Madame Sherri’s castle may crumble, but trails remain

As reported by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the castle ruins at Madame Sherri Forest in Chesterfield are now a bit more ruined. Time, weather, and probably a few too many human footsteps resulted recently in a collapse of one of the arches supporting the stone staircase. That makes me a bit sad. I’ve always found the remains of the “castle” – actually a once-fancy house – to be a charming visual gateway to recreational land.

(See Forest Society photos of the damage.)

But don’t fret. There’s still enough of the old structure left to spark a smile and fire the imagination, even with caution tape in place. Even better, the adjacent trails are unaffected.

ruins of Madame Sherri Castle in Chesterfield, New Hampshire
Madame Sherri’s castle, before July 2021 arch collapse

The Chesterfield Conservation Commission maintains a list of trails and features. The 50-mile Wantastiquet-Monadnock trail runs through the property. My favorite feature of the forest is Indian Pond, a fairly easy walk from the forest’s small parking area.

The Madame Sherri Forest is still very much worth visiting. Enjoy what’s there.

Indian Pond, Madame Sherri Forest, Chesterfield New Hampshire
Foggy day at Indian Pond, Madame Sherri Forest, Chesterfield NH

Little things

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.

What’s growing

Local history

What’s current

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.

Patching up

Four years, folks. That’s how long it’s been since I plunged into the Forest Society’s Forest Reservation Challenge. Visit 33 of the Society’s New Hampshire properties & get a patch, they said. Piece of cake, I said.

It took me four years to consume that particular piece of cake, I just got my patch.

Forest Society patch held by Ellen Kolb of New Hampshire
The Granite State Walker meets a challenge.

A few favorites

The project sent me to easy hikes and challenging ones, wetlands and high granite ledges, near home and darn near Canada. A few of the properties made deeper impressions than others.

Christine Lake, Stark, New Hampshire
Christine Lake, Kauffmann Forest, Stark NH
  • Kauffmann Forest, Stark. Christine Lake with its view of Victor Head and the Percy Peaks is a worthy destination in itself.
  • Dame Forest, Durham. When my daughter was a UNH student, I didn’t know this beautiful wetlands jewel was only a few miles away from campus. A long easy trail leads to Great Bay, and shorter trails are available. I had the place to myself for an unhurried visit when I was there a couple of years ago. I’m told that since COVID, it has become much more popular. I recommend a midweek visit.
  • Morse Preserve, Alton, with the summit of Pine Mountain. After seeing the wonderful view of Lake Winnipesaukee from there, and sharing the trail with only three other people, I may never visit Mount Major again.
  • Moose Mountains Reservation, Middleton/Brookfield. The view from Phoebe’s Nable turned my brown-bag lunch into a special event.

That’s not to mention the lime kilns, and the roads with whimsical names like Faraway and Local Ox Team, and autumn on Silver Mountain. Then there are a few spots suffering these days from too-much-love syndrome, and I’ll let you figure those out for yourself.

berries on hilltop, autumn in New Hampshire
Autumn on Silver Mountain, Lempster NH

How I did it

Pre-COVID, I had a job that sent me all over the state for various projects. I fit in Forest Society reservations where I could: a stop in Bethlehem on the way home from business in Littleton, a trail in Sandwich on my way to a presentation in Ossipee. A couple of times, I took one-day road trips with two or three reservations on the itinerary. The Society’s 5 Hikes programs helped me.

Bretzfelder Park, Bethlehem New Hampshire
Bretzfelder Park, a Forest Society property in Bethlehem NH

The Kingsbury-Chippewa property in Haverhill was particularly elusive. I finally got there as my husband and I returned from a weekend upstate, determined to avoid I-93. I said, “There’s this Forest Society reservation over in Haverhill…” and I may have mentioned something about the patch. Actually I’m sure I did. “Let’s go,” said my traveling companion. And so we did.

As is often the case, the journey – in this case journeys – mattered more than the arrival. The arrival took the form of a little embroidered patch. Every time I look at it, I’ll recall one of those journeys, and I’ll be smiling.

Exploring Forest Society properties

The Forest Society has some excellent resources. Check out NH Forest Explorer for a mobile-friendly guide to select reservations. Enjoy the 5 Hikes Challenge, a modified version of the older 5 Hikes in 5 Weeks program. Follow the Forest Society’s Facebook page for videos including virtual field trips to various properties.

