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.

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.


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.


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).


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.



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.


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.


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


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.

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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(Family) Wells State Park – Sturbridge

Summer vacation means more family time, and we used that time at the start of July for a hike at Wells State Park in Sturbridge.

I’ve written a few posts in the past about hiking here; it’s a massive property with fairly long trails, and it’s possible to get over 6 miles of hiking in a day fairly easily as I demonstrated in a prior post.  But this hike was a shorter journey, with our daughter dragging her feet a bit (perhaps because nothing is quite as fun as exploring Purgatory Chasm!).

Once again using our State Parks Pass, we parked at the front entrance and made our way on foot around the paved path.  We exited the path to explore Mill Pond Trail, which I think in the summer probably should be renamed Mosquito Trail.  It almost soured us from the trip; even with bug spray it was a constant battle to keep mosquitoes and other insects off of us.

Eager to rescue the expedition, we promised Evie some interesting “climbing” and turned our attention to trying to reach Carpenter’s Rock.  Away from the Pond Trail the bug situation decreased to something livable (though it was still a bit painful at times).



Evie found a toad along the way, which kept her entertained for quite a bit.


We reached the top of the rocks and paused for snacks and refreshments.  With the toad, the snacks, the lack of bugs, and the view, Evie’s mood improved drastically.


It helped that Jess found a snake!


We paused for a couple selfie (Evie refused to pose with us!).


But Evie was fine posing with her toad….


We departed the cliff and returned back the way we came, but then took the long way around (via the paved road) so we could check out the camp sites.  In the end we put in a bit over 3.5 miles.


It’s a beautiful park and I look forward to many more visits here, though I think we’ll stay off the Pond Trail in the summer.

Solo Canoeing, Hamilton Rod and Gun Club – Sturbridge

This past weekend, I took ownership of a genuine “beater” pick-up truck.  This truck is old enough to drive, and it looks it.  But it can do one thing our family SUV can’t — handle a canoe atop it.


The white sections are metal trim my father-in-law and I fastened to the body to make it pass inspection.  The truck used to be his, and when he took it off the road I gave it a new home.  I don’t know how long it will last, but a summer of canoe trips will be worth the cost of insuring it.


For my first trip alone with the canoe I chose a body of water I’d already paddled around (albeit with my father-in-law), the third pond (“Fish Pond”) at Hamilton Rod and Gun Club, where I’ve been a member for a few years.  I chose this for a few reasons — water is fairly shallow, has almost no current, and is unlikely to have any other boaters on it, being a pond on closed club grounds, which only allows canoes and kayaks.

The pond is fairly quiet, though I could at times hear road traffic and lawn work being done. The club also has several firing ranges on it, so the occasional echo of shooters’ target practice rang through as well.  Still, overall, it’s a quiet and peaceful experience to paddle around this pond.

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Of course, paddling isn’t enough to hold my attention; I had to bring a rod and net with me.  I caught a couple respectable perch and a large pickerel — all returned to the pond to be caught again another day!044

After about an hour and a half on the water, I made for the shoreline and the truck.048I managed to stay dry, catch fish, and successfully transport the canoe to and from the pond without any help.  I’d say it was a successful first paddling expedition.  I’m already planning the next one….


(Solo) Opacum Woods – Sturbridge

Spring fever is in full swing, and when I found myself with a free afternoon I knew I had to spend some of it in the woods.  I debated my options for a while but ended up returning to Opacum Woods, a site I’d been to a few times before (last time, with Jess, was in the fall).


This time, in early Spring, the woods were much different.  The trees (other than the evergreens) were largely bare, and the high water from the spring melt totally transformed the landscape.

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At one point, the trail was swamped.  I took this first bridge…


But shortly thereafter I found myself unable to continue without being in water up my shins.

017 Turning back from the swamped section, I took another trail which stayed on higher ground.  There was the constant sound of water as numerous small streams had swelled and were constantly being fed by short-lived rivulets across and near the trails.


This boulder always tempts me to climb it.  Not today, though.


On the other hand, this tiny cave always freaks me out. I feel like the girl from The Ring is going to come crawling out of it.


