An hour’s free time let me string together a Mine Falls path with the Nashua Heritage Rail Trail to make a pleasant loop for an afternoon walk.
Once upon a time, the railroad line that’s now the Heritage Trail was on the same line that became the Nashua River Rail Trail. It’s not likely that the two trails will ever connect again, what with the Everett Turnpike and a few decades of real estate development in the way.
Today, the paved Heritage Trail parallels West Hollis Street from City Hall to just short of Simon Street. There are numerous road crossings and congestion through the Tree Streets behind City Hall. To the west, the trail is quieter. There’s a sign along the way indicating where to veer off to get to the 7th Street entrance to Mine Falls Park.
Mine Falls Park, as ever, was a beautiful place to visit. The cove’s water level in this drought-stricken season was lower than I’ve ever seen it. Even so, the park’s woods and waterside plants were irrepressibly lush.
How To: A bit of road walking was involved in the loop. I parked on Whipple Street, walked up Simon Street to Will Street – watching out for the tractor-trailers on their way to the nearby UPS depot – and then picked up the Heritage Trail. When I got to the sign on the trail pointing me to Mine Falls’ 7th Street entrance, I turned onto 7th Street and followed it across Ledge Street to the park entrance. I turned left at the canal and kept walking back to the Whipple Street entrance. A little shy of 3 miles, all told.
While a couple of my local recreational areas have been closed due to the too-much-love phenomenon (complicated by the no-sense-of-stewardship phenomenon), I am still getting out for good walks. August started out hot and hazy. It’s going out with hints of fall: fresh breezes, low humidity.
On the one and only hilly hike I tried recently, Pack Monadnock via the Marion Davis Trail, I slipped on a bit of wet ledge and fell on my best-padded feature. I’ll have the bruise for another couple of weeks. It was worth it, just to be back on Pack. Even on a hazy day with a noisy storm approaching – which is what had me zipping downhill too quickly – Pack Monadnock makes for a nice hike.
Pack Monadnock is in Miller State Park, one of the New Hampshire state parks that is operating under an advance reservation system for parking permits. Yes, COVID restrictions are still with us. I’ve used the reservation system at a few parks since last spring, and after some initial annoyance, I’m OK with it. It rules out spur-of-the-moment trips to certain parks, but there are always other trails to consider.
Close to home
Closer to home, my favorite nature preserve in town has been a soothing refuge all summer. I recently discovered a little overlook that I somehow hadn’t known about, complete with bench, in a quiet part of the preserve. What does it overlook? A bone-dry stream-bed, that’s what. We’re in a drought. Birches in the preserve have shown their stress by dropping leaves early. The larger ponds and marshes in the preserve are at low water levels, but they’re still full of life.
Beaver Brook, Hollis
I took my own advice and sought out a less-used trailhead at Beaver Brook, where the Jeff Smith Trail meets NH Route 130 in Hollis. I was rewarded with a couple of hours of near-solitude on surprisingly varied trails.
The mixed hardwoods were no surprise. I loved coming across a meadow with an old cellar hole and a stone wall nearby, dead giveaways that there had once been a farm there. My favorite trail turned out to be one that I hadn’t known about before, through a patch of woods dominated by white pines. Pine needles cushioned my every step.
The breeze in the trees there reminded me of growing up in south Florida, where fifty years ago long-needled Australian pines dominated every local park. Those trees were non-native and invasive, but I didn’t know it at the time; they were just normal trees to me. The memory of the sound of the wind through those long needles has stayed with me. The pines in New Hampshire with their shorter needles play a slightly different tune, just as soothing.
Queen Anne’s lace and goldenrod tried to get my attention, but a tiny pink wildflower beat them both. I don’t know what it’s called. Perhaps it’s something common, but it was new to me: a gift from August.
Recent walks and rides: Londonderry, Derry, and Windham. Each town has its own portion of New Hampshire rail trail on the old Manchester-Lawrence rail line. There are gaps, but the segments are being stitched together a bit at a time.
These are paved trails. They’re like boulevards without cars. They’re high-traffic compared with most of their unpaved cousins, but they’re off-road and therefore safer than hoofing it down any local street. I just stayed to the right, passed with care when I needed to pass, and kept my speed down. (I never have trouble keeping my speed down.)