A gallery of trail bridges

Everywhere I hike, I benefit from trail builders and maintainers. One of the most important things they do is design, install, and maintain bridges. I’m grateful for those structures, from the deceptively simple-looking bog bridges through soggy areas to the big metal spans replacing broken-down trestles over rivers.

rail trail bridge over Merrimack River in Manchester New Hampshire
The Hands Across the Merrimack bridge, where the Piscataquog Rail Trail crosses the Merrimack River in Manchester NH.

Some of them are lovely. Some are downright homely. A few are used: there’s one metal trail span in my town that was acquired from another municipality where it was no longer needed. There are bridges over rivers and bridges over busy highways.

Erecting a bridge on a trail isn’t a simple matter of saying “let it be so.” Sometimes, wetlands permits are required. Local commissions and even the state Department of Transportation might be involved. For bog bridges, materials need to be hauled in, often some distance from the nearest trailhead. Sometimes it takes a helicopter to lower a span into place. Maintenance is a constant concern, as wood rots and metal corrodes.

Thank you to all the bridge-builders out there!

Here are photos of a few that have helped me get from point A to point B now and then. From your own travels, what are some of your favorites?

Winnipesaukee view

A ten-dollar view for a two-dollar hike: that’s how a way-more-experienced hiker once described an easy scenic hike for me. Not a literal description, of course. The hike was free. The view was out of all proportion to the effort I’d put into getting there.

And so it was on a recent stop in Alton, when I visited the Forest Society’s Morse Preserve as part of the “5 Hikes” program. There’s a patch, you see…but I digress.

Lake Winnipesaukee and Alton Bay, New Hampshire. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
From Pine Mountain, Morse Preserve, Alton NH: Lake Winnipesaukee and Alton Bay. Photos by Ellen Kolb.

Alton’s Pine Mountain

A short uphill hike led me to the modest summit of Pine Mountain, where I was treated to a vista that included Lake Winnipesaukee and summits near and far.

Nearby was Mount Major, Alton’s principal crowd magnet, famed for the views from its summit. I once went there with a friend. The trail was mobbed from top to bottom. The parking lot was overflowing. And that was before COVID. I didn’t even make it to Major’s summit. Not a bad day, but too much company for my hiking taste.

If only I’d known about Morse Preserve then…! On my recent visit, I enjoyed the vista with three other people and a well-behaved dog. Hawks caught thermals overhead. Patchy hints of autumn flared here and there. An interpretive sign from the Forest Society identified the various peaks in the distance. Blueberry bushes were all over the place, resting up after what must have been a bountiful July.

No views to the south, but that’s just nitpicking, and I ought to be ashamed of myself for even mentioning that.

Let the Forest Society’s information be your guide to finding this enchanting place. Anyone interested in the area’s broader trail network should consult Belknap Range Trails.

The Belknap Range offers an extensive trail network.

Gilford

Later the same afternoon, Gilford played Miss Congeniality to Alton’s flashy prizewinner. The entrance to another Forest Society property, Weeks Forest, is located across Route 11-A from Gilford’s municipal government complex. Weeks has a couple of miles of flat trails, lined in September with late-summer wildflowers. It’s a pleasant spot. Getting there requires a nerve-wracking walk, or trot, across 11-A (parking is in the municipal complex lot).

Slender trees forming archway, Weeks Forest, Gilford NH
I entered Weeks Forest through an archway of sorts.

Gilford also has a couple of historical markers. I stalk those like they’re big game. I reward myself with a photo and a brief history lesson at each marker. The day’s catch: something old (a story of how Gilford was named for a North Carolina Revolutionary War battle, if you please) and something relatively new (a tribute to the town’s Outing Club).

Gilford NH Outing Club historical marker. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
The Gilford Outing Club marker sits at the base of what must be a fine sledding hill in winter

Home by the scenic route

I stretched out the afternoon’s road trip as long as I could before surrendering to I-93. A wrong turn sent me down some of Belknap County’s finest dirt roads, which I shared with flocks of turkeys blissfully unaware that hunting season began this week. I took it easy through Belmont and Canterbury on Shaker Road. I deserve a cookie, or at least a pat on the back, for resisting the urge to turn onto a road that leads to Concord’s Oak Hill trails and fire tower.

That’s a hike for another day.