Using mud season to plan ahead

New Hampshire’s mud season is here, thanks to a month that has brought days of snow alternating with days of 50 degrees. I went to the forest trails in one of my favorite Concord parks the other day, and I turned around after about a hundred yards. Squishy ground is not ideal for hiking. Turns out hiking isn’t ideal for squishy ground, either. Ask any trail maintainer. I’m switching to pavement for the time being.

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March 2022: Nashua River Rail Trail, Dunstable MA. Clear pavement, muddy edges. Ellen Kolb photo.

While I’m putting in the miles on roads and paved trails, I’ll be giving some thought to the maintenance work and spring cleanup that will be going on as the weather gets warmer and the mud dries up. This is a good time for trip planning, too.

I serve on my town’s conservation commission, on a subcommittee dedicated to one of the town’s nature preserves. We’ve been keeping an eye on some areas being taken over by invasive plants that are crowding out native species. In consultation with an expert from the local university’s extension program, we’re coming up with a management plan to tackle the invasives later in the year. Planning now will pay off later.

My favorite local paved trail, the Nashua River Rail Trail, has obviously seen recent work from volunteers who have already made the most of mud season. While the side paths in the woods are still muddy and soft, working on the pavement is easy. Between my last two visits to the northern section of the trail, a crew or crews had been through to clear away fallen branches and pick up trash.

I’m gathering trail information this month for a multi-day hike later in the year on the rail trails in the southwestern part of New Hampshire. I don’t feel quite so stuck during mud season when I know there’s a trip ahead to plan and train for.

Mud season might give you time to learn more about the trails in your area, even if they’re temporarily off limits until things dry up a bit. Is a trail owned or managed by your town? Check with the Parks and Recreation department or the municipal Conservation Commission to find out if there are opportunities for you to volunteer for upcoming events. Are you fond of a certain rail trail? The New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition website contains links to many local trail clubs, each with its own projects and schedule. Don’t dismiss Facebook; it’s still a great way to find groups organized around a specific trail or park. Those Facebook groups are often the best source of information on up-to-date trail conditions and maintenance needs.

Avoiding the trails for another couple of weeks will be good for them. Using the time for planning ahead will be good for me.

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.

Destinations, Found and Missed

I really thought I could nail down that Forest Society patch for visiting 33 Society properties throughout New Hampshire. I’ve fallen short. Dalton and Sandwich did me in, which is to say I haven’t been able to manage a trip to Dana Forest or Eagle Cliff. I’ll settle for earning the patch via tier 2 status, AKA the easy way, which involves concentrating on one specific region and answering a few questions about the properties there. I shall send the Forest Society my entry in a New Year’s Day email.

Don’t think for a minute that my time on the patch project has been wasted. I loved every  property I visited. Every mile driven was worth the time and effort. Sometimes, I’d go a few miles off-route on a business day just to find one of the reservations or forests on the project list. (Tip: always keep walking shoes in the car.) One gorgeous fall day, I spent hours on the Route 16 corridor plus-or-minus a few miles, discovering four Forest Society properties including High Watch Reserve. I wanted to stay up there on Green Mountain until the last leaf dropped.

Seeking inspiration for your hikes this coming year? Check out the Forest Society’s list. Make a list of state parks you want to visit. Do a web search of conservation commissions in the towns near you; you’ll find a treasury of local trail maps and descriptions.

Just get out there.

October Assortment

This has been a muted fall in New Hampshire, which is not to say a bad one. There are brilliant trees here and there, but for the most part, this month has been dominated by gold and bronze. Here’s my October sampler, featuring Oak Hill, Horse Hill Preserve, Ponemah Bog, Craney Hill, and Crotched Mountain.

Oak Hill, Concord

It had been seven years since my last walk to the fire tower on Oak Hill. Finally, I got back there. I had been warned about wasps near the cab, but the first frosts must have  nipped them.

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Oak Hill fire tower, Concord NH

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View to west from Oak Hill. The plume of steam is from a plant near the Concord-Boscawen town line.

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A small notice announces a new trail on Oak Hill, created by Concord High School students.

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The day’s best maple leaves, spotted along the two-mile trail leading to the Oak Hill fire tower.

