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.

Join NH Rail Trails Coalition, Get Guidebook as Bonus

[Update, 2021: please note that this particular membership promotion has ended. I hope you’ll check out the NHRTC website to see what’s current.]

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.