Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Confessions of An Outdoorswoman 3. Little River Nature Trail

It's hard to believe that a former highway off-ramp could be a worthy destination, but this one is an easy bike ride with lovely natural amenities, and close to home.

Access points are either from Storey Ave., just west of Atria Merrimack Place, or off Hale Street just east of the I-95 overpass. Look closely for the modest sign that marks the Hale Street end of the trail, and be prepared to walk your bike along the switch-back start of the trail. It may be a tad muddy, but is generally passable.

The paved trail has been conscientiously cleared by volunteers, with encroaching vegetation cut back and debris moved to the sides of the trail. It still bears paint marks from when it was a public road. Potholes are minimal, ahnd the ride is easy withlittle change in grade riding in either direction.

The trail soon crosses the Little River where and Eagle Scout built observation platform overlooks a beaver pond and bird-filled marsh. Leave the paved path and follow the trail opposite to see an active beaver lodge, and maybe get a glimpse of the resident rodents. Further, another grassy trail forks off and climbs a wooded ridge toward the highway. The only downside is the constant highway noise, even when the road is not visible.

Although the trail passes between lovely oak-covered knolls as it approaches Storey Ave., several non-native plants have certainly taken over along the roadway. Asiatic bittersweet, multiflora rose , and particularly autumn olive are the predominent species. The latter was commonly planted along highways when I-95 was built, before it was recognized as a rampant invasive. Tiny olives hang heavy on the shrubs, making me wish they were edible.

Walkers and dog-walkers will find this an appealing destination as well, but it is particularly rewarding for bike riders who will find that the roads leading to the southern end of the trail are comparatively lightly traveled, with a sidewalk besides, and not too steep. The roads around the Artichoke Reservoir (Turkey Hill, Rogers Street, Garden Street and Middle/Plummer Spring Road) make for a longer ride with maximum enjoyment.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Confessions of an Outdoorswoman

The nature of what I do for work dovetails nicely with what I enjoy doing most, and that is spending time outside. Whether riding a horse, pedaling a bike, walking a dog, cross country skiing or hiking a new piece of land, some of us are at our best without a roof over our heads. I’m doubly fortunate to play a role in the conservation and maintenance of both private and public land, and have many opportunities to explore hidden corners of the natural world. This column will attempt to share some of those special places with you. Some may be as close as my own backyard, as accessible as town, private, state and federal lands, but all will be within a tank of gas away, and spectacular destinations for an hour or a day. Need directions? Have a favorite hidden destination you’re willing to share? Please let me know—email deb@deborahhamilton.com.

1. RIVERBEND CONSERVATION AREA, West NewburyIs there a more rewarding spot from which to watch the season change than the Indian River Bridge? This easily accessible bit of heaven is not far from the Coffin Street end of River Road, where there is parking at the end of the paved road. A short, level walk leads to the beautifully rebuilt bridge. On an incoming high tide, the swirling tidal waters of the Merrimack push back the Indian River, filling the estuary upstream. On an outgoing tide, rocks and mudflats are revealed, and herons, ducks and kingfishers watch for lunch swimming by. Just east of the bridge, step up onto a mossy knoll surrounded by massive beech trees that have been inscribed with the names and initials of several generations of local youngsters. The newly cleared “Tupelo Trail” hugs the edge of the Indian River beneath a row of those big southern trees, and winds past fading ferns under a golden canopy of yellow birches. The trail is lined with logs and you’ll find it is comparatively free of poison ivy, thorny roses and bittersweet, so it is a very pleasant walk. The quarter-mile trail will give you a taste of the rest of the Riverbend trails that wind up the hill toward Page School, but is ideal if you only have an hour for a bit of exercise and communing with nature. Clearing and mapping are ongoing projects and are part of the Riverbend Management Plan due to be approved at Town Meeting.

2. INDIAN HILL RESERVOIR, West NewburyBike, hike or ride around the far side of the Moulton Street reservoir for phenomenal birding, colorful leaf-peeping and easy going on the reprocessed asphalt way. The entry at the far west end has a chain across it to discourage cars, but there’s ample room to pass between the boulders there. The roadway passes a farm pond and old strawberry fields, and crosses a causeway that separates the reservoir from the wooded wetland. After crossing the dam with its newly rebuilt spillway, you can choose to hug the shore and complete the loop around the reservoir, or climb to the top of Indian Hill on the trail that slabs uphill beside the impressive stone wall that used to delineate the Long Garden behind Indian Hill Farm. Carriage trails wind around the drumlin, culminating at a covered cistern at the top of the hill. The descent to Indian Hill Street is steeper, but following the angled trails down is easier than the straight descent to the new parking lot on the street. We have the townspeople of West Newbury and Essex County Greenbelt to thank for preserving this precious gem, protecting it from development forever.