The ice storm four months ago has become a reference point for all my observations of southern NH trails this spring, and if you wonder why, one look around the Miller State Park parking lot at the base of Pack Monadnock will settle the question.

I can’t begin to speculate on how many people it has taken to return trails around here to usable condition. The auto road, still gated to keep cars out, is clear all the way to the summit. The road sports a new edging of wood chips and sawdust from all the overhangs and broken limbs cleared from ice-damaged trees.

Here’s what the low end of the road looked like last Saturday, at the base of the mountain where hardwoods predominate. The destruction must have been overwhelming to the first people who came by to check it out in December. The cleared road testifies to a lot of effort since then. Even so, I was stunned for a few minutes when I got out of my car and had my first look around.

I got there at of 8:15 in the morning The few other cars in the lot belonged to members of a trail-clearing party of Friends of the Wapack. The group’s web site says that there will be a work party somewhere along the trail every weekend this season, and this must have been Pack Monadnock’s turn. I heard a chainsaw being used in the woods off to my left as I descended from the summit later in the morning.

I decided to walk up the auto road, wondering just how blocked the Wapack and Marion Davis trails must be. I brought my camera in the hope of seeing some wildflowers growing low to the ground, but there has been way too much cleanup activity along the road to allow anything to sprout along the edges. I don’t doubt that there are plenty of flowers farther from the road and along the trails. I did see lots of buds on trees and shrubs, reminders that the forest will recover as it always does after one of Nature’s big events. One tree had lost its two main limbs and looked pretty sorry, but that didn’t stop a bird from working on a good-sized nest in it.

The road’s a mile & a quarter long, I think, and it rises 700 feet. Towards the top, where evergreens take over from the oaks & maples & birches, there is much less tree damage. The evergreens seem to have shrugged off the ice and bounced right back. The last few hundred yards of the road have blue blazes on nearby trees, and that made me wonder if the Marion Davis trail has been re-routed for a distance.

The summit, without the summer crowds, was a fine place to be. The view of Monadnock always pleases me, even on a hazy day. The cool morning was giving way to an 80+ degree afternoon, with a brisk breeze up on the landing of the fire tower. I later perched on a picnic table with my water bottle, looking over towards North Pack in its shades of green & grey. Close up, the woods show damage. From a distance, they look like they’ll be around long after I’m gone, which of course is exactly the case.

On my last visit, in September, NH Audubon had volunteers at its raptor observatory near the summit, identifying birds in the fall migration. I was lucky enough to catch sight of a golden eagle that day, or so I was assured by one of the volunteers. Very different this weekend – not the migration season, and there wasn’t so much as a turkey vulture soaring overhead. I settled for chickadees in the woods.

One Subaru – or more precisely, one Subaru’s driver – drove around the closed gate to the auto road, surprising me on my way up. Aside from that, I had very little company: a half dozen dog walkers, one intrepid bicyclist, a runner (prepping for the race up Pack in late May?). I was therefore unprepared for the sight in the parking lot when I finally got back down a little past 11: more than 40 cars, with more coming in by the minute. That tells me that the Wapack Trail up the mountain is in fine shape, since all the people from those cars had to be somewhere, and they weren’t on the auto road!

road & trail work

I am overdue in giving thanks to all the people who were busy this winter cleaning up roads and trails after the ice storm. I’ve done very little trail maintenance myself, and anything I can do locally that doesn’t require bushwhacking is thanks to someone else’s efforts. To all of you, and you know who you are, thank you.

It’s good to read on the state park web site that Monadnock SP’s trails are slowly opening back up to authorized use after storm cleanup. I hope the new campground at Gilson Pond wasn’t completely trashed! I’d been looking forward to staying there this summer, its first scheduled season.

Here in Merrimack, Horse Hill is in good shape, and it pleases me that it’s been getting so much use. I’m glad the town acquired the land when it did. In the current economy, I don’t think a land acquisition of that size would pass.

I drove down Rt. 31 from Wilton to Greenville the other day and was shocked at all the downed trees along the roadside. I thought the crews in my town had a big job after the ice storm. We actually had it easy. I remember driving through Dunbarton in January and seeing how bad the tree damage was. That’s what Rt. 31 looked like last weekend — two months later. It’s spring now, the snow is receding, and I’m sure there will be enough work to last all summer for anyone who knows how to wield a chain saw.

I see that the Friends of the Wapack are planning their annual end-to-end hike for next month instead of the fall. I wonder how much of the day will be spent flagging spots for future work.

Mud season will actually be an interesting time this spring, as I discover how more of my favorite trails fared over the winter. I’m half inclined to carry a small folding saw in my backpack for the spring hikes. I suppose the more sensible approach would be to note any difficult spots and then bring them to the attention of the land managers, who probably have trail crews who actually know what they’re doing. I probably shouldn’t go out armed with only a saw and good intentions.

New year, and I’m back outside

The P’Nut Chip 5k in Temple this morning was the perfect way for me to put months of inactivity behind me. Several things falling under the category of “medical issues” turned me into a slug, and I and my plantar fasciitis are ready to hit the roads and trails again to make up for lost time.

Our whole region endured a severe ice storm a few weeks ago, and I’m sure I’ll be seeing the aftermath for months to come. I was heartened by the look of Temple today; that town took an even harder hit than my own. Broken branches lined the roadsides today, but no roads were blocked by fallen trees. I must have seen half a dozen utility trucks (and on a federal holiday, too) making their way through town. A road race couldn’t have been very high on the priority list for town officials & residents as they cleaned up the mess from the storm, but everything today went smoothly.

Walking the course before the race began was a real pleasure. I haven’t been outside much over the past few weeks as that whole “slug” thing took over. Clearly, I’ve been wasting time. As cold as the weather was today (11 degrees at the start of the race), I had the right clothing, so there was no problem on that score. My regular walking shoes handled the packed snow just fine — no boots for me when I’m timing myself on a course. And never mind what my time was. Think “slow”, which was all the better for enjoying the sunshine and the rural roads along with all those cheerful, energetic people who were much faster than I.

I’m not forgetting that the trails around here, unlike the roads, are still a mess. I needed today’s outing to restore my optimism for the pace of recovery from the ice storm. Monadnock State Park is still closed. The Friends of the Wapack have posted a message on the group’s web site warning against hiking the trail for the time being, since the tree damage has rendered the trail “very hard” to follow. My favorite cross-country ski area, Windblown in New Ipswich, was shut down by the storm, and the owners are doing heroic work to arrange for the extensive logging and cleanup necessary to restore at least a few kilometers to skiable (and hikable) condition.

Today proved, as if any proof were needed, that things are looking up.