Portions of the trail here are on old roads, making for a relatively easy hike along stretches of it.  It’s not all so smooth, though; there are some fairly steep sections as well.  I was tired by the end, which I think had more to do with my “Winter body” than the terrain.


One thing on plentiful display in Opacum Woods are dead trees being consumed by the wild — woodpeckers, beavers, and wood-boring insects all slowly turn these old dead giants into sawdust.


After looping around the entire property I took a few more snapshots of the tree-lined paths and headed back up the path I had come down.


Did I mention it was a bit wet?


Overall, this was a pleasant afternoon out of the house.  My legs were tired at the end, reminding me that I didn’t do this much over the winter.  I also seem to have bumped up against some kind of poison ivy or similar — as I write this days later I’m still itchy in a few spots.  Such is the price of the outdoors!

Fishing and Exploring in Sturbridge

No big hikes this weekend, but there was plenty of the outdoors.

Saturday, my in-laws came to visit, and my father-in-law and I got out our dusty fishing equipment and decided to try and hit the Quinebaug River to see if we could land any freshly stocked trout.  We fished two separate sections near Old Sturbridge Village, exploring the shore and trying from a dozen different spots.  We got a few hookups but landed no fish.  It was a beautiful day with highs in the low 70s, and regardless of what the fish were doing we couldn’t have been more content.  The water was clear, we saw fish and birds, enjoyed the warm air, and enjoyed some good company.

022This area is near to where the tornado passed through in 2011; it seems we are surrounded by reminders of it.

026Of course, we did a tick check after our bushwhacking expeditions, and each had to pull off one tick that was on board but hadn’t started feeding yet.  It doesn’t take much….

The next day, Evie decided she was sad she hadn’t been part of the fishing trip and wanted to fish.  I wasn’t quite ready to take her to the river; too much bushwhacking and not enough empty ground.  So we went to the Rod & Gun Club I’m a member of, and fished one of their ponds.

027We caught no fish here either, but saw some perch nervously guarding their egg sacs (which we saw plenty of).  We also saw young salamanders swimming away from us as we walked the shoreline.

031(There’s one in the picture above, right by the dark leaf in the bottom right-hand quadrant).

After fishing for a bit and enjoying a snack by the shore, we did some exploring, trying to get up to the Plimpton Land which borders the club and is in the process of (hopefully!) being secured for future generations to enjoy as open land.

034We walked through some land which had been partially cleared as part of a green forestry initiative to create better wildlife habitat, and explored a bit, but didn’t end up on the right trail, and looped back.  I’ll go back another day and see if I can puzzle out the trail markings.

So — a beautiful weekend in early Spring, a little fishing, a little exploring, a little quality family time.  No real hikes to describe, but these feet got plenty of exercise anyway….



Quinebaug Woods and Tantiusques – Sturbridge and Holland

After a rainy week, we knew the trails might be a bit muddy and slippery with fallen leaves, so we opted for some easier locations this weekend.  With Evie safely handed off to Saturday gymnastics, we stopped for lunch at Soup to Nuts in Sturbridge.  They’re a cozy lunch spot with a limited menu including a rotation of homemade soups and quiches.  Even though I’d never heard of it, they’ve been in business 31 years. Shows what I know!

Fed and ready to explore, we stayed local and headed down Leadmine Road, intending to visit Tantiusques, a Trustees of Reservations property down the road from the Leadmine trails we had previously hiked.  Following the Trustees’ directions, though, led us nowhere fast; Leadmine Road became a basically impassible dirt road (at least in my hatchback) thanks to deep ruts, wide puddles, and heavy fallen leaf cover.

After debating for a bit, we took side roads over to Holland and found Quinebaug Woods instead, another Trustees property.  Quinebaug Woods is a narrow parcel nestled between private property and the Quinebaug River.  A single trail goes on a brief 1.1 mile loop.


It starts along the river (fishing is allowed, and someday I may return with a fly rod) and then takes a short steep climb up.


After the climb, it’s a meandering walk along rocky paths back to the trailhead.

