A friend and I have been trying for several weekends to arrange a hike, with last-minute work commitments sabotaging every trip so far. Still, we keep planning. When I suggested Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge, she said “where’s that?” I was going to refer her to a blog post here, when I discovered to my embarrassment that I hadn’t yet written about this lovely place, despite my fondness for it. Oops. Making up for lost time here.
This is another northern trip, from my base in southern New Hampshire. The refuge straddles the towns of Jefferson and Whitefield. I usually see it in April, after I attend a certain annual event in nearby Bethlehem. I can’t drive that far without adding an extra hike to the agenda. In good years, I can fit in a summer trip as well. I take U.S. 3 (what else?) through Franconia Notch and Twin Mountain, and look for the airport sign in Whitefield pointing me to a right turn. A drive around the south side of the one-runway airport brings me to a little biomass power plant, across from which is a well-marked parking area for Pondicherry.
From the parking area, one could be forgiven for thinking “is that all there is?” The Presidential Rail Trail extends north from there, looking like a long dirt boulevard. (In fact, it’s a busy snowmobile thoroughfare in the winter.) Cherry Pond is a mile and a half away via the trail. During my April visits, little spring flowers are usually peeking up on the sunny side of the trail when there’s still ice along the shaded side. I seldom have company here, and there is little noise except for the occasional small plane landing at the airport.
The walk into the refuge is tree-lined, as you can see from the accompanying photo. This makes the sudden view of the Presidentials all the more startling when I arrive at Cherry Pond. I never get tired of that view.
Nearby are Little Cherry Pond and the adjacent wetlands. The Cohos Trail passes through, piggybacking on the Presidential Rail Trail for some distance. There’s an observation platform, affording excellent views for the birdwatcher who remembered to bring her binoculars (which I ALWAYS forget). A rail line runs through the property as well. Signs sternly warn that the rail line is “active,” but that means “two trains a week” or thereabouts. I sometimes see a few freight cars parked on a nearby siding; this quiet location still bears the old name of Waumbek Junction.
Beavers have waged undeclared war on hikers for years by causing flooding of a trail on the east side of Cherry Pond. Hikers currently have the upper hand with the recent rehabilitation of the Slide Brook Trail. The beavers don’t affect the southern access that I’ve described above. Critters of all sizes find Pondicherry a congenial place. I’ve seen moose tracks, but no moose.
Click on this link to read what the state of New Hampshire has to say about the refuge. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has information as well, though a link is unavailable at this time. The Pondicherry refuge is a cooperative venture of state, federal, and private organizations.
The best guide to the Pondicherry trails can be found in the Jefferson Dome chapter of Kim Nilsen’s 50 Hikes North of the White Mountains, about which I’ve raved before.