Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bay Circuit Trail. Duxbury Doorway.

Duxbury marks the spot where the southern end of the Bay Circuit Trail meets the sea. Humans began gathering here not long after the glacier receded and it was an early settlement reward for Pilgrims who had fulfilled their obligations to the initial collective that formed in Plymouth.

Myles Standish was among those who obtained this coveted real estate.

In our time, Duxbury  has allocated substantial acreage for preservation with enthusiastic support. The 
Cushman Preserve and the Bay Farm are two tracts that begin at waters edge. Cow Tent Hill lies just a bit inland from Cushman. 

The beach and littoral zones are defining facets of the place with all the glories and complications wild popularity brings.

Powder Point marks the bridge way to the long barrier strand that anchors the Gurnet.

The Bay Circuit Trail heads inland from waters edge at Bay Farm with two options, south toward Kingston and north toward Pembroke. Both meet in west Pembroke.

The northern option runs through Duxbury and meets a cranberry bog melange at the Duxbury Bogs , a 1971 gift from the Loring Family. The North Hill Sanctuary  and related tracts lie to the Northeast. The trail then passes through the Lansing Bennett Forest tracts before it crosses to Pembroke. 

The French Atlantic Cable landed in the town in 1869 making it an early communications hub. It was also the launch pad for a small ship building empire. Various maritime mercantilists cashed in over the years and made their way to greater glory in Boston.

Now the movement runs just as well back the other way with soaring options unimaginable to that long ago Mayflower wave.

Note For the Urban Carless. Kingston is handily on the Old Colony commuter rail line 2.3 miles Southwest of Bay Farm.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bay Circuit Trail: Ancient Framingham Crossroads.

The Bay Circuit Trail enters north Framingham along the Sudbury edge near the height of land for the entire trail, Nobscot Hill. Garden in the Woods, lies a bit to the southeast.

The trailhead begins at Weissblatt Conservation Land and passes south through the Boy Scout Reservation and Wittenborg Woods. This part of the town is also home to a number of farms.

Callahan State Park is the next major area along the trail before it passes into Marlborough to follow the Sudbury Reservoir.

The Commonwealth's  park system here and elsewhere is particularly well suited for mountain bikes...

... and dog walks.

I first encountered Rattlesnake Plantain in some corner of that park back in the 80s drawn by the silvery variegation lacing its leaves in the shadow dappled understory.

From there, the trail heads south to reenter Framingham briefly where it crosses the Sudbury River below the dam and then passes over Route 9 before turning toward Ashland.

One of the earliest trade trails sleeps beneath a section of route 9. The Old Connecticut Path indicated an area for confluence and exchange.

And now it is a rail junction of some complexity with Amtrack, Conrail and Commuter rail all converging.

Note For the Urban Carless. The Ashland stop is fairly close to the trail where it runs to the west of Framingham. It is a fairly vast area so plan on an entire day should you choose a commuter rail option.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bay Circuit Trail: Ipswich Inroads.

Cottages at Little Neck and Crane's Hill, Ipswich, MA; from a c. 1920 postcard.

Ipswich is home to a host of land conservation support efforts and has made substantial contributions to the Bay Circuit Trail within its boundaries with more work ongoing to meet the Atlantic at Crane Beach

Walking to Crane Beach, Ipswich MA from Sarah Coyne on Vimeo.

Ipswich might be expressed as having several facets. The dunes and drumlin of the Crane Estate complex front and protect an intricate estuary world edged a with salt marsh fringe. 

Beyond the shore lies a fabric of wetlands and uplands, farms and forests with a river at its core.

Among the organizations focused on this venerable place are the Ipswich River Watershed Association and the Essex County Trails Association. The town core has a history trail and an Essex County National Heritage Area center.

There is even a special Ipswich Bay Circuit Archive. The Essex County Greenbelt Association is located in nearby Essex and has a significant role in the ongoing acquisition and management of protected green spaces.

Willowdale is a superb place for basic bicycle touring as many of its trails are Bradley Palmer's old system of bridle paths. 

