Easing into the year

I wrote last October about a layered trail: ice, mud, and leaves underfoot. That’s pretty much what I’ve found in January in southern New Hampshire, minus the leaves. Things are pleasantly messy, as long as I have some traction on my shoes. Yes, even for the flat paths: slipping on an icy flat trail in Mine Falls Park left me with a concussion a few years ago. That’s one winter adventure I don’t care to repeat.

I was in Sandown the other day, sharing a trail with some polite ATVers. The trail wasn’t so much layered as patchy: ice here, slush there, frozen tire tracks in the shade, and lots of mud down the middle. I accidentally hit on the best time of day to be a walker there: mid-afternoon, after most of the ATVers had finished for the day. Not every multi-use trail works out so well for me.

Not every trail gives me town line markers. I like it when the markers agree with my GPS.

A short drive north: the Northern Rail Trail follows the Merrimack River in Boscawen and part of Franklin. On New Year’s Day there, I was surprised to see what I’m certain was an osprey. I thought for sure they’d all have headed south long before. An unexpected sighting like that is always a treat. I was too slow to get a photo. I have many miles yet to discover along this trail, which is one of the most popular in central New Hampshire. I’ve walked on each end, so to speak – Lebanon and Enfield at one end, Boscawen at the other – and there are about 40 more miles to go. I could bike it in the summer or fall, but somehow I think that’s taking the easy way out.

Norhern Rail Trail New Hampshire with signs for two snowmobile clubs
Where the work of one snowmobile club ends, another’s begins.

While we’re on the subject of walking in January, let’s thank the snowmobile clubs that groom so many of the trails I enjoy. It’s not all snow grooming: when a club takes responsibility for a trail, the members also do things like clear away deadfall and make sure the trail’s full width gets attention.

I haven’t neglected my town’s conservation areas. I spent a brisk hour on a big loop route starting in Grater Woods, connecting with an adjacent neighborhood with which I was unfamiliar, returning on busy Baboosic Lake Road. I’m not a fan of being a pedestrian on one of our town roads with little shoulder and no sidewalk, but sometimes that’s where a path takes me. As for Horse Hill, I’ve never had a bad day there. No matter how many cars are in the parking lot, the trail network is extensive enough to keep us out of each other’s way.

Do you have resolutions about walks you want to take this year? I always start the year with a list of destinations, more for inspiration than anything else. I don’t want to waste time wondering where to go, if I find myself with a free afternoon. I just dip into The List, which I admit is heavy on rail trails. I also keep a map of New Hampshire on my wall, with outlines of each town, and after I walk in a new town I color in its spot on the map. I get a silly amount of satisfaction out of that little visual record.

Picking it up

Picking up litter is such a little thing, and I’ve really appreciated that act this year. Increased trail usage in my area has meant more trash on the trails, as people unused to using public lands haven’t yet developed good habits.

Does that sound patronizing? It’s kinder than my gut reaction, which is that people sometimes behave like jerks. Not a neighborly thing for me to think.

At any rate, I see folks rising to the challenge and picking up the trash. Some do so individually. (I keep a trash bag in my pack when I’m out and about, so I have one less excuse for passing by a dropped can.) Some people form or join crews, with the single purpose of cleaning up after thoughtless hikers.

woman picking up trash
Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay
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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.