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

Good news to follow

There are a couple of wonderful blogs I follow, written by people who love southern New Hampshire outdoors as much as I do. Keep these in mind if you’re looking for trip inspiration.

New Hampshire Garden Solutions: This one isn’t a gardening how-to, as the name might suggest, but a beautifully-illustrated guide to southwestern New Hampshire’s natural phenomena. The topics vary with the seasons, wherever the writer is wandering. A naturalist’s eye for detail, flowing language, and excellent photographs make this blog delightful.

This is a blogger after my own heart. From the About page: “I hope by visiting that you will see what amazing beauty nature holds and that you will become more interested in exploring your own area.” Perfect.

Miki’s Picks: Find in this blog simple and straightforward descriptions of easy hikes, most of them in southern New Hampshire. I like following this one to discover new hikes close to home, like Burns Hill in Milford.

I hope my readers will share their own favorites. I can understand if you don’t want to give away the location of your favorite trail. Your favorite blog, on the other hand, is meant to be shared.

Happy February!

First Day Hikes on your own

Plan now to hit the trail on New Year’s Day. First Day Hikes might be “virtual” in 2021, but they’re happening. New Hampshire State Parks offer some opportunities. No groups, but also no lines at a sign-in table. That works for me.

This post is illustrated with a couple of photos from past First Days, when I visited Monadnock and Wellington State Parks. Guided hikes like the ones I enjoyed there won’t be happening this January 1, but walking solo or with family is a treat in itself.

Ellen Kolb at Monadnock State Park, New Hampshire
The Granite State Walker celebrating a New Year’s Day near Mt. Monadnock

The state parks team is making the best of yet another virtual event, a peculiar phenomenon of 2020 origin that means group-event-without-a-group. If you register for their 2021 First Day Hike program, you’ll be eligible for a drawing for a 2021 Family Season Pass to New Hampshire state parks.

And then there’s the photo contest, for photos taken at New Hampshire state parks between December 26, 2020 and January 1, 2021. Read the details on the State Parks page, and then head out to Pawtuckaway or Miller or whatever other state park strikes your fancy.

As I write this, a day-long rain has washed away the foot of snow that fell here in southern New Hampshire just last week. No telling what trail conditions I’ll find by the time New Year’s Day rolls around. Barring an ice storm, though, I’ll be outdoors that day. Maybe I’ll travel no further than one of my town’s nature preserves, or maybe I’ll be more ambitious. There’s nothing like a Granite State walk to bring in a new year properly.

May you find just the right path from which to wave goodbye to 2020!

Ellen Kolb on New Hampshire First Day Hike 2017 overlooking Newfound Lake
First Day Hike, 2017: the Granite State Walker on Little Sugarloaf overlooking Newfound Lake, via Wellington State Park in Bristol NH.

Join NH Rail Trails Coalition, Get Guidebook as Bonus

My appreciation for New Hampshire’s rail trails is expressed all over this blog, as many readers have found. Now, the New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition is offering a deal that I hope will win the trails some new fans.

Until December 15, 2020, you can join the NHRTC ($20 for a one-year membership for individuals, $35 for organizations) and receive a copy of Charles Martin’s guidebook New Hampshire Rail Trails, 2nd edition at no additional charge. There’s no better guide to the trails around the state, with more than 100 maps along with photographs and trail descriptions.

Want to take a crack the the Rail Trails Challenge? Martin’s book and the Challenge’s Facebook page (private, but anyone may request access) will be your new best friends. Meet the Challenge, earn a patch. Even if you don’t travel on all the rail trails in the state – and as someone who does a lot more walking than biking, I know the Challenge can be a slow process – you’ll have memories and experiences that are way more valuable than a patch, even a pretty one like this.

emblem of New Hampshire Rail Trails Challenge
Patch awarded for completion of NH Rail Trails Challenge

If you already have Martin’s book, maybe there’s a Granite State walker in your life who would love to receive a copy as a gift. Another gift idea: separately from membership, the Coalition also offers a hat for $20 (shipping included).

New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition hat and book

Full disclosure: I’m on the NHRTC board, but I get no personal benefit from this promotion except the pleasure of knowing that it will encourage more people to value a New Hampshire recreational resource.

Autumn road trip: clouds and no crowds

My husband and I drove north for a hastily-planned weekend trip for some hiking and biking, past the peak autumn foliage and the oppressive crowds driving to see it. The cloudy weather got cloudier. Traffic got lighter. When we stopped at a little inn on U.S. 2, we were exactly where we wanted to be.

You can call it “past peak.” I call it just fine.

narrow road in autumn, Weeks State Park New Hampshire, photo by Ellen Kolb
Weeks State Park auto road. All photos by Ellen Kolb.

It was not a weekend for grand vistas or clear night skies. Low clouds were the rule. My favorite lookout spot on the Weeks State Park Auto Road, which usually features a showstopping view of the Presidential Range, featured nothing but a wall of fog.

sunset and fog with fire tower, Prospect Mountain NH, photo by Ellen Kolb
Weeks State Park: sunset and fog on Prospect Mountain.

So instead of looking at things miles away, I spent more time looking at things like the carpet of red maple leaves under my feet. I liked walking for miles in the cool conditions. Segments of the Presidential Rail Trail were ideal.

bicyclist on Presidential Rail Trail, autumn, New Hampshire, photo by Ellen Kolb
Presidential Rail Trail, Gorham NH

The only noisy mile of trail was one I shared with ATVs in Gorham when I wanted to get a look at the Androscoggin River from a trail bridge. Once I’d done that, I scooted back west to where the trail was closed to motorized traffic. Once I was on that stretch, I saw a grand total of three other people in five miles of walking.

Androscoggin River in Gorham New Hampshire
Androscoggin River, Gorham NH: low in October after a dry summer

At one point during the weekend, the clouds lifted enough to reveal nearby Cherry Mountain, which for once wasn’t just a visual foil to all the other peaks in the area. I was lucky enough to be walking in the Pondicherry area when the sun came out and the view opened up.

Cherry Mountain, Jefferson New Hampshire. Photo by Ellen Kolb
Cherry Mountain, Jefferson NH

Note: there’s been extensive work recently on the Presidential trail in the Pondicherry area. The unpaved surface there is in the best shape it can be.

Talk about trails

When 2020 kicked off, I had never heard of Zoom. Since March, thanks to COVID, I’ve had online meetings on the Zoom platform several times a week. (And still, I’m apt to forget to unmute myself when I’m called upon to speak.) When I’m lucky, as I’ve been this month, I get to Zoom about trails.

My thanks go out to the New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition board members, who welcomed me to a recent online meeting to talk about our mutual interests. I learned more than I shared!

autumn leaves

I’m likewise grateful to Jeanine Notter, who welcomed me and former New Hampshire Rep. Lenette Peterson to her “Chattin’ With Jeanine” show on Merrimack Community TV for a half-hour conversation about our favorite places to hike in the Granite State. Even the TV show was a Zoom event, with everyone logging in from home while an MCTV tech whiz put it all together.

Ellen Kolb NH Granite State Walker
Screenshot courtesy Merrimack Community TV/Chattin’ With Jeanine

I love sharing trail stories with fellow Granite State walkers. We learn from each other. If you’re a program host and you’d like to shine a light on southern New Hampshire’s trails, please let me know if I can be part of your conversation.