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.

Fall day in Candia

I drove down Depot Road in East Candia a little slowly, wondering if I’d be able to find the parking lot where the Rockingham Rail Trail crosses the street. I needn’t have worried; the nearly-full lot was impossible to miss. That’s nearly full. I tucked my car into one of the few open spots.

East Candia New Hampshire railroad depot sign
No depot building here, but a sign marks the spot where a depot once stood. All photos by Ellen Kolb.

The lot was a busy place. Couples and singles and families were taking bikes off racks or putting them back on. Hikers were setting out, many sporting seasonal blaze orange vests. It was as warm a day as November ever brings, and everyone wanted to take advantage.

Pick a direction: should I go east into Raymond, or west through Candia? Seeing several parties setting off to the east, I wished them well, and then turned my back to them to walk west.

rail trail granite walls
Rock cut along Rockingham Rail Trail, East Candia NH.

The Rockingham Rail Trail between Manchester and Newfields is more than 20 miles long. It’s a piece-at-a-time endeavor for a walker. I picked a winner of a day to amble out-and-back on a three-mile segment in Candia.

Temp in the 60s: what kind of November is this? Sunshine, few clouds, air as dry as could be.

There were more bicyclists than walkers on the trail. That didn’t mean walkers were overwhelmed; traffic was light to moderate. The few walkers kept their cheerful distance as we passed each other with smiles and nods – you stay on your side and I’ll stay on mine, we seemed to be saying.

Where houses were visible as I approached Main Street, the sounds and smells of a sunny late-autumn weekend took over: raking, leaf-blowing, the last round of mowing for the season, a carefully-tended fire to burn the clippings.

New England rail trail autumn
A sign along the way hints at the winter traffic to come.

My turnaround point was Route 43, or more precisely the tunnel under the ramp linking 43 with Route 101. The parking lot in East Candia was nearly deserted when I returned. I decided to spend a little time walking toward Raymond, but I was racing the sunset: after half a mile, I returned to my car.

I think I saw the trail at its most inviting for walkers. Once the snow flies and piles up, the Rockingham Rail Trail will become a snowmobile corridor. Until then, all you need there is your bike or your walking shoes.

My turnaround point. West of Candia, the trail continues through Auburn into Manchester.

A layered trail

I needed a walk with no cars in sight. I headed to Mine Falls Park in Nashua. I found leaves over patchy ice over mud: not my favorite trail surface, but that’s what the end of October is dishing up in my area.

trail in woods at sunset
Mine Falls Park, Nashua: late afternoon, end of October. Ellen Kolb photo.

A scant inch of snow fell yesterday along with the leaves. Everything froze overnight, and then the sun came up and promptly warmed things up to about forty degrees. That left me with the layered trail. It wasn’t too bad, and it was certainly better than pavement. The bridges over canal and river were still a bit slippery from the snow.

The park was quiet. Weekends are usually busier. Even adjacent Lincoln Park, where I left my car, was nearly empty. No complaints. I was a bit out of sorts, and solitude suited me.

I usually see mallards in the canal. This day, I saw them in the Nashua River instead. About three dozen were together midstream. The river was sluggish, and the ducks paddled upstream effortlessly. That left the cove for about 20 Canada geese, most of them napping in the late afternoon.

I needed my sunglasses as I returned to my car, with the sun low in the western sky. That reminded me that I was walking during the last day of Daylight Savings Time. November will bring the sense of dislocation I feel every fall until I mentally reconcile what the clock says with what the sun does.

Another good trail in Concord

Some of my favorite short after-work hikes have been in Concord, New Hampshire, not far from the State House to which I used to travel for business. The trails on Oak Hill and in Winant Park stand out. Now there’s a new one – new to me, anyway – on the north side of town, where I recently walked for a fine hour and a half.

Autumn forest rail trail Concord NH
Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail, Concord NH. All photos by Ellen Kolb

The two-and-a-half-mile long trail is a segment of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail (CLSRT). This long-abandoned old rail line will someday be an uninterrupted upgraded rail trail once again linking Concord and Lake Sunapee. For now, it’s a disjointed thing, with a little piece open for use in Warner, another in Bradford, and now another in Concord.

I was there on an overcast, comfortably cool day. I overshot the lot by just a bit as I drove north on U.S. 3; turning around was no problem in a nearby business’s lot. Mine was the only car in the parking lot at the trailhead, at 25 Fisherville Road (U.S. 3). I found there an information kiosk and a bike-service stand.

trailhead Concord-Sunapee rail trail, Concord NH
Trailhead in Concord, on U.S. 3.