Note For the Urban Carless. Ipswich is very well served by what may be one of the most scenic commuter rail lines with loop potential between Ipswich and Hamilton/Wenham.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bay Circuit Trail: Moose Hill Convergence.

Sharon, Massachusetts, along what I call the Southern Arc of the Bay Circuit Trail system is a counterpart activity hub to Andover. It has a number of protected lands including a cluster at Moose Hill consisting of the Massachusetts Audubon Society Sanctuary and Moose Hill Farm, owned by the Trustees of Reservations.

Moose Hill itself is also the height of land point for the southern arc and the swath of Southeastern Massachusetts rolling toward Providence.

Here is a handy summary.

"“A nice place to live because it’s naturally beautiful,” says a welcome sign in Post Office Square, and Sharon lives up to this motto.  “Lake Massapoag--the treasure of Sharon for its fun, beauty, and peacefulness,”  writes a student. “The Lake is about 400 acres of water. When the sun sets, beautiful, vibrant colors reflect off the Lake.”  Lake Massapoag is known for its concerts, fireworks, fishing, and good swimming on Memorial Beach.  From the 1800s until the 1940s, Sharon was a summer resort to which people would come to stay at inns and hotels to enjoy the clean air and the Lake. The Town proudly holds the 2,250-acre Massachusetts Audubon Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, and has 60% of Borderland State Park comprising 1,260 acres within its borders, as well as the Warner, Massapoag Brook, and King Philip’s Rock nature trails.  In addition, the Town has been successful in preserving an additional 1,500 acres of its area of 24 square miles as public conservation land, totaling more than 5,000 acres of protected open space in Sharon."

Rick Ripley (above) has prepared a valuable series for his public access cable show.

It has it's own grassroots community organization, Sharon Friends of Conservation with an impressive content mix that includes a great overview.

The unifying element here is an array of trails. The Warner Trail leads of to the south all the way to Cumberland, Rhode Island. It parts company with the Bay Circuit Trail to the southwest near the borders of Foxborough and Walpole.

The eastward leg of the Bay Circuit Trail dips south along Lake Massapoag to meet Easton at Borderland State Park.
(Image Courtesy of Boston Public Library Photo Collection.)

This intrepid crew caught the annual rites of toad mating at Borderland.

Note For the Urban Carless. The wonders of Sharon are yours to discover through the capacities of commuter rail

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bay Circuit Trail: Andover Village Improvements.

Andover is a microcosm of the entire Bay Circuit Trail System. It began to think about land preservation in 1894 when the Andover Village Improvement Society, (AVIS), was born. Since then, it has put 1100 acres under protection with a fairly comprehensive run of ecotones, glacial terrain traces and spots touched by the long history of the place.

And the spirit of volunteerism couldn't be more lively. Participation in the Bay Circuit system varies by town and Andover could be considered a hub if not the hub because the Bay Circuit Alliance has long had its home there and its Conservation Commission is comparably exemplary. 

It even has an organization given to weaving all the protected jurisdiction strands into a handy mosaic, the Andover Trails Committee.

I identified five areas of the town to provide a sense of its relationship to the Bay Circuit Trail and the other features that have shaped it over time.

1. Bay Circuit East.
This part is defined by the highest point in the area, Holt Hill, in the Charles W. Ward Reservation. The other anchor is the venerable Harold Parker State Forest. Between these two lies a string of gems including the Skug River/Hammond Reservations and the Mary French Reservation.

2.The Main Street Corridor.
Route 28 was cobbled together from a north to south patchwork of old turnpikes that began with a road from the market town, Medford, to the farm settlements along the Merrimack Valley edge.

Foster's Pond, at the southern edge with North Reading, has its own organization in addition to The Peggy Keck and Goldsmith Reservations. Heading north the Pustell Reservation follows. 

3. The Shawsheen Watershed Corridor.
This is also joined by the offspring of the Andover and Wilmington Railroad. It runs along the eastern edge of the river.

This may well be a defining feature of the town and considerable effort has been expended to make it shine. Following the river from south to north, the Sanborn Reservation is the first of these efforts followed down stream by Pole Hill, site of a ghost resort long gone to nature. Further downstream lies Pomp's Pond, home to a freed slave in Thoreau's time.

