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?

Clean-up Crews

It’s only February, but my local parks and rec department has an eye on Earth Day in April. Signups for an EarthDay Park Clean-Up are open. Look for a similar event in your own neighborhood, via Facebook or your town’s web site on the parks-and-recreation page.

I call dibs on Horse Hill.

There’s never a wrong time of year for park and trail maintenance, but events like this one are as much a town-wide celebration as a work party. It’ll be a good day.

Front-Page Coverage for a Trail Adopter

I had a big smile on my face over breakfast today, reading this story from the New Hampshire Union Leader. This front-page feature fills in the story of a man I’ve encountered many times on the Piscataquog trail in Manchester. He’s a quiet, diligent trail adopter who didn’t wait to be asked before he started taking care of things.

https://www.unionleader.com/voices/city_matters/mark-hayward-s-city-matters-clearing-a-path-in-the/article_50284c96-1e10-5d66-8c98-b1341bd1a5ad.html

Early Peek at a New Beaver Brook Trail

mountain laurel
tiger swallowtail

What a splendid weekend for mountain laurel. At Beaver Brook in Hollis, NH, it’s in full bloom. I went there this morning to join a team that’s preparing a new trail, and we spent three hours cutting back laurel & oak & birch along an already-flagged path that might be ready for public use in a couple of years along the northern edge of the property. I won’t give details on its location, since it’s not quite ready for its public premiere. There are plenty of other Beaver Brook trails to enjoy, and I recommend that you make your way to Hollis to discover them if you haven’t already. You can get more information including directions and trail maps at www.beaverbrook.org.

I like to help maintain trails now & then, since I get so much enjoyment out of them all the time. I’m not skilled enough to be an asset on my own, but signing up for an organized trail day like this one lets me work with a team that can get quite a bit done in just a few hours. Keep an eye out for volunteer opportunities in your favorite park. Youth and strength are optional. And if you’re lucky, as I was today, there’s pizza afterward.

I was wielding a pair of loppers instead of a real camera on this hike, so I had only my phone’s low-resolution camera to capture a couple of shots. The tiny photo of mountain laurel gives you the barest hint of the profusion of flowers all over the trail. I saw the swallowtail butterfly when I stopped for a drink of water. It spent five leisurely minutes going from blossom to blossom on a single laurel shrub, apparently unconcerned that I was sitting two feet away.

This is unfortunately a great year for ticks, and I had to brush some off of myself despite using DEET. Anyone in this region who’s spent time outdoors this spring knows the drill. We have to put up with them to get near things like stands of mountain laurel.

Beaver Brook is unique in this area in that it’s a private holding, not a public park. The Beaver Brook Association is a nonprofit educational organization that owns about 2100 acres of open space, most of it in Hollis, with about 35 miles of trails. The association offers numerous educational programs and guided hikes. Its trails are open to the public every day from sunrise to sunset. Donations to the association are what keep it going, so bear that in mind as you enjoy the trails.

There are several trailheads: a couple on Rt. 130 (which bisects the property), one on Rocky Pond Road, several on Ridge Road, and a couple on the south side near the Massachusetts state line. Take your pick of trails: flat or hilly, ponds or dry woods, lots of company or lots of privacy. The area north of Rt. 130, which includes the area I was in today, is much quieter than the southern side.

Don’t let the fact that there are houses nearby keep you from carrying a trail map. Print one out in advance from the web site, or you can purchase one at the association’s headquarters on Ridge Road. There are signs but no maps posted at trail junctions. Cell service in the area has improved in recent years, as I discovered to my amazement this morning when one of my companions made a phone call from the trail. I wouldn’t count on that to be possible on other Beaver Brook trails, though.

I was part of a good crew this morning, and the weather was fine. I’ll look forward to the “grand opening” of this new trail, with its brook & pleasant overlooks. If I’m still blogging when it’s unveiled, I’ll mention it.

