earlier.

On a recent walk through Mine Falls Park in Nashua, I looked for swans in the cove but found none. Some years, there’s a pair that bullies the park’s Canada geese into the cove’s farther reaches. The geese are safe for now. I was glad to see blackbirds amid the reeds that edge the cove; I missed them in winter.

Blackbird amid reeds
Blackbird, nearly hidden in reeds

Business took me to Loudon recently, and I added a couple of hours to the trip so I could visit nearby Belmont and discover the Winni Trail, a paved rail trail along Lake Winnisquam. That was one of my better detours.

Winni trail logo, Belmont NH

I had the advantage of a fine sunny day, with cool air and miles of visibility. A stretch of trail went through the woods, with lake and rail line out of sight, and then broke into the open to hug the shore alongside the rails. Good thing someone thought to set up a few benches along the way; the views are definitely worth stopping for.

Lake Winnisquam, Belmont, New Hampshire, from rail trail
Seen from the Winni Trail: a railroad signal mast, Lake Winnisquam, and the hills of the Lakes Region.

It was my first experience with rail-with-trail, where a trail shares the right-of-way with an active rail line. That particular line is owned by the state of New Hampshire, not by a rail corporation, and I suppose that might have simplified development of the trail.

The shared right-of-way continues into Laconia on the WOW Trail (for Lakes Winnisquam, Opechee, and Winnipesaukee). Someday, with a lot of cooperation and investment and volunteer work, there could be a continuous recreational rail trail linking WOW in Laconia with the Winnipesaukee River Trail in Tilton via the Winni Trail in Belmont. That’s a project to cheer for, if Belmont’s trail is indicative of what’s ahead.

Winni trail, rail trail in Belmont New Hampshire, in early spring.
Early spring on the Winni Trail

Construction this spring at Miller State Park

A favorite tactic of mine for enjoying Pack Monadnock without crowds is going to Miller State Park midweek. That option will be on hold for awhile this spring, as major work on utility infrastructure in the park will begin in April. Read on the New Hampshire State Parks website about the project and its schedule.

Access to trails and the auto road will be limited at various times.

I won’t complain much about the inconvenience. As a southern New Hampshire resident, I benefit from assorted utilities and modes of communication whose infrastructure needs to be set up on hills. At the same time, I appreciate the fact that such set-ups are subject to public hearings and environmental considerations.

It’s a good idea to check out the state parks website before heading to any state park. A few are retaining a reservation system for parking, first established to manage last year’s COVID crowds. A few miles away from Miller and Pack Monadnock, Monadnock State Park requires a reservation AND a $15 parking fee (ouch!), which covers up to 6 people per vehicle. Know before you go.

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

On just-right snow

I’ve been a Granite Stater for a few decades now, but I grew up in Florida. “Snow” to a Floridian is all alike, just cold white stuff that falls from the sky, ideally several states away. My first few New Hampshire winters were a revelation: powder, heavy slush, the dreaded “icy mix,” thawed-and-refrozen, and so on. I’ve learned to appreciate the variations that give each winter day its own personality.

Even for a onetime Florida girl, winter has its moments. A sunny day on packed powder, for example, is as wonderful for a walker as for any skier. A recent Saturday on the Nashua River Rail Trail was as good as it gets.

Nashua River Rail Trail in winter
Nashua River Rail Trail at New Hampshire/Massachusetts state line. Ellen Kolb photo.

Snow on several bitterly-cold days had piled up powder along the trail. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the NRRT, and there’s no snow grooming, so users had to make their own paths. By the time I got to the trail, a few informal lanes had already formed. Cross-country ski tracks were evident, as was a packed-down lane suitable for walkers wearing snowshoes or cleats. There was plenty of untracked snow for snowshoers wanting to get a workout. Best of all, while the trail had obviously seen traffic before I arrived, hardly anyone was out there during my walk.

I’ve been on NRRT in every season. It’s shaded in the summer, colorful in the fall, and adorned with a succession of flowers from mud season until hard frost. It’s popular on summer weekends, when segments of it are as crowded as a carnival midway. Winter is its quiet time.

I drank in the quiet the other day. The prop plane from the nearby skydiving school was in its hangar; no one was mowing a lawn; the crowds were home awaiting warmer days. Snow covered the pavement, muted every sound, and concealed the ground where bluets and columbines will bloom a few months from now. I spent two hours on the trail and wished I could have spent two more.

Since that visit, I’ve seen winter’s messier side. The snow’s now crusted with ice. A few thaw-refreeze cycles in the coming days will leave roads looking much better than trails to me. That’s fine – but when the powder falls again, I’ll be ditching work for a few hours.

Nashua River Rail Trail in Dunstable Massachusetts
On Nashua River Rail Trail, Dunstable, Massachusetts. Ellen Kolb photo.

Good news to follow

There are a couple of wonderful blogs I follow, written by people who love southern New Hampshire outdoors as much as I do. Keep these in mind if you’re looking for trip inspiration.

New Hampshire Garden Solutions: This one isn’t a gardening how-to, as the name might suggest, but a beautifully-illustrated guide to southwestern New Hampshire’s natural phenomena. The topics vary with the seasons, wherever the writer is wandering. A naturalist’s eye for detail, flowing language, and excellent photographs make this blog delightful.

This is a blogger after my own heart. From the About page: “I hope by visiting that you will see what amazing beauty nature holds and that you will become more interested in exploring your own area.” Perfect.

Miki’s Picks: Find in this blog simple and straightforward descriptions of easy hikes, most of them in southern New Hampshire. I like following this one to discover new hikes close to home, like Burns Hill in Milford.

I hope my readers will share their own favorites. I can understand if you don’t want to give away the location of your favorite trail. Your favorite blog, on the other hand, is meant to be shared.

Happy February!