Plimpton Forest (and a bit more)

Some news to start: next month I’m heading on a three night, four day hike through the White Mountains of New Hampshire, staying overnights at the High Huts of the White Mountains with some friends from work. So I’ve been gearing up and doing practice hikes as often as I can.  I have yet to do a real tough mountain hike (I plan to hit up Wachusett before the hike, but am not sure when I’ll make it happen), but this Labor Day I wanted to hike several days in my hiking boots to break them in and make sure I shook out any issues.

I had Friday off, so I started with a solo hike on a piece of property newly acquired by the town of Sturbridge, the Plimpton Community Forest.  The forest was a big win for open space advocates in the area, as numerous sources of money had to combine to make up enough to buy the land rather than letting it be developed.  It’s located next door to Hamilton Rod & Gun, where I’m a member (the club and its members were instrumental in getting the land protected), and also connects to two other open spaces (Wells State Park and the Wolf Swamp WMA).  It creates (or, perhaps, preserves) a continuous tract of open land, great for outdoor recreation as well as wildlife habitat preservation.

There are no trail maps for the property yet, but I knew that volunteers had marked some trails two weeks prior, so I went in search of those.  There are two trails on the property right now, one marked with red blazes and one with yellow.  The red trail starts up a fairly steep hill, and is obviously along an old road in some spots as it’s fairly wide.

The trail goes through some sections which have been logged but also trails along some beautiful old stone walls.

There are also some muddy parts, which I’m guessing will be quite marshy in wetter weather.

The red trail was clearly marked and easy to follow, and it was obvious when it ended. Signs marked the property boundary, and according to my GPS I was close to a stream crossing which would have put me on private property.  I followed the red trail back and then followed the fork which was the yellow trail.

The yellow trail was much narrower and windier, with some slightly challenging terrain in spots.

The yellow trail goes through some open areas which are beautiful and peaceful (there were no real sounds of neighboring roads, a nice treat for such a close-by trail).  I quite liked the lone boulder seen below.

The trail started to narrow significantly and eventually the markers disappeared. There was no sign that the trail had ended, but there were no more blazes and no path to follow. I believe there is more work to be done here.

Doing both trails added up to about three miles of peaceful hiking.

But … that wasn’t enough.

The next day, Jessica and I took a short hike through the woods at the Rock House Reservation, a favorite of ours for many years.

And the day after that, in fairly steady rain, I took a solo hike through Opacum Woods, a beautiful property I’ve explored plenty of times.  It offers a variety of terrain types, interesting things to look at, and the trails loop instead of being out-and-backs.  The only complaint I have about Opacum is that it’s directly next door to one of the busiest interchanges in the state (I84 + I90) and the highway noise is constant.  As the trails here are fairly simple, I won’t narrate the whole hike, but I did the full loop and the highlights are below.

(Note, my waterproof hiking boots were fine in the rain, but my water-“resistant” jacket failed miserably.)

And as if that was not enough, after three straight days of hiking I went for a fourth day of outdoor activities with a long kayak trip with a friend.  We hit Quaboag Pond from the south and fought the wind and even did a bit of fishing.

Four days off from work, and four days of vigorous outdoor activity.  I can’t complain.  Even if I wasn’t training for a big hike next month, I’d be enjoying this, but knowing it’s getting me ready for this adventure, it’s even more rewarding.

Midstate Trail – Spencer (Solo)

On the first Sunday of the New Year, Evie and Jess made a last-minute decision to cheer on a friend at a gymnastics event in Western MA, and I made a last-minute decision to revisit the Sibley Farm / Burncoat Pond property with the intent of walking a portion of the Midstate Trail.  I’d hiked here with Jess twice before (1, 2) and both times we had mostly ignored the Midstate Trail.  Looking at the map, I realized I probably had enough time to hike the trail from the parking area up to Route 9 and back.

First off, let me again say how much I love this property.  Miles of trails on different terrain, fairly close to home and major roads, yet quiet once you’re out there, with wildlife and ponds to admire.  Take a look at the awesome map they have at the trailhead.

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My route this day would follow the bottom trail until it reached the White Oak Trail, which I would take up to the Midstate, which I would follow up to Route 9.  On my trip back, I would stay on the Midstate back to the parking area.

Our first real snow of the season was still fresh on the ground, and was coated in a bit of ice.  I was glad for my walking stick (and in fact wished I had two at times), and I often had to tread carefully to avoid falling.

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At first, the trails showed recent activity; boot treads and dog footprints mostly.  But the woods were quiet; I only met a couple other people despite a parking lot full of cars (again, the benefit of a large property with many trails).  In the pictures below you can see the “tags” they use for trail markers on this property, which nicely stand out in ways painted blazes sometimes don’t.

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I finally found my way onto the Midstate trail, and headed North.  It was only a bit more than a mile to the road but it was not easy going due to the snow and ice.  My legs were already feeling the pressure.

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The trail overlaps with the trails on this property at a few points, but still maintains its yellow triangle blazes.  Finding the trail was never difficult. Below you can see two yellow blazes and a blue one, for the same trail.  By this point, as you can see, the signs of human traffic had lessened significantly.

