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.

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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.

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).

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

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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.

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It helped that Jess found a snake!

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

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But Evie was fine posing with her toad….

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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….