Tuesday, July 6, 2010

View from the Riverbend Bench

To create and steward trails--and the lands through which they pass--is a lot like raising a child.  A new trail requires a concerted effort to bring it to life, dedication and nurturing to build and develop it, and eventually the will to send it off into the world for others to enjoy.  The lopping, clearing, routing, marking, mapping and marketing have already occurred.  Now its time for visitors.
When I take in the ebb and flow of the Indian River as it winds past me here in the heart of the Riverbend Conservation Land in West Newbury, my senses are overwhelmed with the perfection of the place--intense colors, moving water, birdsong, diverse plant life. 
Here is a spot of land that was lost and undiscovered until last year, when a meandering deer trail was widened and groomed to allow access through it.  The well laid stone wall that runs through the property and old cellar holes and wells along the way remind us of the settlers who cleared and farmed here two centuries ago. The level site just above the water's edge tells of long-ago campfires by early explorers and native people.  The river's banks show evidence of generations who launched and landed canoes here. Old infrastructure, dams, mill ponds and skid roads remind us that Pipestave Hill was named for the trees harvested there, then floated down to ships waiting on the Merrimac to take that wood around the world in barrels, pipes and boxes.  Photos from 1900 show the area to be cleared of trees and laid out in open fields.  Aside from the stone walls, it is now hard to see this place as other than virgin forest.
When a new trail is opened to the public there's a certain trust that goes with that introduction.  The sponsors hope that the public find and enjoy the experience, respect the terrain and the creatures that live there, and share their discovery with other nature-loving trail walkers.  Equestrians and bicyclists, dog walkers and cross-country skiiers, all become the stewards for that trail whenever they use it.  Please, come walk the Riverbend Trails and see what they have to offer.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Fun Stuff Coming up in West Newbury!

West Newbury townspeople gather for only a few great community events each year, among them the Mill Pond Winter Carnival, summer concerts at the Bandstand, and, of course, Town Meeting.  But one day we all celebrate together is Memorial Day, with youngsters and old folks, antique cars and marching bands, Boy and Girl Scouts, Little League teams, and of course, our Veterans, whose sacrifice and service we honor on that day.  This year’s parade will be Monday, May 31, starting by the Post Office and concluding at the Training Field. The event is chaired by Steve Alvino, and this year’s Grand Marshall will be Dick Cushing. If you wish to participate, contact Steve at 978 363-1557, or if you wish to ride or drive your horse or pony, please call Felicity Beech at 978 363-2021. The parade will step off at 10:30 and will conclude with the kids riding back to the Public Safety building on the town’s firetrucks, always a hit with the young folks.
The following Saturday, June 5 is “National Trails Day”, which we will celebrate by walking the newly marked Indian River Trail, starting from Mill Pond at 11:00.  Led by members of the West Newbury Open Space Committee, Barry LaCroix and Don Bourquard, participants will see natural and historical sites, and complete a “passport” entitling them to a hot dog luncheon at the Mill Pond Building after the hike.
Land owners and trail users are encouraged to join us on June 5, as we explore the wonderful trail network that is available to us.  Many hours of volunteer work have gone into clearing trails this spring, especially around Mill Pond and down to the River Road trail, and now is the time to enjoy them.  Wear long pants and good shoes.  Leashed dogs are welcome as well.
And don’t forget the Garden Club Plant Sale this Saturday, May 22 at the Training Field!  Hardy local flowers, shrubs and trees, herbs and vegetables will be available with knowledgeable experts there to discuss their planting requirements.  I suggest you arrive at 9 a.m. as some of the choicest plants are in limited qualities and sell fast.   

Monday, March 22, 2010


Looking for a beautiful nature walk that is close to home?  West Newbury's Riverbend Conservation Area extends from the water tower next to Page School down along the Indian River, across the slope and down to the Merrimack River.  Spared much of the damage and destruction that toppled trees at Maudslay and Old Town Hill, the trails are easy and inviting, tho' there are wet spots.  Thanks to West Newbury Life Scout Jeremy Baker and Troop 26, red trail markers lead down from Page School to the Main Trail, where blue markers lead right down toward the Merrimack or left to the Indian River.  Orange markers follow the Indian River down to an overlook that is my favorite spot in town.  The blue trail also continues up the old Myopia Hunt trail back to the parking lot at Mill Pond.
This beautiful town-owned parcel is a haven for beaver, otters, raptors, ducks and wading birds, and is blessed with a diversity of mature trees, ferns and wildflowers.  The Indian River has been protected since for hundreds of years, and once was dammed and used to float out the basswood and oak cut from Pipestave Hill to be made into barrels.  Old stone walls, dams and pools remain where a thriving mill once operated, at the point where the Indian River meets the incoming tide coming up the Merrimac. 
Contact me if you need a trail map, or consult the Essex County Trails Association web site for a definitive view of the area.  Then go take a hike!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Post Storm/Pre-Spring -- an early invitation