The first section of trail had a surface of smooth well-packed stone dust. The trail was flanked by businesses on one side and a wide open field on the other.

Cloudy day with rail trail
Peak color was past, but autumn conditions were pleasant along the trail.

Before long, the trail entered the woods, becoming a little rougher but still wide and well-defined. Most of the more-vividly-colored leaves had dropped. What was left created a glowing golden tunnel. Granite markers recalled the days of the old active line, when C stood for Concord and CJ stood for Claremont Junction.

The trail stayed close to U.S. 3 before veering west to parallel Bog Road. Traffic noise was not intrusive. One dog’s barking certainly was; more about that later. The noisiest moment I had was when I flushed what must have been a grouse concealed in the leaves just off the trail. The bird’s explosive takeoff startled me half out of my wits.

What’s now a formal piece of rail trail has apparently served as a snowmobile trail, or so I conclude based on one well-signed junction. For the most part, though, I was on a path freshly improved for walkers and bikers alike. Runners, too. I was passed by a few who were probably delighted not to have to get their miles in on the nearby roads.

Trail junction with directional signs
A signed junction along the way.

The trail passes through a residential area, with trees providing some buffer. Many properties were posted with customary small “no trespassing” signs. One owner adopted a more aggressive approach: a huge sign for the owner’s favored presidential candidate, including some profanity for emphasis; a fence alongside the trail with a disproportionate number of signs to discourage wandering trail users – seriously, one would have done the job; and a noisy bulldog to underscore the whole message.

In what may or may not be related news, the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail website mentions a land-ownership dispute with a nearby resident on the Concord section. At the time I was there, the trail had no detours.

Grouse and bulldog aside, I had a refreshing five-mile round trip walk. I owe that to amazing work by many volunteers and donors who built up this section. Together, they have created another fine trail in Concord.

For more information: Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail

A gallery of trail bridges

Everywhere I hike, I benefit from trail builders and maintainers. One of the most important things they do is design, install, and maintain bridges. I’m grateful for those structures, from the deceptively simple-looking bog bridges through soggy areas to the big metal spans replacing broken-down trestles over rivers.

rail trail bridge over Merrimack River in Manchester New Hampshire
The Hands Across the Merrimack bridge, where the Piscataquog Rail Trail crosses the Merrimack River in Manchester NH.

Some of them are lovely. Some are downright homely. A few are used: there’s one metal trail span in my town that was acquired from another municipality where it was no longer needed. There are bridges over rivers and bridges over busy highways.

Erecting a bridge on a trail isn’t a simple matter of saying “let it be so.” Sometimes, wetlands permits are required. Local commissions and even the state Department of Transportation might be involved. For bog bridges, materials need to be hauled in, often some distance from the nearest trailhead. Sometimes it takes a helicopter to lower a span into place. Maintenance is a constant concern, as wood rots and metal corrodes.

Thank you to all the bridge-builders out there!

Here are photos of a few that have helped me get from point A to point B now and then. From your own travels, what are some of your favorites?

Three towns in a row

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.

Windham Junction NH

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.)

Londonderry

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.

Little Cohas Brook, Londonderry rail trail NH
Along Little Cohas Brook, Londonderry rail trail. All photos by Ellen Kolb.

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.

bench along Londonderry rail trail NH
Benches are a bonus along rail trails.

I like seeing mile markers that have been restored or re-created. They keep me mindful of a trail’s history.

Mile marker, Londonderry Rail Trail NH
“L” for Lawrence MA, “M” for Manchester NH.

A decorative cairn made me smile at another peaceful resting spot along the trail.

Cairn along Londonderry rail trail NH
Positive thoughts along the way.

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.

Local trail group: Londonderry Trailways

Derry

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.

Derry rail trail NH
Lest I forget about social distancing, someone painted a reminder.

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.

Robert Frost poem on Derry rail trail NH
Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is a Derry Rail Trail highlight.

Local trail group: Derry Rail Trail

Windham

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.

Boston and Maine caboose, Windham Junction, NH
This Boston and Maine RR caboose is now a Windham Junction landmark.

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.

Windham rail trail NH
Roulston Road crossing (no parking here).

The trail looked practically freshly-pressed. Recent maintenance work has improved the trail’s surface and drainage.

Windham rail trail NH
New pavement, new drainage work, trimmed shrubs: welcome to Windham’s rail trail.

Local trail group: Windham Rail Trail Alliance