Friday, July 18, 2014

The Woods are Lovely, Dark and Deep

Photo courtesy of The Nature Conservancy
We visited Sheldrick Forest Preserve in Wilton recently -- a simple place of quiet beauty not far from busy Route 101.  I love this type of place! No one has "packaged" it into an experience; No one is telling you where to look and what to see -- although I'm going to offer a few suggestions that I hope will enrich your visit and not intrude on it.

There's an interesting conservation story about how Sheldrick Forest came to be protected. While researching my book on southern New Hampshire, I was lucky enough to connect with Swift Corwin, the private forester who started the "Save Sheldrick Forest" campaign in the late 1990s. You can read more about this grassroots effort on The Nature Conservancy's website and in the book, of course.

                              Big Trees and Glacial Features
For now, let's talk about what you might see here today. You'll start by parking your car in a field off Town Farm Road. The grass was almost knee-high when we visited a couple of weeks ago. If you take Helen's Path, after a short walk you'll come to a 5-acre stand of old-growth trees on your right. There are white pines, hemlocks and oaks as tall as 150-feet high and some as big as 30-inches around.

To a casual observer, they look like ordinary trees. But if you stop to think that most of our forests had been cleared by farmers in the mid-1800s, this five-acre parcel stands out. Some of the trees here are almost 200 years old!

It was this discovery that first led to the effort to save this 260-acre parcel from development. (Secretly I was proud that I could pick out these trees without any signage...only from knowing that they were there to begin with. You'll be able to recognize them, too.)

I learned from Swift (the forester) that Sheldrick Forest also has some geological features left by the glaciers, including kettle holes and an esker ridge. I had no idea what an esker ridge was...but I've since learned that it's a ridge carved by melting glacial streams.

Illustration  from the book courtesy of Nancy Murphy
While we were there, we climbed to the top of the ridge, which overlooks Morgan Brook and gives you a nice glimpse into the beauty of the forest below. It's kind of neat to stand there and think about the glacial streams that carved it. We didn't see any wildlife while we were in the preserve, but we did hear the hammering sounds of a pileated woodpecker echoing loudly through the trees.

To be honest, I'm usually a little fearful about hiking this type of forest, since I always think about bears, bobcats and other wild animals that call this place home. What would I do if I came face to face with a bear? I don't know! But in the end, I'm glad we ventured here. Sheldrick Forest Preserve is calm, peaceful and beautiful in a very understated way. If you have a chance to visit, write in and tell me what you thought.

Things to Know Before You Go: There are three miles of well-marked trails through the preserve; these trails connect with the Heald Tract which offers another 8 miles of trails. When you come here, definitely use insect repellent and dress in long pants and preferably long sleeves. The parking area looks like the perfect habitat for deer ticks. There's a small information kiosk with trail maps, I believe. It's probably best to download one before heading out, though.

Directions: You can find those on The Nature Conservancy website.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Beautiful Day in Pillsbury State Park

This was our first time at Pillsbury State Park in Washington, located in the Monadnock Region -- it's definitely worth the trip! There are four connected ponds here, but we only explored two of them today: Butterfield and May Ponds. This place has been on my list ever since guest poster Matt Hoffman wrote about it in 2009. You can read his write-up and see some awesome pictures here. Hard to believe it's taken us five years to get there!

Beautiful summer day. We want to return in the fall.
Pillsbury State Park has a ranger's station right off Route 31. From there, it's an easy put-in to Butterfield Pond, which connects via a small channel to May Pond. There are a number of rolling hills/small mountains -- all of them at least 1900-feet tall. Don't you love the reflections in the water? We saw two loons here, but they kept their distance. It's that time of year when there may have been loon chicks around.

Just relax already! There's only one grassy area like this.
Butterfield Pond is pretty shallow and rocky, but still navigable. Sometimes we get so enthralled with the scenery that we forget to watch for rocks right below the surface. Of the two ponds, May Pond has more water and more areas to explore. Doug caught two small pickerel; And a camper we talked to said he'd caught a five-pounder earlier in the day. If you want to continue beyond May Pond to Mill Pond, you'll need to portage your boat about 1/4 mile. We didn't explore that one today, but Matt wrote about in his earlier post.

An interesting feature in the Park is the wind turbines (barely visible on the hill at right in photo left). They are part of the Lempster Wind Power Project. There are 12 turbines capable of powering up to 10,000 homes. Public Service Company of New Hampshire purchases and resells all the energy produced here.

I could write so much more about Pillsbury State Park, but I want you to get out there and explore it for yourself! Aside from four ponds, there are also walking/hiking trails, little bits of history and campsites (some only accessible by canoe). A section of the 43-mile long Monadnock Sunapee Greenway Trail also passes through the park.

Things to Know Before You Go: The entrance fee to the park is $4 per adult and $2 for children ages 6-11. You can rent canoes/kayaks from the ranger's station here.  Plan to bring your own food or stop at the Taste of Texas rib shack in Hillsborough; there's not much else in the area in terms of places to eat.
Nearby Historic Site:  The President Franklin Pierce Homestead in Hillsborough looks like a great historical stop. New Hampshire's only President lived here for the first 30 years of his life. We stopped in briefly to the gallery/barn/mini-museum and there was an art exhibit going on. Guides give 45-minute tours of the main house in season from Memorial Day through October. There's also a short self-guided walking tour of the Pierce neighborhood, including a family cemetery.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Biking the Derry Rail Trail

Beavers are responsible for most of the wetlands here.
The first day of summer and the weather was gorgeous in New Hampshire -- the perfect day to explore the Derry Rail Trail which has been on my "wish list" for a while. (My apologies upfront if I don't have all my facts straight on this one; the Derry Rail Trail Alliance website seems a tad outdated, so I can only share the little bit I know.)

