Yellick Conservation Area – Northboro

Our first hike of 2015 was a spur-of-the-moment excursion in Northboro, a town we once called home and where my mother still lives.  We were already in town and ended up able to drop our daughter off with Grandma for a couple hours.  I pulled up the Northboro Trails Committee website and looked for something close by.  We ended up starting at the Coyote Trail, which meanders through the Yellick Conservation Area.  You can read more about the area in this news article I found later, which pointed me nicely to this updated map.

The trail begins at a generous parking area off a very steep driveway which connects to Hudson Road, a well-traveled road which connects Route 20 to the Solomon Pond Mall in Marlboro.  We’d seen the parking area many times in our travels in town but had never stopped there.


The trail starts off strangely, hooking southwest along the Assabet River and basically through some back yards (signposts helpfully tell you to stay to the left of the markers to avoid trespassing) until you reach a narrow but sturdy bridge which crosses the fast-moving, shallow river.



Once across the river, the trail immediately turns back the way it came.  It is fairly well-marked, but is precarious and narrow as it closely hugs the shoreline on the hillside.  I would not attempt this trail in any kind of wet weather, or with any ice or snow on the ground.  It wouldn’t take much to end up sliding down the hillside into the water (what I’m showing below isn’t that bad; there were some hairier parts).


After that initial section, a short spur continues northeast, labeled the Tall Grass Trail.  It follows the river through some very thick grassland; without the work that keeps this trail clear, it would be impassable very shortly, overrun with brambles and briars.


We paused a moment to take a picture and then returned to the intersection with the Birdsong Trail.

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The Birdsong Trail is a totally different beast than what we were just following.  Flat and easy to follow, it moves through several terrain types before settling into a rocky pine forest.


The marsh is never far, as you can see in the picture below.  Residential neighborhoods were never far either; you could see houses along much of the trail.  This, combined with the ever-present drone of I-290 in the distance, reminded us that we were definitely on a suburban trail.  Still, the extra pool of volunteers and foot traffic that comes with a suburban trail provides some real benefit; the paths were clear and well-kept, and surprisingly clean of litter.


We had gone a bit over a mile and a half when we decided to turn back.  Looking at the maps, it’s clear that we stopped just as the Birdsong Trail was meeting up with the Old Farm Trail.  We were very close to Route 20 but didn’t press through to see it (trust me, we’ve seen plenty of Route 20 over the years).

At that point, we turned back and followed the trail back the way we came.  There-and-back trails are a mixed blessing; it’s nice that once you decide to stop, you know exactly what terrain and distance separates you from returning to the trailhead.  On the other hand, it’s not very exciting to cover the same ground in the reverse direction.


As we returned to the parking area, the sun was beginning to fall behind the hills and some clouds made it seem later than it really was.  A nearly-full moon hovered over the treeline and I tried my best to capture the moment.


Overall we were impressed with this trail, and wish we had come at a time when we could have explored the Old Farm Trail as well.  That would have changed our three mile hike into a five mile one, though, and we didn’t have that kind of time.

The trail was not particularly challenging, other than the slippery narrow sections along the hillside near the start.  Paths are clearly marked, with blue plastic blazes nailed to trees along the first section, and orange painted blazes or orange ribbons tied around trees on the second section.  Even in areas where the blazes aren’t clear, the path is well worn and frequent footbridges over the many small streams make it clear where you should go next.

Given the proximity to the river, I’m sure in mosquito season this would be a totally different experience.  And, as I said, I would avoid the Coyote Trail if any snow was on the ground (though the Birdsong trail would probably be pleasant in the snow).

So: one 2015 hike down, many to go.  I look forward to sharing them here….


Old Sturbridge Village

My wife and I had a babysitter lined up for Tuesday night and decided to go for a quick walk before our dinner out (at our favorite local restaurant Cedar Street Grille).  She knew just what to suggest – a quick lap around her walking trail at Old Sturbridge Village.  She comes here on a regular basis with her best friend and was curious how many miles she was actually burning on each lap.  MapMyHike in hand, we took a quick tour and learned it was a 1.44 mile loop, rather than the “about a mile” she was assuming before.


It’s a quick and pretty walk through the grounds.  As members, dropping in for a little exercise is no big deal.  From the entrance, head towards the common, and then bank right after the Center Meetinghouse and loop up into the woods and then back down to the Freeman farm.  Cut through the fields below the farm and come back out by the Gristmill.  Detour out to the Quinebaug bridge and then follow the river back to the Vermont bridge before coming back to the Common.  Go past the Printer and hang left back towards the Visitor Center.

Repeat as needed and time allows!  Here’s a map of the property if you want to try it yourself…

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….