Sharing the wealth

I grew up in south Florida, in a pleasant but crowded neighborhood filled with houses on eighth-of-an-acre tracts. “Open land” to me meant the local playground. I came to New Hampshire as an adult and found a very different culture. People who owned land, were not developers, and were happy to leave their property open to the likes of hikers: imagine that! On many of my walks over the years, I’ve been blessed by landowner generosity.

This came to mind not long ago during a walk in Concord that brought me to a gated road at the edge of a school’s property. The school is famous and expensive, with a campus to match. It’s a small town unto itself. I was once invited to speak to a class at the school, and I nearly got lost trying to find my way around. Never mind the buildings, though, impressive and numerous as they are. The best thing about the campus is its open land, the green spaces.

dirt road in a forest with an open gate
Private land, limited public use: sharing the wealth. Photos by Ellen Kolb.

Almost as good: the school’s choice to welcome visitors who simply want to enjoy a walk through the property. Signs are posted along the road: “Walkers, joggers, and cyclists are welcome to enjoy these grounds in a safe and appropriate way.” No checking in, no showing ID, just behave yourself.

I had been to the campus for a few winter walks, taking advantage of clear sidewalks and light traffic on icy days. My recent visit was in summer, when the campus wears a different aspect. I chose to explore a road leading to the school’s boathouse on a nearby pond. As it stretches away from the main campus, pavement gives way to gravel, and the trees in full leaf offer shade all the way to the pond.

Few flowers were growing in the shade. Other vegetation – trees, shrubs, grasses – was thriving in spite of the region’s drought, muting the traffic sounds from the nearby interstate highway. I struggled to identify birds by their songs; their music was everywhere but the birds were hidden in the trees. For once, I had no schedule to keep. I had stumbled onto what I consider pure gold: a path all to myself on an unhurried midweek local walk.

New Hampshire pond with one canoeist and a wooded shoreline
If only I’d had a kayak!

Coming out of the woods at road’s end, the pond gleamed in the sunshine. I could see the highway from there, and I knew that a paved bike path on state-owned land lay on the highway’s other side. Was there a connector? With no “keep out” signs to discourage me, I kept walking. The dirt road dwindled to a path and then to a rough trail…and yes! I walked under the highway on a path that I’m certain is as unofficial as it is locally popular. Soon, I was on the bike path paralleling the highway.

There, I was in full sun. I brushed against oxeye daisies, fireweed, and clover too wild to be controlled by any mower. I didn’t mind the traffic noise; it was the price of admission.

I got back to my car a little over an hour after I’d left it. I’d managed to cobble together a loop featuring the best of the season’s shade and sun. I’m grateful to the stewards of the bike path, and just as grateful to the stewards of the private school’s land. It’s good to be welcomed in pleasant places.

Oxeye daisies and butterfly
Oxeye daisies and their tiny visitor.