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

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?