I definitely loved this trail! It has easy access, is completely paved and almost 100% flat. Now I know some bikers would say that all sounds pretty "boring." But I enjoyed the scenery, the coolness of the woodlands, and the bits of history along the way. Best of all, there's a new section of trail (opened in 2012) connecting it to the Windham Rail Trail. The Derry portion is just under three miles and the Windham Trail is about four miles, for a round-trip total of 14 miles. We probably biked about 8 miles of it today.

Along the Way
The Derry Trail starts in downtown near Sabotino's Restaurant, which is located in an old rebuilt Depot Station. The trail follows an abandoned Boston & Maine railroad bed and has a few well-marked road crossings. During one stop, we saw a big snapping turtle's head moving in the water.

There was a great breeze as we biked through the trees and a few stone cut-throughs. On our right (headed to Windham), there was a miles-long stonewall in the woods. At one point, we even saw a stonewall that ended in a small wetland (below).

Now for some quick bits of history: There's a nicely restored train depot where the Derry and Windham trails connect, as well as a restored caboose at the end of the Derry Trail. None of these have indoor access, but at least they're neat to look at. There's also an old cellar hole (state archeological site) with an informative marker. I'll leave those details for you to discover on your own! If you venture here, be sure to write in and let us know your thoughts.

Look closely and you'll see a stone wall in the water!
Things to Know Before You Go: Parking is available in a municipal lot behind Sabotino's. From Broadway Street, take a right on Abbot Court. You can also park in Hood Park; Take a left onto Manning Street just after crossing the red crosswalk in front of Sabotino's. Follow Manning Street past the courthouse to where it ends at a stop sign. Hood Park is right in front of you.

Approved Uses: Like most NH trails, this one is mixed use. It appears to be a great place for families. We saw bikers, runners, in-line skaters and a sign saying that snowmobiles are allowed. I believe ATV's are not allowed.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Best Time to Kayak Hoit Road Marsh is Now

Beautiful Reflections and lots of birds

We headed to Hoit Road Marsh in Concord last Sunday for some quiet and relaxing time on the water. Why do I say, "head here NOW" (as in the next seven to ten days)?  Because in just a few weeks time, the vegetation will choke out some of the open water and you won't be able to paddle very far. We first paddled Hoit Road Marsh in 2008, when we spent time watching a great blue heron. It's hard to believe that six years have elapsed since our last visit here -- this place is pretty awesome!

The 101-acre marsh is managed by NH Fish and Game, which has placed quite a few wood duck boxes in the water and along the shore. This seems to encourage a lively bird population. Each one of the boxes was occupied, though we're still trying to figure out the bird species. They were very small with a swallow-like body. The tops of their heads were a shiny green/blue. Could they be tree swallows? I'm not sure.

Doug took out his fishing rod and caught a 12-inch pickerel and we sat for a while and watched a graceful osprey soaring overhead. This is the type of place that invites you to just sit back and relax. It's shallow and marshy in a lot of places so you won't be doing too much strenuous paddling. But if you are content to meditate on all the shades of green and bright yellow water lilies...all while watching the birds...then this is your spot! 

Things to Know Before You Go: Hoit Road Marsh is easy to get to and offers an easy put-in. If you're traveling from the south, take I-93 North to exit 17 in Concord. Head east (left) off the exit onto Hoit Road. Travel about 2.5 miles to the marsh on your left. There are no facilities here, but there's a small parking lot across the street and what looks like some trails through the woods. We may be back to explore those another day. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

First Time Kayaking Island Pond

There are some rolling hills in the distance.
Today was our first time kayaking Island Pond in Stoddard, but it probably won't be our last. This place was actually "Plan B" for today. We headed first to Nubanusit Lake in Hancock on the recommendation of a friend. But when we arrived at Nubanusit, the waters were too choppy for our comfort level and there were quite a few power boats --so off we went to explore Island Pond, not too far down the road.

Loved the easy put-in!
Island Pond has an easy sandy put-in and a parking area for about a dozen cars right off Route 123. You'll hear some road noise when you first start out, but before too long you'll leave the noise behind. The pond has over 200 acres of water and about 20 summer cottages dotting its shores; we saw two smaller power boats and a number of other kayakers on this holiday weekend. So it's not as secluded as some of our favorite spots, but there's still plenty of room to spread out here.

The pond has a number of small islands and small channels, all set against a backdrop of picturesque green hills in the distance. Unfortunately, shortly after we got out on the water, the wind started gusting pretty strongly so we headed to a small protected cove to wait it out. After a long winter indoors, it was great just to be back out on the water, even if the weather conditions weren't ideal. We sat and watched a pair of geese and five tiny goslings for a bit, before heading back out to open water.

We paddled for maybe another 20 minutes before the strong wind gusts started up again and then it started to rain lightly. With threatening skies, we decided to paddle back to shore -- fighting a head wind that was pretty challenging at times. So Mother Nature didn't exactly cooperate for our first time out this season, but Island Pond looked like a great spot to spend a couple of hours. We'll be back!  

Directions: From Rte. 202 in Peterborough, take Rte. 123 North to Hancock. Look for the pond on your right shortly after the intersection of Rte. 9 and Rte. 123. There is a porta-potty here.