No sooner was the Londonderry trail extended to Harvey Road in 2019 than an informal parking lot took shape near the trailhead, doubling as an observation point for watching the planes at Manchester’s airport. I love that kind of efficiency.
On my most recent visit on a hot summer day, I was surprised by a gentle fragrance as Little Cohas Brook came into sight. I gave the credit to the blooming water lilies. Loosestrife was in bloom as well: lovely purple color on what I’m told is a highly invasive plant.
Busy as the trail can be, I had no sense of being crowded on my midweek visit. There was room for everyone. I even had a bench to myself for a bit of birdwatching.
I like seeing mile markers that have been restored or re-created. They keep me mindful of a trail’s history.
A decorative cairn made me smile at another peaceful resting spot along the trail.
Four and a half paved miles extend from Harvey Road to the town line at NH Route 28. From the southern end, I could see across the road to a yet-undeveloped stretch of railbed in Derry. Its day will come.
I spent a good afternoon walking on Derry’s trail that links Hood Park with Windham Junction. That’s about 8 miles round trip, with refreshments available from businesses near each end. Parking is available at both ends.
Nothing but an embankment and a strip of trees separated me from I-93 on the southern part of the trail. Once the trail and highway diverged, the scenery changed to wetlands full of red-winged blackbirds. Proceeding north, I entered residential areas, then passed a ball field, and crossed busy NH Route 102 in the center of town.
Crossing 102 was easier than I expected. Traffic actually stopped for me as I entered the crosswalk. That is not something I take for granted in central business districts, even on a weekend.
My favorite part of the trail paid tribute to poet Robert Frost, who spent a few years teaching at nearby Pinkerton Academy. “The Road Not Taken” had been stenciled on the trail only a day or two before my walk. More artwork has since been added.
I confess to a special liking for the Windham rail trail. Annually – except during this COVID year – there’s a 5k race (3.1 miles) here that usually falls near my birthday. I consider the race a present to myself. Even on the hottest day, this is a cool and restful trail.
Windham Junction, with its restored depot and caboose, has a good-sized parking lot. That makes it a good starting point for a ride or walk north into Derry or south into Salem. My recent trip was just to enjoy the Windham trail itself.
The trail looked practically freshly-pressed. Recent maintenance work has improved the trail’s surface and drainage.
Of all the unexpected things about 2020, a surge of interest in this Granite State Walker blog delights me. Southern New Hampshire’s trails are being discovered not only by Granite Staters, but also by Massachusetts neighbors whose recreational options have been limited due to pandemic restrictions. Readers from outside the region, well-traveled in their own areas, are eager to read about how other low-key hikers are faring in this challenging year.
I love it. Let’s learn from each other.
No need to be a pro or a full-time adventurer. I’m neither. Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote in GSW’s first post back in 2006, explaining how and why I started this blog. Maybe something will sound familiar to you, or maybe your introduction to the trails was completely different. Either way, let’s share our stories. Thanks for visiting.
Launching Granite State Walker, 2006
Walking for pure joy sort of snuck up on me. When I needed to lose weight, I developed the habit of heading outside after dinner to go around the block a few times. Much later, it dawned on me that there were a whole lot of more interesting places I could explore — maybe not after dinner, but on weekends & days off.
I found state parks. I discovered rail trails. I walked through neighborhoods that I had only before seen from a car window.
[I’ve been in New Hampshire since 1982.] I moved up from Florida with my husband and baby, hardly expecting this whole Northern thing to work out as well as it has. It took me awhile to realize just how much of Florida’s beauty I had taken for granted the whole time I was growing up — the beauty most of the tourists miss. I didn’t want to make the same mistake here. Having five kids, and making them my occupational priority (why don’t I just say “full-time stay-at-home mom”?), I have learned little by little over the years about appreciating things close to home….
So, here I am, southern NH-based and fascinated by the NH outdoors. I am a complete amateur at what I do, in the sense that I do my walking because I love it.
I plan to write about some of my favorite spots (not all of them!) and post some photos if I manage to take any worth posting. I’m an amateur at that, too.
I can tell already that the Rail Trail challenge is going to figure into many future posts. I hope readers who are inspired by the challenge will share their own posts and photos so we can learn from each other.