Trail Work & Road Trip

Bee balm everywhere

2013 update: Maintenance of the Cohos Trail is ongoing. I heartily recommend planning a day of trail work as part of your Cohos Trail trip. The Facebook page for Friends of the Cohos Trail is a good place to check for information on planned work days.

The trouble with full days is that I get tired in the evenings when it’s time to record the day’s events. Not a bad problem to have. Today was tiring, but in total, quite satisfactory. My aching body is aching less, which is encouraging.

Today, I worked on a new segment of the CT, which we all hope can soon be formally dedicated. Lainie & I started at Round Pond, where the proposed Round Pond Brook trail begins winding its way to US Rt. 3. As of now, the CT is on US 3 from River Rd. in Pittsburg to the Quebec border. Alternate routes & spurs are slowly being designed & approved, and will be developed piecemeal. The RPB trail was flagged by CT volunteers last spring, and state approval is pending, with a walk-through by a state official needed eventually.

Lainie handed me a pair of loppers & told me to follow her & look for flagging tape. Within 10 minutes, she realized that someone had come through & reflagged the trail on a slightly deviated route. Her GPS was only slightly helpful, but our compasses sure came in handy. I did very little lopping, but I helped get the trail’s flags back where they belonged.

A problem that became obvious — far more obvious on the Camp Otter Trail, where we worked in the afternoon – is that the flagging earlier in the year was done in the spring, before summer grasses grew several feet high. Some trail routes along snowmobile trails looked just lovely 4 months ago. Now, it’s midsummer. Grasses & ferns & the aptly-named hobblebush have grown several feet high. The snowmobile clubs won’t be working on the trails again until fall. The routes we checked today would pose a maintenance nightmare. Not an insoluble problem, to be sure, but a challenge.

We were on game trails when we weren’t on snowmobile trails. I saw a bobcat track for the first time. We saw plenty of moose tracks, as well as a spot in the Camp Otter area that’s obviously used by moose as a place to bed down. Bears left the most traces, though: prints, scat, more scat.

Coming out of the woods on the Round Pond Brook trail, before we got to US 3, we came upon a field full of Joe-Pye Weed and bee balm. This area is bursting with summer blossoms.

Camp Otter was an arduous couple of miles of slogging through mud & stumbling over long, tangled vegetation. This is the area where the trail association wants to put in 500′ of badly-needed bog bridging. I’m told that the materials have been acquired but are being stored down in Stark.

Rain began as we started to whack our way through the vegetation along Camp Otter trail. We were already so muddy that we didn’t care. Lainie is fine company, and she is undeterred by such minor matters as mud! Her attitude was contagious. She fed waypoints into her GPS, reflecting the improved trail route we flagged today. I became the first non-CT-board member to hike these segments. With breaks, it took us about 5 hours to walk/bushwhack/slog 4.1 miles. We felt like very wet pioneers when we were done.

We really were filthy by the time we were shuttled back to the Bungalow. Lainie insisted that I get first crack at the shower, and she  was kind enough to put my muddy clothes along with hers right into her washing machine. Once I was cleaned up, I made a double batch of mac & cheese for a late lunch, and that simple little dish was perfect.

As I ate, I thought about some of the things I had planned to do on this trip. After only a couple of days with blisters, I had to admit to myself that Mt. Magalloway is out. I lost it the moment I dunked my feet in the mud on the Lake Francis trail and then didn’t dry them promptly. A steep uphill walk would be torture at this point, leaving me unfit for the other walking I need to do.  There are already unexpected delights on this trip, though, in areas to which I could never have dayhiked from here.

Later, with my laundry hanging to dry, Pete proposed a ride — “bring your camera!” We piled into their beat-up but valiant truck, and off we went.

First stop, Young’s, where everyone had things to pick up. Second stop: Moose Alley Cones, where I reveled quite messily in a double scoop of chocolate moose-tracks ice cream. Good thing I’d bought paper towels at Young’s. This ice cream stand had been on my to-do list for the trip, and I hadn’t told anyone about it, so this was an auspicious start to the road trip.

