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Davis Hill Trail (by Kathy Thatcher, October 13, 2009)

On Columbus Day I decided to journey along the Davis Hill Trail for my next addition to FOP trail descriptions. I headed out about noon-time, from the Kilburn Parking lot along Rt. 63 in Hinsdale. The trailhead is on the left just after you turn into the parking lot. The trail is approximately 2 miles and marked by white rectangles. You will begin your travels along a footpath that will join up with a snowmobile trail that comes in from 63, just north of the parking lot. The trail turns right, continuing a gentle uphill climb through the woods. This section of trail is non-motorized until the snow flies and is then shared with the motorized community. Recent trail work was done on the snowmobile sections of the trail, so be mindful of exposed roots. A little ways on, you will begin a gentle descent to a snowmobile bridge, before climbing up again, traveling through the Hinsdale Town Forest briefly. You will find yourself moving in and out of hardwood and softwood forest cover, creating a nice variation in your surroundings. On this particular hike, I spotted some beautiful, pumpkin colored fungi, at the base of a couple of trees. They appear to be shelf fungi, having a leathery surface area, stacked in graduated layers with scalloped edges.[ A note of interest: there is a honey mushroom that is the largest living organism in the world, with one in the state of Washington that extends for 1,500 acres and another in Oregon that is over 2,000 acres!] Continuing on, you will pass by the Hinsdale/Winchester town line sign, moving up the trail to where you will find the trail leveling off at a fork in the trail. The Davis Hill Trail will follow the right hand fork, which will be indicated by the white rectangles on the trees. This section of the Davis Hill trail is non-motorized year round. If you follow along on the left hand fork, you will be on the motorized section that actually takes you out of the Park briefly, following more of a ridge and rewarding you with a lovely view to the east of Mount Monadnock, while further along the loop you will be greeted with a stunning view to the west of rolling hills and fields bordered by the Green Mountains. The motorized trail loops back to the Davis Hill trail, where you can either turn right, along the footpath, and make you way back to the beginning of the trailhead or you can turn left, continuing on the motorized trail, eventually coming to a junction where Davis Hill ends and you can continue on Baker Pond Trail or Hubbard Hill Trail. “Vista” signs are being installed on trees at both junctions along the Davis Hill Trail to indicate the motorized loop. Going back to the first loop turnoff, if you wish to travel on the Davis Hill Trail footpath, you will find a lovely, non-motorized section of trail that winds its’ way up and down a boulder strewn path through a beech forest, many of which were damaged in last years ice storm. This is a beautiful section of woods, taking you through numerous plant communities. You will wander through the glossy green of mountain laurel and in the Fall, then find yourself surrounded by the burnt orange of hobble bush. Another town line sign will appear along the trail, this time for Chesterfield/Winchester. Looks like you cover three towns on this one trail…You will gradually move back into a hemlock forest where a stream is down and off to your right. You will eventually wander down to the same level as the stream, an area of beautiful mosses and ferns, and sometimes, a wet footpath! Gradually you will rise up to dryer ground and come to the other junction of the motorized trail. You will now be on a shared use trail, heading over a snowmobile bridge as you make your way to the junction where the Davis Hill Trail ends and Hubbard or Baker can carry you further into the park. Referring to your map, you can follow some wonderful loops for a longer hike, making sure you have enough daylight and you know where you are going! I will often turn around at this point, due to time constraints, and am always delightfully surprised at how a different perspective creates the feeling of being on a different trail. You can also make use of the “vista loop” to add more variety. Do give yourself a little extra time for the side trip…Davis Hill is also a wonderful snowshoe and cross country trail-just make sure there is enough snow cover before heading out-especially on skis! Remember those boulders on a twisting downhill run! Have fun out there! FYI, a round-trip journey hiking the Davis Hill Trail, at a steady pace, takes a good hour.

Habitat Trail (by Kathy Thatcher, FOP Newsletter Fall 2009)

On a glorious Sunday, October 5, 2008, a group of folks [Matt Edson, Gary Montgomery, John and Patti Hudachek, Kathy and Jon Thatcher] headed out onto the Habitat Trail to do trail work. A lot of the focus was on the path through the beaver pond, brush-cutting and clearing away debris that was encroaching on the trail. A number of the old utility poles that were used to create the walk-way in the vicinity of the beaver pond are in need of replacing, a larger task than the crew we had on hand could handle! Regardless, it is still a beautiful walk that can be completed in about an hour’s time, adding quick side trips, if desired.

