Hike Safe card: not just for mountain hikers

For my New Hampshire readers, here’s a plea from me: if you haven’t purchased a Hike Safe card for 2023, please do so now. Even if you’re sure you’ll never need to be rescued, buy one anyway. It will be a small way of supporting the state’s Search and Rescue fund. Sadly, demands on the fund never let up.

TL;DR: Take out a credit card, go online to the New Hampshire Fish and Game’s Hike Safe page, and plunk down $25 for a virtual card covering an individual, $35 for a family. If a Hike Safe cardholder needs to be rescued in the course of an outdoor activity, she or he will not in most cases be assessed for the cost of the rescue. Just get the card. Don’t wait.


I write this as I hear news about a hiker who perished upstate while attempting a solo hike on a mountain ridge in winter weather. A few weeks ago, another hiker lost her life in the same area. Rescue attempts, which became recovery missions, involved professional conservation officers from New Hampshire Fish and Game plus many volunteers.

Those same volunteers and first responders would come out even if the trail were less challenging. They don’t write off any of us. Missing hikers, once reported overdue by family or friends, spark a search-and-rescue mission.

I know from experience that hikes can go awry even in good weather on heavily-traveled trails. (A particularly embarrassing day on Monadnock comes to mind.) While I haven’t yet inspired any rescue missions, I’m uncomfortably aware that this could change anytime. I carry simple essentials even for short hikes, but even so, bad stuff happens now and then.

Ninety percent of my trail miles are on flat trails within an hour of my home. I buy a Hike Safe card every year anyway. It’s cheap insurance against being assessed some hefty costs arising from my own negligence. More importantly, the card lets me as a hiker contribute to the readiness of search-and-rescue teams.

Hunters, anglers, and anyone registering a boat, OHRV, or snowmobile already contribute to the Search and Rescue fund as part of their license and registration fees. Hikers don’t need a license. We can pull our weight, so to speak, by purchasing the Hike Safe card.

Early fall, Northern Rail Trail

If the Danbury Country Store were a human being, it would be my new best friend. This and other treats awaited me as I set out on a long walk on the Northern Rail Trail.

Fifteen miles is a big stretch for me, especially after losing fitness and energy to post-Covid problems earlier this year. I had to crawl, figuratively, before I could walk far again. I’ve added a few more miles each week. This week, I decided to go big. I walked on the trail from Potter Place in Andover to the Danbury Country Store and back. I figured that was one way to evaluate how I’m doing.

I’m doing fine. Sore, yes, but fine.

Sights

I’d seen Potter Place before, but its charm catches me by surprise every time. The restored depot in Andover close to the US 4/NH 11 junction is a tribute to the people who care about the rail trail and the railroad’s history. The Northern Rail Trail is in fact well-loved and well-maintained throughout its fifty-plus miles. A big park-and-ride lot just down Depot Street from Potter Place is an ideal spot from which to launch a walk or ride along the trail.

Central Vermont Railway car and restored train depot, Andover, New Hampshire
Potter Place: restored depot and an old Central Vermont Railway car. All photos by Ellen Kolb.

Coming upon an old cemetery is no surprise on any of my walks. In Wilmot, I came upon one that looks beautifully tended. From a distance the markers looks unweathered. They’re all upright. The stone wall around the cemetery is a work of art, albeit with some interesting items (read: “trash”) tucked between some of the stones.

Eagle Pond Cemetery, Wilmot

I even got a glimpse of Mt. Kearsarge. I took a photo that came out fuzzy, but even so one can barely discern the cell tower on the summit, with the fire tower just to its right.

Mt. Kearsarge seen from Northern Rail Trail

Foliage

Fall is my favorite time to take walks, and even the weeks before peak foliage can be splendid. I found plenty of leaves underfoot this week. Remaining foliage in the central New Hampshire area I visited is still a week or two away from full color. Icy blue asters, a last reminder of summer, persist all along the trail, contrasting nicely with the changing leaves.

Tiny blue flowers in the foreground contrast nicely with the changing leaves.
Eagle Pond in Wilmot

Lunchtime

My turnaround spot was the Danbury Country Store. It’s a must for anyone traveling along the NRT. I figured I’d sit on one of the porch seats there and nibble on a Clif bar from my pack. That was before the store’s deli crew set out two fresh hot pizzas. Game, set, match, and the Clif bar retreated to its pocket.

Also at the store: an air pump for cyclists, a huge assortment of beverages, the usual country-store inventory, and a deli where you can have any sandwich made to order. Enjoy. I sure did.

As I write this the day after my walk, I’m nursing a few aches, but they’re good aches. The kind that don’t herald injuries; the kind that whisper please don’t try this two days in a row. Best fifteen miles of the year, and that’s good to write three months after I needed my husband’s help to get around the block.

Fall isn’t winter’s knock on the door. Instead, winter is the price I pay for fall hiking. Fair exchange, in my view.

Sharing the wealth

I grew up in south Florida, in a pleasant but crowded neighborhood filled with houses on eighth-of-an-acre tracts. “Open land” to me meant the local playground. I came to New Hampshire as an adult and found a very different culture. People who owned land, were not developers, and were happy to leave their property open to the likes of hikers: imagine that! On many of my walks over the years, I’ve been blessed by landowner generosity.