The Vale Reservation and the Shawsheen River Reservation form a centerpiece cluster that ties the Ballardvale neighborhood to Andover Center. And, at the point of confluence with the Merrimack, Den Rock Park is a collaboration with the city of Lawrence.

All these and other preserved lands are part of an ongoing creation, the Shawsheen River Greenway.

4. Bay Circuit West.
The trail continues to Tewksbury and beyond until it's eventual terminus in Duxbury.

As the trail rises from the Shawsheen river heading west, it immediately meets another cluster of parcels beginning with Indian Ridge Reservation and followed by Bakers Meadow and West Parish Meadow and the nearby cemetery,which has a thoughtfully designed walking tour.

There is a second cluster further westward built around the Harold Rafton Reservation, the largest property protected by AVIS. From there the Bay Circuit Trail heads toward the Merrimack. One additional parcel in this area lies at the edge of Tewksbury, the Nat Smith Reservation.

5. The Merrimack River.
The river's southern side is shaped by the bluffs of a kame terrace draped with white pine and returning oak forests. The principle parcel given to its southern side is the Deer Jump Reservation, a long and sinuous thing of beauty.

This is but a handy overview. These areas will get more detailed visits in future posts. As it is, we just finished several hours of video shoots to augment Andover's inventory.

Note For the Urban Carless. The wonders of Andover are yours to discover through the capacities of commuter rail

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bay Circuit Trail: The Sudbury Arc, Carlisle to Concord.

The section of the Bay Circuit that lies to the west of Boston has the Sudbury watershed as a primary core thread intertwined to the south with the upper Charles River watershed.

It makes a great day hike for car-less residents of urban core Boston  and Cambridge thanks to the proximity of commuter rail stations in North Billerica and Concord

My preference is to take the Lowell run out of North Station to start and it follows the traces of an earlier freightway, the Old Middlesex Canal. The North Billerica station is very close to the old turning pond where the canal met the Concord River and is described by Mr. Thoreau in his "A Week on the Concord and Merrimac."

The first leg from North Billerica Station to Great Brook Farm is a little over 5 miles. It is an interesting walk as you are essentially in one of the more motor choked versions of suburbia where pedestrians are generally seen as pariahs. 

The Commuter Rail system allows you to bring a bike on off peak hours and week ends and that may be preferable.

 The Rangeway Rd route is the most direct at 5.1 mi or a 1 hour and 42 minute walk.

Walking directions to N Rd begin at Letchworth Ave and you head south on Letchworth Ave toward Station St for 381 ft,turn right onto Faulkner St for 0.2 mi, then turn left onto Wilson St for 0.4 mi before you turn left onto Talbot Ave for a mere 82 ft.

You then turn right onto Twombley Ave for 0.2 mi hang a right onto Sprague St  for 0.2 mi and you have escaped the central Billerica maze and it's now a straight shot.

Continue onto Rangeway Rd for 2.7 mi before heading onto Rutland St for 0.3 mi at which point you turn right onto N Rd for 1.1 mi and you are well into Great Brook Farm State Park.

There are a few minor state forest properties along the way before Rangeway crosses Route 3 but they seem to have been eliminated from any listings. I recall them as forlorn things.

The tract is a fine mix of Oak/Maple forest with uplands, wetlands and a well made trail system. It has the added advantage of being a working Dairy Farm.

The existing Bay Circuit trails weren't able to align to this 1000 acre centerpiece of the area. A Billerica rail trail segment to Bedford is incomplete and runs too far east and the other segment lies to the west through Acton although it does include the Carlisle Pines.

With that in mind, the second hike leg from Great Brook to Punkatasset and Great Meadows is another work around walk but it is less freakish in quieter Carlisle than the run from North Billerica. It includes an old road that the Carlisle Militia
 used to slip down to the Concord Battlefield on that day of legend.

Walking directions to MA-225 E/Bedford Rd 3.4 mi, 1 hour 6 mins. 