Heading in from the Horseshoe parking lot, you will stroll down along the Old Chesterfield Road, passing an area on the left where early succession maintenance is being done to encourage wildlife habitat. On your right, you can see the remains of an old foundation. In the Spring the area is blooming with Forsythia and scattered Daffodils, a clue to previous human habitation. This section of trail is also a great place to visit in early Spring to see a beautiful bank of Bloodroot accompanying you down the trail. Purple Trillium follows a little later in the season. But back to Fall! When you reach the first fork in the trail, head uphill to your right, following the sign for the Habitat Trail, which is also indicated by a wooden sign with a turkey track. As you crest the hill, you will find another area on the left kept open for wildlife habitat as well as a stunning view across the field to a vibrant splash of color on the hillside beyond. A little further along the trail another old home site is visible on your right. A beautiful line of magnificent old maples guides the eye along the entrance to the old homestead. Moving on, you will come to an intersection of trails where, instead of continuing  towards  Winchester Road and access to the Hubbard Hill Trail, take a sharp left following the sign with the two turkey tracks. You will make your way down a gentle slope, coming alongside the open field you previously passed from above. This section of trail is pretty wet and also fairly rocky, so be prepared with the appropriate footwear. At the next trail junction continue straight (instead of going left and back up to Horseshoe parking lot).

A short distance ahead you will come to another junction and you will bear left on the Habitat Trail. Turkey tracks and a faded Habitat/Ski Trail on one of the orange signs let you know you are going in the right direction. Continue on till you see a smaller trail to the left and bear left. Now the signage is for the “Wildlife Trail” instead of the “Habitat Trail”. This is a little confusing, but now  you will be following the Wildlife Trail signs! This section of trail takes you to a wonderful beaver pond inhabited by a number of beavers, which you might well have the pleasure of seeing, often greeting you with a slap of the tail (on the water, that is)! This is a great spot to simply pause, watching, listening, waiting, enjoying the beauty that surrounds you. At the end of a walkway along some utility poles,, you will meander through the woods a short distance, coming back onto a wider section of trail, heading towards the South Woods Trail. This section of the Habitat/Wildlife Trail is a beautiful stroll through hardwood forest bordered by stone walls. You will come to a tee in the trail, with the Habitat/Wildlife Trail going to the left, South Woods Trail to your right. Following the Habitat/Wildlife Trail, stonewalls, hardwoods and conifers[softwoods] will accompany you as you wend your way back, passing through a grove of Sumac before turning right onto the Old Chesterfield Road again and heading uphill  to the Horseshoe parking lot. Walking at a steady pace, this loop takes about one hour, even with the side trips!

When you have more time on your hands, South Woods is a beautiful trail, with a lot of diverse, natural communities.

Lily Pond Trail (by Kathy Thatcher, FOP Newsletter Summer 2009)

I thought this might be as good a time as any to introduce the Lily Pond Trail to those of you have yet to travel along it. It can be a challenge when the bugs are in full swing, but it is such a beautiful path, I decided to go for it. I just came back from walking it in the rain and it was very manageable. Just don't linger anywhere for long, and you can always use bug juice... The most direct access to the trail is from the Horseshoe Parking lot. The trek should take about one and a half to two hours. Head down the trail from the parking lot to the Old Chesterfield Road Trail. Go left onto Old Chesterfield Rd., past the Reservoir Trail on your right and in 10 to 15 minutes you come to the Lily Pond Trail on the right. The trail marker is a yellow diamond and is approximately one mile long. After a short distance on the trail, you will come to a pond which will require a little hillside travel, just to the right of the pond. You will travel over a stream into a lovely grotto of moss covered boulders and ferns to your right, obvious signs of the presence of water. The trail is a wonderful meandering, walk through a rolling landscape. At this time of year you will be greeted with a variety of bird song. I was treated to a conversation of Hermit Thrush, their ethereal song, floating through the woods. As I got closer to Lily Pond, the trail led me through a beautiful, green carpet of notched, three-leafed clover-like plants, club moss, bunch berry, wintergreen and partridge berry spread out under blueberry bushes. I was greeted by the deep call of a bull frog as the Pond opened before me. There is a lovely point you can wander out to, that even provides the perfect rock to sit upon. There was enough of a breeze that the bugs were not an issue. Beaver lodges are scattered about and you might catch a glimpse of some ducks passing through, or perhaps even a heron. Heading back onto the main trail, you will pass through Hobble Bush and blueberry as you make your way to the end of the Lily Pond. At that particular point, to the right of the trail, there is a grand display of "carvings" by a Pileated Woodpecker. I did see and hear a Downy, but only saw the workmanship of the Pileated. As you continue along the path, you will loop around bogs and vernal pools with lush groupings of ferns. The rolling trail will lead you through a beautiful beech forest, giant boulders and rocks, adding to the striking surroundings. Another small pond will appear on the right, with fresh beaver activity in evidence. An abundance of wild sarsaparilla will accompany you along the trail to yet another, smaller pond, that upon further inspection is linked by a lovely, rocky stream to the previous pond. At the end of the pond you will come to a bridge where the Lily Pond Trail ends as it connects with the North Ponds Trail. At this point you will head left to begin to make your way back to the Old Chesterfield Road Trail. For a short distance you will be following the green rectangular trail marker of the North Ponds Trail. The landscape will change to heavier hemlock cover as you travel along a stream to your right. Gradually the stream will open into a large wetland, just before you arrive back at the Old Chesterfield Road Trail. Turn left, heading back to where you picked up the Lily Pond Trail, as you make your way back to the parking lot.

Pisgah Mountain Loop Hike brochure from the NH Natural Heritage Bureau: