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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I hope you’ll check out this link to an item I wrote for The New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition. Readers of this blog know how often I return to the Nashua River Rail Trail. It’s familiar yet always fresh.
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.