Head southwest on N Rd toward Lowell St for 0.5 mi and turn left onto Lowell St for 1.8 mi with a slight left to stay on Lowell St for 112 ft. At the traffic circle, take the 1st exit onto MA-225 W/Bedford Rd  for 1.1 mi to meet old Two Rod road through Estabrook just before Brook St. meets 225 on the left.

"Approximately. 112 acres, purchased 1974-79, ties to the Two Rod Road Trail which goes into Harvard University's Estabrook Woods. Two Rod Road dates from 1744, and is named for its width - there are two rods, or 33 feet, between the stone walls that border much of the trail. Estabrook Woods is a 675-acre forest located partly in Carlisle and partly in Concord. Two Rod Road leads in about two miles to the Punkatasset Hill conservation area in Concord. Davis Corridor and Malcolm Lands can be viewed at the Carlisle Trails web page and at conservation web page for nearby Concord ."
Courtesy of the

"Punkatasset is Native American for Broad Topped Hill. It is one of the highest points in Concord; from here, minutemen watched and gathered their troop strength before approaching the British at the North Bridge in 1775. A spur trail to the top ascends a sledding hill that was once used as a ski slope."

From Punkatasset Hill, Great Meadows is a short walk stretching along the river bed.

Courtesy of the Great Meadows Blog.

I've been there in all seasons and had my one encounter with a Cuckoo in the tree canopy that lines the river bed. 

Although Great Meadows is mildly vast, this particular string of preserved land gems make an easy full day hike with plenty of time to linger and explore. 

The southern end of Great Meadows is in view of historic Concord Center, the commuter rail station beyond and a bust of Thoreau in every home.

Note For the Urban Carless. This particular hike is crafted for the commuter rail system for two routes, Lowell and Fitchburg.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary,Topsfield MA.

The Ipswich River rises from diminished streams in the overbuilt and clobbered suburbs of Burlington and Wilmington with gathered tribute from Reading and Lynnfield as it passes along the southern edge of North Reading flowing east before a few step-wise meanders through Middleton to Topsfield where the Massachusetts Audubon Society maintains a crown jewel sanctuary known to me since I was a toddler.

From there it heads northeast to meet the sea at Ipswich

The Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary was acquired by Mass Audubon in 1951 from Thomas Procter. It was first converted to property in the 1640s on behalf of Simon Bradstreet after being a popular spot for eons with the Agawam people who left clam midden traces along the river and a path to the hilltop. 

This drumlin is the epicenter of the place where cars are parked, fees covered and the farmhouse and outbuildings rest.

The drumlin slopes are draped with Mr. Procter's work with a carriage trail as the first concentric ring. He was inspired by the English garden approach with adaptations shaped by Frederick Law Olmsted.

The Drumlin trail covers the introductions and experiments of the day. Osange Oranges are among the surprises in the arboretum. 

The Rockery is the most prominent feature and took more than five years to build. It overlooks a pond and the top is one of the best observation spots in the sanctuary.

The outer ring runs to increasingly lighter human touches until the wetland river edge are as they have been since before the heavy euro hand fell on it all. The North and South Esker trails overlook a substantial riparian panorama.  

Post Procter innovations owe more to Aldo Leopold and Art Flick. A substantial density of wood duck boxes dot the ponds. Astonishing skill and insight have been applied over the decades to maximize the potential habitat capacity and an intricate tapestry of ecotones bedeck the acreage. 

This effort makes it one of the best places ever to find nearly every bird likely to roost or pass through the region across the annual run of months. There is never a bad time to be there from the bare tree minimal mists of November to the neotropical mass convergence in May.
Hand feeding Chickadees is favorite past time in the wintry season. Stand near a spot where field meets thicket with reasonably serene stillness, a hand outstretched and a small pile of sunflower seeds, preferably hulled, and you'll soon have a regular Paridae chow line going on.

The mammal contingent includes fox and eastern coyote, beaver, fairly tame deer, otter, and all the others generally found in the area. 

Deer at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary from Carl Thien on Vimeo.

And through it all, the river.