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.

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.


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



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.



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

Rock House Reservation – West Brookfield

The weather forecast today was for temperatures in the low 40s, wind, and rain.  We briefly considered staying indoors, but we knew we’d regret it.  So we added some layers and headed west on Route 9. Nearly all the way through West Brookfield, right before Ware, is the Rock House Reservation.

This property, maintained by the Trustees of Reservations, is a favorite local natural retreat.  We’ve been here a half-dozen times with our daughter, exploring and geocaching, but this time we went because we knew we could get a few miles of hiking in on familiar trails (map available here) while being sheltered from the worst of the weather by the trees.  We’d also never come without her, and wanted to enjoy the scenery of the area at our own pace.

When we arrived, the lot was empty, and we posed for a quick photo in our still-dry rain gear before heading in.


We started at the Outer Loop, through lightly wooded rolling terrain dotted with boulders.  To our left was an area of the Reservation open to hunting, but on this lousy day even the hunters were staying dry.

024 10698647_10204531750481139_3597762765494158618_n


We followed this loop to Balance Rock and admired the view, and then forked north under the power lines, first through an open meadow area and then up the steeper wooded Summit Trail.


The Summit Loop crests a hill and then parallels a field near a neighboring farm before heading back into the woods.


It loops back to where it begins, and we continued our hike by following the Fullam Loop to the east.


All along the hike, the mixed forest changed around us — in some areas sparse, in others thick.  Sometimes we stood exposed to the elements, others under the quiet shelter of towering pines.  Periodically we paused to admire, through gaps in the trees, the beautiful post-peak New England foliage.


As the rain picked up, we returned to the Outer Loop that we began on, and skirted around Carter Pond on the Inner Loop trail.  The trail wove around and through giant boulders, and we felt like kids, dwarfed by the size of the rocks around us.  We stopped taking pictures here, as the rain became steady and heavy.

063 067

We covered around three miles today.  We got half-soaked (maybe three-quarters), but we were laughing and content as we climbed back into the car for the toasty drive home (where the heat was promptly turned up, and coffee and tea made).  Nothing feels quite so good as warming up after being honestly chilled and soaked doing something fun….