Sunday, May 13, 2012

Trolley Trail. Martin H Burns Wildlife Management Area.

Massachusetts Northeastern Street Railway. (Bill Volkmer collection).

After a long hiking hiatus, I answered spring and found a day trip out of Newburyport on the last day of April. It isn’t technically part of the Bay Circuit Trail system but is fascinating in its own right.

Massachusetts was the leading adopter of interurban trolley lines by the 1890s. This was a substantial growth engine in the period before automotive ubiquity and the system collapsed in a heap of bankruptcies by the early 1930s.

One such remnant right of way runs from Newburyport to Haverhill and now serves as a utility corridor for the area power grid. As such, it bisects the Burns WMA, lengthwise, along its lowland wet stretches.

While it lacks the variations of a trail, it works fairly well for an excursion through a thorough array of wetlands in various states of succession. The trolley line was routed through low effort lowlands with minimal grade. The current right or way is aged crushed rock layered over whatever infrastructure it occasioned in the 1890s.

Wildlife Management Areas belong to the Department of Fisheries and Game and intend to support hunting and fishing constituents in the Commonwealth.

While hunting is not as popular as it once was, it remains a valid outdoor activity with significant revenue contributions from purchases of hunting and fishing licences.

This can be poorly understood by other kinds of outdoors constituencies with at times, absurd outcomes as described by some disgruntled hunters in an area gun enthusiasts forum.

While they tend to reduce imagined opponents to caricature and the whole thing fades by 2009, they have some important points. Paving this old route would be a disaster and it is a droll place for biking cause it’s just a flat trolley course. It also collides with a gate and the traffic onrush of interstate 95

A second segment resumes on the other side but access is channeled by the exit ramp locations.With this consideration, trail planners routed around the northern edge of the WMA.

It’s more appealing in its unimproved state and it is clear that it’s a humming habitat array for wildlife. It is mainly allocated for upland game bird hunting, stocked pheasant and it is the focus of a Woodcock restoration project.

“This 1,555-acre management area is in the town of Newbury in northeastern Massachusetts. The hilly, rocky terrain is scattered with poorly drained low areas that are seasonally wet. The WMA includes old pasture and wooded tracts that were clearcut many years ago and then swept by wildfires. Trees and shrubs include oak, hickory, black cherry, white pine, pitch pine, red maple, Eastern redcedar, aspen, birch, dogwoods, highbush blueberry, and viburnums.

Martin Burns WMA is a popular area for hunting ring-necked pheasants, stocked there in autumn by the Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife (MassWildlife). Deer, snowshoe hare, gray squirrels, foxes, and coyotes are among the native mammals.

Many kinds of birds inhabit Martin Burns, including Massachusetts “species of conservation need” that require young-forest or shrubby habitat: woodcock, ruffed grouse, blue-winged warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, common yellowthroat, Eastern kingbird, Eastern towhee, field sparrow, indigo bunting, prairie warbler, song sparrow, whip-poor-will, and willow flycatcher.”

I had my first run in with otters along the route in broad daylight. They did indeed frolic and gambol and took little notice of me.

There are also several age levels of beaver made ponds including a recent and extensive one that ended up blocking an access road.

The end of April is a time for the arrival of warblers and there were early sightings according to a local sage who keeps an eye on the Parker River basin and Plum Island *. But an unusual run of chilly days over the boundary weeks of April and May seemed to inhibit neotropical migration a bit despite the array of other jumped nature guns born of a non winter. 

This lowland walk would ordinarily be a bug fraught handful amid the usual seasonal soaking but the odd dryness discouraged black flies and mosquitoes even as it incited deer ticks.

And the flow of cool preceding April 30th rendered the things sluggish. Although I rolled my trouser ends into socks, I still managed to appeal to around 5 or so groggy ticks who found me wanting and began bailing over the course of the tip home. 

An easy ramble of it all took up around 3 hours and the commuter rail run to the northern Essex coast towns is probably it's most striking scenery run. It's like an upturned miniature of a trip south from NYC with a grim industrial zone giving way to suburbs by Lynn and rural beyond North Beverly.

( *Note, the Parker River Wildlife Refuge recently made a document file of Rachel Carson's original guide to the refuge.) 

Newburyport Trolley (Bill Volkmer collection)