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Along the way, we stopped at the old chimney, all that is left of a 1930s cabin on the property.  It’s impressively large for what must have been a tiny cabin (there is not much level ground here!).


After completing the loop, we looked at our maps (on our phones, of course) and figured out we could take a back way across to Tantiusques from where we were.  So we made a quick drive back into Sturbridge and approached the site from the opposite direction.  The road was paved, well-maintained, and wide.  I have no idea why the middle section of the road was such a disaster.

Tantiusques was similar terrain as the trail we had just completed, with a similar 1 to 1.5 mile trail loop on it.  The interesting aspect of this property is its mining history, dating back to pre-Colonial times.  The mining stopped in the early 20th century, and there’s ample evidence of the mining all around, including this 1905 mine entrance which is fortunately boarded up (but still plenty creepy looking).


Most of the mining on this property was not underground, though. The miners simply cut into the earth, exposing the graphite and other minerals.  Much of the hike was along an old ridge that had been cut open and partially refilled.  There were ample opportunities to look into nooks and crannies of the old mining cuts.

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We somehow missed a cutoff which would have returned us to the trail head, and followed a side trail which took us out to the road, meaning we had to walk a quarter mile down the road to return to our car.

In both these cases, the properties were obviously not as well-traveled as our other trails.  Trail markings were not as clear,probably because the parcels were small and the trails simple one-mile loops. But we still felt lucky to experience two great hikes in the middle of this beautiful New England autumn.

Opacum Woods – Sturbridge

Another Saturday, another Saturday hike!  We had to suffer through some rain for this one, though.

We decided to explore Opacum Woods, a property held in trust by the Opacum Land Trust.  It’s a beautiful wooded area located behind a nice neighborhood in Sturbridge.  It fills the corner made by the connection of Interstates 84 and 90.

At the trailhead we met some folks from Opacum who were closing up shop; earlier in the day they had officially opened up a new bridge built as an Eagle Scout project and were handing out new trail maps.  They gave us one of the new maps; a definite improvement on the one we had picked up when we ran into them at the Big MOE.

We wanted to get around 3 miles in, so we first walked out to Perry’s Point and admired the foliage by the pond.  There is rampant evidence of beaver activity here, including many felled trees and a few which are barely hanging on.



After returning from Perry’s Point, we followed the three trails on the property in one big loop.  Under a gentle rain we covered all kinds of terrain, from the swampy pond area to steep rocky wooded hills.  At all times, though, the background sounds of the interstates accompanied our hike, and honestly sometimes it was a bit distracting.

We finished with about 3.3 miles covered, a fine accomplishment for a rainy Saturday.

It’s a beautiful hike, with excellent trails which have obviously been lovingly maintained.  It’s just unfortunate that the biggest interstate intersection in Central MA is right next door.


Leadmine Trails – Sturbridge

These Saturday hikes are becoming a bit of a tradition, as our daughter spends a few hours in gymnastics and we explore our surroundings one trail at a time.

On this Saturday we returned to Leadmine Road, where we had previously parked to explore the Heins Farm property.  This time, though, we descended onto the trails which explore the Leadmine conservation area which borders Old Sturbridge Village.  A trail map can be seen on the Friends of Sturbridge Trails website.

Looking at that map, we basically followed the red trail until it met the blue trail, and then the blue trail until it returned to the red.  We covered a bit over 3 miles on those two trails.  The FrOST team has done a great job marking these trails, but there are some mismatches between the trail blazes and the colors on the map.  Modern life has certainly spoiled us; we took a picture of the trail map at the kiosk, and cross-referenced it with our GPS apps to make sure we were on the right track.


The trail is moderately hilly but nothing too difficult.  The area is open to hunting in season, unlike the Heins property across the street.  The area has an interesting history, as it used to contain a mine used to extract graphite for pencil lead.  If you explore the right areas you can find evidence of the old mines, but we didn’t make it that far.

Definitely a place we’ll return to, to explore further.  There are some geocaches hiding in here too — we found a couple but stopped looking when our network reception got spotty.