More travel, more trails

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, Tilton. Ellen Kolb photo.

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.

Winnipesaukee River rail-with-trail in Tilton NH. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
Rail-with-trail in Tilton. Ellen Kolb photo.

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.

Lilac City Greenway in Rochester, NH
Lilac City Greenway, Rochester NH. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

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.

Cocheco River, Dover NH. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
Cocheco River beside Dover Community Trail. Ellen Kolb photo.

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.

Londonderry

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.

Flowering tree and shrub, springtime, Londonderry Rail Trail, New Hampshire.
Springtime on Londonderry Rail Trail, at Little Cohas Brook Reservoir. Ellen Kolb photo.

Subtly Spring

“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.

Simple wooden bridge on forest trail
Early-season work by trail maintainers: a refurbished bridge. Photos by Ellen Kolb.
Trees with beaver damage
The beavers are in town: this pair of trees had been untouched a week earlier.

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.

Blackbird amid reeds
Blackbird, nearly hidden in reeds

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.

Winni trail logo, Belmont NH

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.

Lake Winnisquam, Belmont, New Hampshire, from rail trail
Seen from the Winni Trail: a railroad signal mast, Lake Winnisquam, and the hills of the Lakes Region.

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.

Winni trail, rail trail in Belmont New Hampshire, in early spring.
Early spring on the Winni Trail

Spring’s Been Good

I had an interesting assortment of  New Hampshire walks and hikes in May, due in part to work assignments in some towns I don’t visit often.  Bugs are out, but flowers are blooming.  Weather has been variable, with 80 degrees one day and 50-and-drizzly the next. Mud season was as messy as ever. It’s all good.

Northern Rail Trail, Enfield

I enjoyed a little piece of this long trail that stretches from Lebanon to Boscawen. Enfield’s section offered views of Mascoma River and Lake, with convenient trailside parking off Main Street.

Mascoma Lake

Mascoma Lake

Northern Rail Trail, Enfield NH

B is for Boston, 132 miles away via the old rail line.

Forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots lined the rail trail.

Former train depot, Enfield NH

The old Enfield depot now serves as a garage for an emergency services vehicle.

Forest Society Properties, Bethlehem and Haverhill

The Forest Reservation Challenge patch continues to elude me, even after more than two years of trying to visit all the Forest Society’s featured reservations. I haven’t given up, though. On an overcast day in May I found my way to the Dana Forest in Dalton and Bretzfelder Park in Bethlehem.

I saw on my drive north that the Presidentials and even the peaks lining Franconia Notch were veiled in clouds. It was a day for woods walks, not vistas.

Closer to Home

The woods roads in Fox State Forest in Hillsborough were deserted when I visited in May, and mud season was in full swing. I arrived armed with bug repellent and proper footwear.

Along the Nashua River Rail Trail, columbines are in bloom. I’ve noticed that more clumps of these scarlet flowers are establishing themselves here every year. Good to see.

columbines along trail

Columbines along the Nashua River Rail Trail

In Nashua’s Mine Falls Park, a new bridge is in place over the canal, although the bridge is not yet officially “open.” Once it is, the link to Ledge Street will give more families easy access to the park.

bridge in Mine Falls Park, Nashua NH

Mine Falls Park: a new bridge will soon link the park to a Nashua neighborhood.

For all the natural beauty along the Goffstown Rail Trail, there’s some historical interest as well. Whenever I walk past the old county cemetery, I stop to say a prayer and pay my respects. From a now-dead website called nh-roots.org: “In this cemetery every grave is marked with a marble slab numbered which refers to a number in the record book giving a description of the deceased.” I don’t know if that record book has been preserved. The cemetery grounds are kept mown and trimmed, which may be the only remaining earthly tribute to the memory of the people buried there.

gravestones in Goffstown NH

Along Goffstown (NH) rail trail: county farm cemetery, located near the present-day county complex.

Notes From a Midday Ride

I broke away from work on this weekday just long enough to take my bicycle out for the first ride of the season on the Nashua River Rail Trail .

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Feature from mural along NRRT. Ellen Kolb photo.

I like the mural in Groton, in the underpass crossing Route 111. I think local students must have painted it. It’s a map not of local streets, but of the Boston and Maine rail lines, including the decommissioned one that now serves as a trail. Nice bit of history, paying respect to the trail.


A beaver resisted all my attempts to photograph it. I almost missed it, in a swampy area alongside the trail: only concentric ripples gave it away. It’s good to see the wetlands looking like wetlands again, as gentle spring rains heal the effects of last year’s serious drought. Last September I had no more chance of seeing a beaver at trailside than of seeing a pod of whales.


The NRRT was dedicated fifteen years ago, and the road crossing at Route 113 in Pepperell has always required extra caution, from motorists as well as bicyclists. The ice cream shop across the street is one compensation. So is the pocket-sized park that’s been developed just south of 113. The shrubs are in bloom. Benches and markers have been spruced up. Something new – at least to me – is an air pump anchored in place, ready to tend to a summer’s worth of flat bicycle tires. That’s being neighborly.

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A little history to go with my stop along the trail.


The river that gave the trail its name is not visible from the trail, except for a lovely mile-long stretch in Pepperell and Groton. Every time I see it, I think of the guidebook I received when I moved to New Hampshire more than thirty years ago, which had this to say about the Nashua River in Pepperell, where there’s a dam:

…but for the dirty water this would be a fine smoothwater trip. From [Groton] to East Pepperell, the river is not attractive, as the increase in water level has flooded swampland and killed the trees. [AMC River Guide Volume 2, Appalachian Mountain Club, 1978]

By 2002, the Guide’s third edition told a different story.

The Nashua River has enjoyed a major restoration in the last 25 years. The industrial pollution is gone now. Birds, wildlife, and fish are returning, and paddling the Nashua River is now an enjoyable experience.

Walking and biking alongside the river is pretty enjoyable, too.

swan along NRRT

Nashua River, Pepperell, Massachusetts. Ellen Kolb photo.

 

Spring in Mine Falls Park

I shared the Mine Falls trails this afternoon with dozens of other folks eager to enjoy spring’s first weekend. No crowds yet. Conditions reflect transition: trails have some patches of very slick ice, the ball fields are just emerging from the snow, and the low trail along the river is muddy enough for me to wear boots. I didn’t care, and neither did the runners and dog-walkers out there with me. There was tree damage over the winter, but the mess is all off the trails.

No Porta-Johns out yet. Be patient.

I should have brought binoculars and an Audubon guide book. With no bugs out yet, it would have been a fine day to pick a spot in the woods and just sit for awhile to spot the birds. On my walk today, I saw swans in the cove where I usually see herons. The blackbirds were making noise down at the culvert near the millyard. Mallards were poking along the canal shore along an ice-free stretch. A woodpecker — smallish; not sure what variety — was busy near the newest bridge. Of course, I saw robins. One of them seemed to be posing for a delighted three-year-old near the ball fields.