This came to mind not long ago during a walk in Concord that brought me to a gated road at the edge of a school’s property. The school is famous and expensive, with a campus to match. It’s a small town unto itself. I was once invited to speak to a class at the school, and I nearly got lost trying to find my way around. Never mind the buildings, though, impressive and numerous as they are. The best thing about the campus is its open land, the green spaces.

dirt road in a forest with an open gate
Private land, limited public use: sharing the wealth. Photos by Ellen Kolb.

Almost as good: the school’s choice to welcome visitors who simply want to enjoy a walk through the property. Signs are posted along the road: “Walkers, joggers, and cyclists are welcome to enjoy these grounds in a safe and appropriate way.” No checking in, no showing ID, just behave yourself.

I had been to the campus for a few winter walks, taking advantage of clear sidewalks and light traffic on icy days. My recent visit was in summer, when the campus wears a different aspect. I chose to explore a road leading to the school’s boathouse on a nearby pond. As it stretches away from the main campus, pavement gives way to gravel, and the trees in full leaf offer shade all the way to the pond.

Few flowers were growing in the shade. Other vegetation – trees, shrubs, grasses – was thriving in spite of the region’s drought, muting the traffic sounds from the nearby interstate highway. I struggled to identify birds by their songs; their music was everywhere but the birds were hidden in the trees. For once, I had no schedule to keep. I had stumbled onto what I consider pure gold: a path all to myself on an unhurried midweek local walk.

New Hampshire pond with one canoeist and a wooded shoreline
If only I’d had a kayak!

Coming out of the woods at road’s end, the pond gleamed in the sunshine. I could see the highway from there, and I knew that a paved bike path on state-owned land lay on the highway’s other side. Was there a connector? With no “keep out” signs to discourage me, I kept walking. The dirt road dwindled to a path and then to a rough trail…and yes! I walked under the highway on a path that I’m certain is as unofficial as it is locally popular. Soon, I was on the bike path paralleling the highway.

There, I was in full sun. I brushed against oxeye daisies, fireweed, and clover too wild to be controlled by any mower. I didn’t mind the traffic noise; it was the price of admission.

I got back to my car a little over an hour after I’d left it. I’d managed to cobble together a loop featuring the best of the season’s shade and sun. I’m grateful to the stewards of the bike path, and just as grateful to the stewards of the private school’s land. It’s good to be welcomed in pleasant places.

Oxeye daisies and butterfly
Oxeye daisies and their tiny visitor.

Autumn walk to a fire tower

Take time for Oak Hill when you’re passing through New Hampshire’s capital city. Concord has many fine parks and trails, but only one includes a fire tower. The tower on Oak Hill was rebuilt not long ago, so it’s as shiny-and-new as you’ll ever find it. A hard frost or two has smacked down the local insects. Autumn colors are muted now, more gold-and-bronze than scarlet-and-yellow. Trees are losing their leaves, and so views are opening up. Wear something that’s blaze-orange; ’tis the season.

Find maps to all of Concord’s trails at concordnh.gov/1033/Hiking-Trails. Oak Hill is #12.

Oak Hill is exactly that: a hill covered with oak trees. It’s all a walk in the woods except for the fire tower and a couple of vistas (conveniently marked on the trail map). Follow the Tower Trail’s yellow blazes from the parking area on Shaker Road. Once at the tower, a climb to the landing just below the cab will reward you with a 360 degree view.

With apologies for my unsteady camera work: Oak Hill’s fire tower with one of the neighboring communication masts. All photos by Ellen Kolb/Granite State Walker.
Mount Kearsarge in Warner, seen from the Swope Slope vista on Oak Hill in Concord, New Hampshire.

Return to Andres Institute trails

I needed a hill climb as a mental palate-cleanser the other day. Not a big hill, just one with a view. Brookline (the New Hampshire version) is not-too-terribly far away, so I scooted down Route 13 to the Andres Institute of Art with its hilltop view of the Wapack Range.

It’s been awhile since my last visit, I guess. I pulled into what had been the driveway, and found out it’s not the public driveway anymore. Go back to the visitor center at 106 Rt. 13, said the sign. Visitor center? And which way was #106? My phone’s GPS was slow as molasses to give me the answer: a stone’s throw north.

Once I got there, I was oriented. Even first-timers will have no trouble following the signs into the AIA’s property.

The property was once a tiny ski area (rope tows, not gondolas) on a little hill in Brookline. The ski area is long gone. The current owner is a patron of the arts with a passion for sculpture created by artists from all over the world who come to New Hampshire to work in granite. Their work adorns a network of trails winding around the hill.

At the summit is the payoff: a view of the Wapack Range, complete with seating. A striking sculpture entitled Phoenix is in the foreground of the vista. For a short walk uphill (a generous half-mile or so), it’s a pleasant experience.