We proceeded north on US 3, the “Moose Alley” of all the tourist literature. We stopped at 2nd Connecticut Lake, at the boat ramp off the highway. We were the only people there. Once out of the car, I looked around in awe, overcome by profound silence. We were away from the dam at the lake’s south end, so there was no sound of rushing water. At that moment, there was no bird’s song or call, though I’m told loons are frequently seen here. No aircraft overhead, no carloads of tourists, no boats or boat motors – a place & a moment of peace, with nothing in view but the lake & the spruce trees all around.

From there, we drove north a couple of miles to Deer Mountain State Park, a campground with 20-some-odd sites. This gave me a chance to scout my quarters for next Sunday & Monday nights. Pleasant spot, lots of trees, Connecticut River the size of a brook rushing down a stretch called Moose Flowage: all good. The attendant lives on-site; we’re way beyond commuter territory. There’s no rec building or any other community structure. About a third of the sites were occupied, which confirmed my hope that a reservation & its fee would be unnecessary. I love the signs I’ve seen at all three state parks on this trip: “If office is closed, occupy any available site” – and leave the fee at the iron ranger, of course. Lots of honor-system operations up this way. As I expected, there’s no electricity at the park. In fact, we’d left the last US utility lines behind us a few miles back. (Our border station relies on Canadian utilities.) The park also has no water supply aside from a single spring, piped up at a spot near the entrance.

Notes made & photos taken, I hopped back in the truck. We headed back south past 2nd Lake & turned east onto Magalloway Road. I noticed mile markers, and it turned out that all the back roads we were on last night had them. I suppose they’re useful, as long as you don’t expect to use a cell phone to summon help to your broken-down car at mile marker 3 on Magalloway Road. There is no, I mean NO, cell signal there.

These back roads, originally created by logging companies & still maintained in part by them, cut right through thick, thick woods. Spruce predominates. “Great North Woods” is no mere chamber of commerce conceit. We passed a number of small logging cuts that hardly put a dent in anything. The spruce all looked nearly black as the sun began to set.

At a fork we headed right, to Buckhorn Road. There were camps here & there, most of them looking neat & maintained despite the absence of cars in the driveways. The sky to our right was beginning to take on beautiful tints & tones in the last of the day’s light. This was when Lainie made the first remark about not seeing any moose yet. I’d been scanning the roadsides myself, and for all the beautiful sights, I didn’t see any critters.

Another turn put us on Cedar Stream Road – the same Cedar Stream Road I’d found so boring a few days ago. We were miles farther east, though, at mile marker 19. This stretch was wilder, with fewer camps, and still no moose. We drove westward, & the full glory of the sunset was right in front of us. I could afford to enjoy it; I wasn’t the one who had to drive into the glare.

At the intersection where I had veered off to the Bog Branch bridge & the Lake Francis trail a few days ago, we turned left onto the east end of the nine-mile-long Deadwater Loop Road. This was the Wild America stretch, seen by very few flatlanders like me. This would have made a more interesting hike than Cedar Stream Road, coming from Rudy’s. I’ll remember that the next time I’m up this way.

Approaching the village, we turned onto Cedar Stream Road again, then Rt. 145 and then US 3. We drove onto giant Murphy Dam – giant for these parts, anyway. Pete told me this is an earthen dam, built in the 1930s.

Back on US 3, we passed the Pittsburg high school. I’m going to get a picture of the building on Old Home Day next weekend so I can show my son the home of the class S baseball champs. Their tournament victory made the front page of my downstate newspaper a few weeks back — a high school of 37 kids, with 14 of them on the team.

(As I write this, a small plane is passing overhead. That’s unusual here.)

The evening ride’s last leg was around Back Lake, ringed with inns and resorts. As we returned to Danforth Road after three  unforgettable but mooseless hours, I said it would be funny if we drove over 40 miles & didn’t see a moose until 200 yards before the driveway. I was off by just a bit. On the way up Danforth, there was our one & only moose, waiting for us as if hired. Our tour was complete.