 

Horse Hill Nature Preserve, Merrimack

The best color this fall has been in the wetlands, not the hills. A walk to the center of the Horse Hill preserve rewarded me with much brighter foliage than I’d seen just a couple of days earlier on a drive toward the Monadnocks.

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I’m amazed that the beavers haven’t abandoned this lodge so close to a Horse Hill trail. I guess we hikers haven’t been disruptive.

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Leaf-peeping in one of my favorite spots in Horse Hill Preserve.

 

Ponemah Bog, Amherst

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The shrubs and water plants in the bog were showier than the trees.

Craney Hill, Henniker

The NH Fire Towers page on Facebook clued me in to the Craney Hill lookout tower, once a fire tower. Now, it’s open to the public two weekends a year, during foliage season. I made it to the tower just in time – last visitor on the last day!

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Craney Hill lookout tower, Henniker NH.

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From Craney Hill, looking toward Craney Pond, mid-October.

 

Crotched Mountain, Greenfield-Bennington

I didn’t stop with the Gregg Trail this time. Two friends joined me for a walk to the ridgetop via Shannon’s Trail. I owe thanks to the folks who managed to get a picnic table up there.

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The view from the picnic table atop Crotched Mountain: a hint of color, and distant Monadnock. And oh, that sky.

WMUR looks at southern NH rail trail route

It’s a good thing WMUR-TV in Manchester, NH maintains a Facebook page, or I would have missed Jamie Staton’s story “The Granite State Rail Trail: Southern Route.” It gave me an update on the status of the rail line between Manchester and Salem that has been chopped up through the years. I haven’t been on any part of it except the Windham stretch, which is in great shape.

I remember years ago when the then-manager of Manchester Airport (please, not “Manchester-Boston,” a ridiculous name that only a marketing consultant could have come up with) pretty much tore up the old rail line through airport property, to the dismay of people who had dreamed of restoring the line for recreational use. A runway has since been built across the old right-of-way. Staton reports that a trail may yet be restored anyway, working around the runway.

Many meetings have been held to get the trail through and around the airport. Involved in this project are the Airport Authority, Town of Londonderry, City of Manchester Public Works, Manchester Parks and Rec, and Manchester Moves. WMUR was told the city will apply for a grant to pay for the project in 2018, with hopes that construction will take place in 2020. Deputy Airport Director Tom Malafronte tells WMUR that an MOU (memorandum of understanding) is being drawn up with the city, and that the airport is very supportive of the project.

Check out the full post with its photos of the trail in various towns along the way. I’m pleased to read that some segments are much closer to being developed than I had realized.

Note: I’ve been to the Windham trail for a 5k race (a walk, in my case) along the smooth paved route. There’s another race next June, and I recommend it as a way to discover the trail as well as support the Windham Rail Trail Alliance which is responsible for so much of the trail’s development.

Take Notes

When my husband and I went to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks last year, I scribbled some notes at the end of each day. Too sketchy to amount to a journal, they nevertheless recorded some important details. Once we got home, I typed up the notes and emailed a copy of the resulting document to myself for safekeeping.

It was so safe that I forgot I had it, until this evening. I’m laid up at the moment with a cold or flu or whatever the microbe du jour might be, and to pass the time I’m clearing out things from my email inbox that I never properly archived. Lo and behold, there were my Yellowstone notes.

Reading them took me right back to the Old Faithful Inn and the Teton bike trail.

I neatened up the notes, imposing complete sentences on my fragmentary observations. Then I printed out the resulting text and tucked it in our photo album of the trip. Yes, an actual hold-it-in-your-hand photo album. Now, when we or our kids look at the pictures, we’ll have more context than simply “ooh! what a pretty meadow!”

Do yourself a favor and take notes on your next trip, especially if it’s to a place you’ll likely not visit again. No need for elegant writing; my own sketchy notes were hardly poetic. I wasn’t writing for publication. I wrote to capture impressions that I was afraid I’d lose once the vacation was over.

I should have printed out my notes right after the trip instead of relegating them to email limbo for more than a year. They’ve come back to life now.

Take notes. You won’t be sorry.

(I managed to wring a blog post out of the Yellowstone trip shortly after coming home. It’s mostly photos. I hope you enjoy it!)