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!

Easing into the year

I wrote last October about a layered trail: ice, mud, and leaves underfoot. That’s pretty much what I’ve found in January in southern New Hampshire, minus the leaves. Things are pleasantly messy, as long as I have some traction on my shoes. Yes, even for the flat paths: slipping on an icy flat trail in Mine Falls Park left me with a concussion a few years ago. That’s one winter adventure I don’t care to repeat.

I was in Sandown the other day, sharing a trail with some polite ATVers. The trail wasn’t so much layered as patchy: ice here, slush there, frozen tire tracks in the shade, and lots of mud down the middle. I accidentally hit on the best time of day to be a walker there: mid-afternoon, after most of the ATVers had finished for the day. Not every multi-use trail works out so well for me.

Not every trail gives me town line markers. I like it when the markers agree with my GPS.

A short drive north: the Northern Rail Trail follows the Merrimack River in Boscawen and part of Franklin. On New Year’s Day there, I was surprised to see what I’m certain was an osprey. I thought for sure they’d all have headed south long before. An unexpected sighting like that is always a treat. I was too slow to get a photo. I have many miles yet to discover along this trail, which is one of the most popular in central New Hampshire. I’ve walked on each end, so to speak – Lebanon and Enfield at one end, Boscawen at the other – and there are about 40 more miles to go. I could bike it in the summer or fall, but somehow I think that’s taking the easy way out.

Norhern Rail Trail New Hampshire with signs for two snowmobile clubs
Where the work of one snowmobile club ends, another’s begins.

While we’re on the subject of walking in January, let’s thank the snowmobile clubs that groom so many of the trails I enjoy. It’s not all snow grooming: when a club takes responsibility for a trail, the members also do things like clear away deadfall and make sure the trail’s full width gets attention.

I haven’t neglected my town’s conservation areas. I spent a brisk hour on a big loop route starting in Grater Woods, connecting with an adjacent neighborhood with which I was unfamiliar, returning on busy Baboosic Lake Road. I’m not a fan of being a pedestrian on one of our town roads with little shoulder and no sidewalk, but sometimes that’s where a path takes me. As for Horse Hill, I’ve never had a bad day there. No matter how many cars are in the parking lot, the trail network is extensive enough to keep us out of each other’s way.

Do you have resolutions about walks you want to take this year? I always start the year with a list of destinations, more for inspiration than anything else. I don’t want to waste time wondering where to go, if I find myself with a free afternoon. I just dip into The List, which I admit is heavy on rail trails. I also keep a map of New Hampshire on my wall, with outlines of each town, and after I walk in a new town I color in its spot on the map. I get a silly amount of satisfaction out of that little visual record.

First Day Hikes on your own

Plan now to hit the trail on New Year’s Day. First Day Hikes might be “virtual” in 2021, but they’re happening. New Hampshire State Parks offer some opportunities. No groups, but also no lines at a sign-in table. That works for me.

This post is illustrated with a couple of photos from past First Days, when I visited Monadnock and Wellington State Parks. Guided hikes like the ones I enjoyed there won’t be happening this January 1, but walking solo or with family is a treat in itself.

Ellen Kolb at Monadnock State Park, New Hampshire
The Granite State Walker celebrating a New Year’s Day near Mt. Monadnock

The state parks team is making the best of yet another virtual event, a peculiar phenomenon of 2020 origin that means group-event-without-a-group. If you register for their 2021 First Day Hike program, you’ll be eligible for a drawing for a 2021 Family Season Pass to New Hampshire state parks.

And then there’s the photo contest, for photos taken at New Hampshire state parks between December 26, 2020 and January 1, 2021. Read the details on the State Parks page, and then head out to Pawtuckaway or Miller or whatever other state park strikes your fancy.

As I write this, a day-long rain has washed away the foot of snow that fell here in southern New Hampshire just last week. No telling what trail conditions I’ll find by the time New Year’s Day rolls around. Barring an ice storm, though, I’ll be outdoors that day. Maybe I’ll travel no further than one of my town’s nature preserves, or maybe I’ll be more ambitious. There’s nothing like a Granite State walk to bring in a new year properly.

May you find just the right path from which to wave goodbye to 2020!

Ellen Kolb on New Hampshire First Day Hike 2017 overlooking Newfound Lake
First Day Hike, 2017: the Granite State Walker on Little Sugarloaf overlooking Newfound Lake, via Wellington State Park in Bristol NH.