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Part of what I like so much about this property is Burncoat Pond, and the beaver ponds and marsh areas that surround it.  There are numerous viewing points out to the water.  It was nice to see the water starting to freeze as the property transitioned to winter.

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As the trail winds through the wetlands, there are a few areas where you have to travel on bridges to keep out of the muck (or the ice, in this case).  These were in excellent shape, having only recently been replaced (according to the fine folks on the Midstate Trail Facebook Group).

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Again, human traffic on the trail was significantly less in this area as compared to closer to the trailhead.

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However, animal footprints were becoming more common.  I saw several sets of deer and turkey tracks as well as the usual squirrel tracks. Below you can see some prints as well as what may be like prints from someone wearing crampons (or snowshoes?).

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For a while the trail here passes by some private property with many No Trespassing signs on it.  It includes a massive field with No Hunting signs posted periodically — I saw many deer trails headed into this field as well as the property owner’s tree stand in one corner.  I imagine this family has a full freezer every year.

I was quickly approaching Route 9, though.  The trail here overlaps with Polar Springs Rd, and there is some roadside parking for those who want to hit the trail starting here.  There was a bench here and an old mostly ruined structure.

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I walked out to Polar Springs Rd and out to Route 9, before turning around.

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The trip back was mostly the same as the trip out, though my legs were much more tired.  I hadn’t been on a serious hike in months and I was feeling it.

There were a couple different spots to see as I took a slightly different path back than I had out.

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At the end, I had done four miles in two hours, and my legs were complaining loudly.  But it was a great hike and covered a piece of trail I’ve always wanted to explore.

Some day I want to cover the entire Midstate Trail.  Perhaps some more point explorations of it are in order.

Grand Trunk Trail to East Brimfield Dam – Sturbridge

It seems a recurring theme that we don’t have as much time to explore the trails on our Saturdays as we used to. Real life conspires to sap away even our protected time.  And so last weekend we again found ourselves looking for a close hike which wouldn’t take up too much of our time.

We ended up driving towards one trail and stopping at another; we saw a parking area on Holland Road in Sturbridge with a Friends of Sturbridge Trails sign on it, and decided to see what it was.  It turns out, it’s a somewhat new extension of the existing Grand Trunk Trail.  This section walks along the Quineboag River to the East Brimfield Dam, and will eventually connect into the Brimfield section of the trail.

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The trail is also labeled as the Trolley Line trail, or similar wordings.  There were two different rail lines through this section, the uncompleted “Grand Trunk” line and a functional trolley line.

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The trail goes along the river quite a bit and might provide a nice way down to do some fly fishing (in fact, we saw an angler with waders on close to the trailhead).

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We paused at a lookout and posed for a snapshot (as we often do).020

The trail continued along the river for a ways and eventually exited on the Army Corps of Engineers property for the East Brimfield Lake.  We’ve explored this dam area many times, including a couple fishing trips, so it wasn’t overall new to us.

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However, standing atop the dam, we saw a path down below which crossed the river and clearly explored a little bit of the property we hadn’t been to before.

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We walked down this way and were rewarded by the sight of a blue heron perched at the water’s edge looking for a meal.

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We walked a bit more along the water on this little path, and took in the fall landscape with the soothing sound of the water nearby.035

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It was a shorter walk than we had planned, because the map showed trail portions that weren’t yet complete.  Once the trail connects fully it’ll be a great showpiece for this section of the state.  For now, we can explore it bit by bit.

Rock House Reservation – West Brookfield

I last wrote about Rock House in November of 2014.  On that day, we went for a long hike in the rain.  This time around, it was a shorter hike, but the weather was much more pleasant.

I started the day by pitching in at a town cleanup of a vacant lot, and spent several hours doing the kind of physical labor I went into engineering explicitly to avoid.  So while we still wanted to hike, I wanted something a little less taxing.  We picked Rock House because we know the trails well (map here), it was close, and we knew we could do a shorter loop and still get some fall scenery in.

We started by hiking up the hill on the red “inner loop” trail towards Carter Pond.

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There we paused and took pictures of the stunning foliage reflected in the still water.

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From there, we picked up the Outer Loop trail and took it around the property.  We’ve done these trails several times in the past so it was a relaxing hike, with frequent pauses to admire the foliage.  As is always the case on our Saturdate hikes, it gave us a chance to catch up on topics both serious and frivolous without the impatient ears of a seven-year-old.

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It was a short walk in the woods, but a much-needed escape from the hectic pace of life.

Getting back into the swing of it

Over the summer, our hikes were tough to manage.  Without gymnastics blocking out the time, we either had to hike as a family, or hike when Evie was otherwise occupied, which wasn’t often.  Given the heat and the bugs, we didn’t get out nearly as often as we had hoped.

But Fall is here, and with it comes cooler temperatures, fewer bugs, and a renewed presence in gymnastics for our little bundle of energy.

So we’re getting back out there.  Over the last few weeks, when we’ve been able to, we’ve made it onto trails.  We visited Heins Farm again (just about a year after the last time) as well as the South Spencer Rail Trail (which I last visited in December).  We didn’t snap a lot of pictures, and I don’t really have much to describe in terms of a blow-by-blow, but it was good to get back on the trail.

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