What a difference a storm makes!  Ten inches of rain and days of unrelenting wind have finally retreated to reveal a greening world and swelling buds.  Everything pops so quickly now, first the bulbs, then the woodland wild flowers, and then, the last week in April, come the magnolias.
I forget, from one year to the next, how marvelous each March feels.  How seeing metal maple syrup buckets hanging from the sugar maples renews the faith in the great swinging arc of the seasons, and how the first crocus brings a smile.  Anticipation of each day's new growth is ample reward for a winter of grey and dreary dark.
At our house, the big reward and payday comes the last week in April when the huge tree magnolias in our backyard are covered with creamy white blooms.  Since the exact dates for peak blooms varies year to year, I'll write you again when they're blooming and hope you can join me for a woodland tour.  With waterfalls and vernal pools, tiny wildflowers and awakening wildlife, our yard is one I love to share with everyone who shares our appreciation for the surprises and delights of early spring.  Stay tuned........................

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ready for the next big one?

Three days and three nights of powerless living makes you reassess how we take it for granted, doesn't it? And it points out all the foibles of depending on "the grid" for all our electrical needs. Next time, we'll pay better attention when the National Weather Service predicts wind and rain warnings. Here are some preparedness suggestions...care to add to my list?

Fill the bathtubs so there's water available to flush the toilets with a coffee can.

Have the flashlights next to the beds instead of in the cupboard in the kitchen.

Fill the extra animals' water buckets and keep them full in the basement as back up water sources. And remember that the local police departments have collapsible water containers they can loan or give you in emergencies in case you need to haul water.

Add to the database in your cell phone and on paper the names and numbers of motels within half an hour south and west, just in case.

Know where the car charger is for each cell phone. I have an "I-Go" with interchangeable tips that fit a couple different phones. And carry the land-line charger to recharge your phone at the library, restaurant and office, whenever you can.

Finally invest in a generator and hire John Collins to get it set up. Although I find them noisy and smelly the whole experience of being able to have heat, a working refrigerator, light, etc., would make the experience of powerlessness far more bearable. And if you're planning to sell your house, a generator is a necessity.

Both our West Newbury and Plum Island properties were without power for several days after Thursday night's big blow, and yours probably was as well.

"Another World" lost a window when a piece of shingle flew off Mad Martha's restaurant and went right through it, but nobody was in the room. Platoons of power trucks finally got things working again on Saturday on Plum Island and on Sunday afternoon for our West Newbury home. The West Newbury house was down to 45 degrees when we arrived Sunday morning. We had fled to Alex's brother's house in Newton the afternoon before, desperate for showers and shampoo and warmth.

Let's not lose momentum on the idea of getting ready for the next big one, because we now know it very well could happen again.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Winter Carnival, with a twist!

Last Sunday was notable not only if you were fans of New Orleans football, but for a singularly different Winter Carnival at West Newbury's Mill Pond as well. With absolutely no snow on the west-facing slope overlooking Mill Pond, the whole focus of the day was at the foot of the hill. Between the morning's under-the-ice rescue demonstration by the West Newbury Emergency Crew and the sailing ice boat at sunset, skating and sliding families filled the glassy-smooth ice from east to west.

Pick-up hockey games, puck shooting and ball-tossing at a snowman were popular, as were saucer and tube riding behind willing dads. Around 150 neighbors enjoyed hot food provided by Glenn and Mary Kemper, hot cocoa and treats. The Girl Scouts sold cookies and several Boy Scouts assisted with parking. The Mill Pond building, was open and warm, but bright sun, a bonfire, burned marshmallows and a cloudless sky kept things plenty comfortable outside.

Couldn't make it? The Mill Pond and adjoining public land is available for skating, hiking, cross country skiing, dog walking, canoeing and passive riding year round, dawn to dusk. Mill Pond is a natural gem right in the center of town, a respite from the world just minutes away. Maps of the area's open spaces can be purchased from the GAR Library, or viewed online at WestNewburyOpenSpace.org or on the ECTA website.