(Solo) South Spencer Rail Trail – Spencer

Two Saturdays in a row, holiday activities kept Jess and I from our now-weekly outdoor explorations.  When on the third Saturday, the last before Christmas, she departed for a family shopping excursion, I decided to get out into the woods, even if only for an hour or so.

Trying to stay close to home and not lose the whole day, I picked the South Spencer Rail Trail (read about it briefly at the Spencer Parks and Recreation web page), also called the Depot Trail.  It is a two-mile, mostly-flat trail connecting South Spencer Rd. and Chestnut St. in the center of Spencer, built along the abandoned South Spencer Railway (built in 1878 to connect two rail stations in Spencer).  We’d been here once before as a family to explore some geocaches, though we only covered half the trail that day.

Part of my goal with picking a rail trail was auditioning it for winter hiking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing.  The only reason I think it might not pass muster is its use as a snowmobile trail as well.


The trail looks like the below picture for much of its length; a wide, fairly flat trail, partially graveled but rutted and uneven.  Over the course of the two miles, I encountered wooded areas (including a section of Spencer State Forest), ball parks, and residential areas to each side of the trail.


This unmarked side trail headed into Spencer State Forest.  Given it was unmarked and we’re technically still in deer season, I decided to pass.  Looking at another map now, though, I see it’s technically part of the rail trail and I probably could have explored it.  Next time, I guess….


Shortly after that side trail is a pond which was half-frozen.


On the opposite side of the pond, another side trail, this one even less inviting (and not on state property).


All along the trail, there are spots like the below where the trail meets up with unmarked side trails.  I suspect these may be dirt bike trails or snowmobile trails; Spencer is littered with snowmobile trails for some reason (I’m sure they’re great, I’m just always surprised to see them!).


As the trail continued, it got a little less well-maintained.  Here you can see that the drainage isn’t as good and the trail serves as a runoff for groundwater.


Still, lots of pretty little ponds and such along the side.


Here, some of the water runoff was still active, flowing rapidly under a icy surface.


I found two of these markers along the trail; I’m not sure that they were intended for.  They were marked with “W”s.  The trail was heading northeast at this point, for what it’s worth.064

After two miles, the trail unceremoniously ends at a residential street.  There is no sign, just some concrete pylons marking the end of the trail.  I turned around and walked back, this time heading southwest and into the sun.

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One more picture at the pond, and then back home, to do some housecleaning and gift wrapping….



Heins Farm – Sturbridge

Today, I took the day off from work to spend with my wife, celebrating her birthday (which was earlier this week).  While our daughter spent the day at school, we went on a mid-day hike exploring the Heins Farm property in Sturbridge, MA.  You can see a trail map at the Friends of Sturbridge Trails site.

It’s a beautiful property close to Old Sturbridge Village.  There’s a trail designed for accessibility (The Pond Loop, 0.7 miles) as well as another 2.3 miles of trails in a variety of terrain from wooded to wild fields.  We hiked the majority of the trails at an easy pace and would recommend this trail to all skill levels.  It was quiet but only a stone’s throw from OSV and Route 20, making it a quick retreat close to home.

We started with the Pond Loop, which is half on one side of Leadmine Road, and half on the other.  The trail is clearly marked, wide, and gentle in terms of grade, surrounded by trees.  On one side of the road, laminated children’s book pages have been attached to the trees making for an interesting diversion for the little ones (our little one was already happily diverted by school, of course).  On the other side of the road, the trail passes a small pond (with a bench for enjoying the view and the birds) before meeting up with the other trails on the property or returning to the parking area.


After exploring the Pond Loop, we moved to the Cabin Loop (home of a spooky old cabin) and the Stafford Turnpike Trail.  The Cabin Loop is similar to the Pond Loop but narrower and steeper in grade.  The Stafford Turnpike Trail has a wider variety of terrain including open fields (where wasps had taken over the birdhouses, as far as we could tell; we moved on).


We found one geocache (by the pond) but didn’t sign the log (no pen!); there are others in this area as well, including a night cache (we found some obvious markings leading towards this but didn’t pursue them).  I’m not sure I want to see that cabin at night, for what it’s worth….