Wapack Range from Andres Institute of Art summit: Kidder, Monadnock (pointed summit), Temple Mountain ridge

Late-day haze dulled the view a bit. The silhouette of the range was clear enough, though, and I even caught a glimpse of Mount Monadnock playing peek-a-boo behind Kidder Mountain.

On the October day I was there, the paths had a golden glow. Beech and aspen leaves are turning. Flashes of crimson from maples are hinting at the peak foliage that will be on display on a couple of weeks.

The AIA trails can be very popular, but my late-day midweek autumn visit was delightfully quiet. A mental palate cleanser, indeed.

Sculpture "Animals" by Tony Jimenez, Costa Rica, installed at Andres Institute of Art, Brookline NH
“Animals” by Tony Jimenez, Costa Rica, 2017, Andres Institute of Art

More about the AIA trails, from 2015: Easy Uphill

More travel, more trails

After a COVID-influenced year of curtailing my activities, I’m keeping some appointments that don’t involve videoconferencing. One benefit to out-of-town drives is that I’ve been able to check out new trails. On one day I had just enough spare time to sample the Winnipesaukee River Trail in Tilton. Another day, during a Seacoast trip, I enjoyed a tripleheader of varied paths. A more routine errand to the Manchester Airport gave me an excuse to see how the Londonderry Trail looks in spring.

Winnipesaukee River, Tilton. Ellen Kolb photo.

Winnipesaukee River Trail

This is not to be confused with the Winni Trail, where the “Winni” stands for “Winnisquam.” The Winnipesaukee River Trail may someday connect with Winni, though, if several links are developed. Like Winni, the Tilton segment is rail-with-trail.

The Winnipesaukee River Trail goes from Franklin to Tilton via Northfield, with a little bit of road walking included. I recently visited the easternmost mile. Parallel and very close to U.S. 3, the path is surprisingly quiet, shielded by a row of buildings from some of the traffic noise. The river was pretty but quiet due to lack of rainfall; a depth indicator painted on a bridge abutment was well above the current water level.

A lengthier visit extending to Franklin would have been more rewarding, but my time was limited. I enjoyed a peaceful half-hour along the river. My turnaround point was startling, after the quiet walk: the commercial cluster by exit 20 on I-93. Had I wanted a snack, that would have been a place to consider, with the trail’s terminus flanked by fast-food places. My starting point had some options as well, with U.S. 3 serving as Tilton’s Main Street.

The Winnipesaukee River joins the Pemigewasset River in Franklin to form the Merrimack, the waterway that defines south-central New Hampshire.

Winnipesaukee River rail-with-trail in Tilton NH. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
Rail-with-trail in Tilton. Ellen Kolb photo.

Rochester and Dover

I rarely get to Strafford County. When I did earlier this month, I visited three very different trails.

The Farmington Rail Trail extends from the town of Farmington to the city of Rochester near Spaulding High School, roughly paralleling NH Route 11. I had been warned that it was sandy enough to leave even fat-tire bicyclists in despair. Being a walker, I dismissed that concern. Silly me. It was like walking on a beach, giving my legs more of a workout than I’d bargained for. I probably needed that anyway.

Next stop: the Lilac City Greenway, short and sweet. The northern portion of it runs along Rochester’s main drag, serving as a sidewalk. It’s paved, nicely landscaped for spring, and adorned with abstract sculptures. I benefited from a combination of Charles Martin’s guidebook and Google Maps, which warned me that the municipal parking lot close to the greenway is accessible only to northbound traffic on Route 125.

Lilac City Greenway in Rochester, NH
Lilac City Greenway, Rochester NH. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

Then, south to Dover. Without realizing it, I’d saved the best for last. The Dover Community Trail, developed relatively recently, was wide and quietly scenic. I parked at the western end, at the Watson Road trailhead. The fairly large parking lot (room for about 20 cars) was nearly full when I arrived at midday on a workday. Even so, there was no sense of crowding on the wide, well-packed trail that extends about three miles to the center of Dover.

The Cocheco River flowed alongside the trail, and several anglers in hip waders were trying their luck. I was passed by a few lunch-hour runners, and in turn I passed a few easygoing dog walkers. My map told me that offices for county government and a large insurance company were nearby, but they were completely out of sight and sound, built on higher ground.

Cocheco River, Dover NH. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
Cocheco River beside Dover Community Trail. Ellen Kolb photo.

I’m sure the downtown end of the trail has a much livelier character. I wasn’t looking for lively that day. The Watson Road trailhead was the right place for me to start my walk.

Londonderry

Here’s a familiar destination for me: Londonderry Rail Trail from the Harvey Road/Airport trailhead. What did it look like on a drizzly spring morning? Delightful. A film of pollen glazed portions of Cohas Brook reservoir, but the trees in flower looked so good that I didn’t mind all the allergens floating around.

There are plenty of “destination” trails in New Hampshire worth a full day’s exploration, but I value quick trail stops, too. They can give a busy day a special kind of spark.

Flowering tree and shrub, springtime, Londonderry Rail Trail, New Hampshire.
Springtime on Londonderry Rail Trail, at Little Cohas Brook Reservoir. Ellen Kolb photo.