She made an important point to me that makes me much more optimistic about earning that Challenge patch: participants must explore each trail, not travel every inch of every trail. Whew! OK, so I’m not just going to do a quarter-mile of the Northern Rail Trail and then check it off the Challenge list. But it’s good to know that an overgrown trail – northern stretch of Fort Hill, maybe? – won’t be a stopper.
The next day, at Paula’s urging, I picked up the second edition of Charles F. Martin’s book, Rail Trails of New Hampshire. The first edition has been my companion on many trips. With more trails developed and with conditions changing on existing ones, a new edition is timely.
Brookline: a pair of short trails
Why go out of my way to check off anything from a trail list? In 2020, the only reason I need is that I am grateful for diversions from the challenges of COVID-19. I crave out-of-the-way places where no masks are required. Fresh air clears my head. A straight flat trail lends itself to prayer and reflection; I can’t say I’m too busy to pray when I have three quiet miles in front of me.
All of which brought me to the Brookline rail trail. The little town already has a place in this blog thanks to the Andres Institute of Art with its trails and outdoor sculptures. Nearby is the less-imposing rail trail. It’s short, straight, shady, and ideal for a brief respite from routine.
I parked off of Bohannon Bridge Road, next to a ball field, just past the Nissitissit River. Finding the trailhead for the developed part of the old rail line was easy. A runner was just returning to her car. A gentleman was walking his dog ahead of me. Farther along I saw a pair of friends laughing and walking briskly together. The trail might have been new to me, but clearly the locals were familiar with it.
The trail is about a mile long. The slow-moving river alongside is concealed this midsummer by heavy vegetation. The trail surface is unpaved but wide and smooth. There’s one road crossing. The trail peters out at NH Route 13, behind a gas station and a pizza restaurant. The parking there makes a convenient starting point for anyone who wants to go out-and-back along the trail from that direction.
The Brookline rail trail isn’t a destination trail in the sense of being worth a special trip from out-of-area. As a local recreational resource, it’s a gem. I live a couple of towns away, and I work from home. One day, when it was time to close the laptop and take a break, I drove down to Brookline to see about this little trail. It rewarded me with a perfect little shady walk.
After a hilly walk at the Andres Institute, the flat Brookline trail might be a good way to get the kinks out of those sore legs.
A map will tell you that the Nissitissit rail trail is a continuation of the Brookline trail, but a map is unlikely to indicate the break dividing what was once a single rail line into two sections. A bridge fell down long ago, and now the sections don’t connect. Getting to the Nissitissit trail requires driving from Brookline along Pepperell Road into Hollis. There’s parking within a stone’s throw of the Massachusetts state line.
The Nissitissit rail trail is part of the Beaver Brook Association’s holdings. (BBA provides many miles of trails, well worth exploring.) It begins with a walk along Great Meadow, a marsh providing good habitat for herons. Past the marsh, the trail enters quiet woods. Springtime visits in the past have rewarded me with a variety of wildflowers, including lady slippers – even white ones, far less common than the usual pinks.
The Nissitissit trail can be a short out-and-back walk, or one could keep going into the town of Pepperell, Massachusetts. This trail segment is chiefly notable for its peace and quiet. Its greatest rewards come from stopping along the way: watch the marsh for its wildlife and the forest floor for its variety of flora. I wouldn’t bike here. Walking sets the right pace.
The New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition has issued an imposing challenge: travel every rail trail in New Hampshire, and earn a patch. I love patches. I’m in.
Can I really cover all 300+ miles? Not likely, if I try to fit my walks and bike rides only into my spare time. So what? I intend to enjoy the effort anyway. Download the list yourself from nhrtc.org and see what looks tempting.
Just reading the list is an eye-opener. I thought I knew about most of the trails in the state. But Head’s Pond in Hooksett? Nope. Lilac City Greenway, Cotton Valley trail, Fort Hill? Nope, nope, and nope.
I sense some road trips coming.
Already, since I’ve taken up the challenge, I have discovered new-to-me trails within a half-hour’s drive of my home. I’ve walked on some and biked on others. Many are well-shaded, which feels great during this hot summer.
I’ll be posting about some of my discoveries in the coming weeks. So far, these aren’t epic journeys. In stressful times, though, I don’t need “epic.” I’m happy to find a bit of beauty and recreation close to home.