If You Can’t Find Any Near Home, Make Them!
Years ago when Susan and I moved to Chesterfield, New Hampshire, we were attracted to this lovely small community. It seemed to embody all that we were looking for in a classic rural New England town, with a sense of identity beyond just a suburb of a larger commercial center. Today the town population is still only 3500, and is divided further into three villages, each with its own character and sense of community. Classic New England architecture, miles of winding dirt roads, crystal clear Spofford Lake, and our 1830s farm house had us hooked from the start. Our house has expanded over the years, but it still retains original features including a hopelessly leaky basement, and the ultimate in 19th century luxury — a side-by-side two holer, attached to the house! Everything was perfect, except for one problem. Where were the places to hike?
Chesterfield is blessed with expansive tracts of undeveloped and public lands, but at first it seemed that there were few maintained and publicized trails. Early on I discovered a single, indifferently maintained, “boy scout trail” traversing the small Friedsam Town Forest, a few trails in the wonderfully wild Pisgah State Forest and the short trail along the dramatic Chesterfield Gorge. I knew there must be more or at least there should be more, so while Susan joined others to improve the town school, I joined the Chesterfield Conservation Commission.
In the Commission I found a group of people dedicated to preserving Chesterfield’s natural beauty. We have worked with other conservation organizations such as the Monadnock Conservancy and with local landowners to protect important tracts of land through purchase or conservation easements. From the beginning, we appreciated that an enhanced public awareness of our magnificent natural treasures would inevitably lead to greater community commitment to their careful stewardship. Enhanced awareness meant building and promoting a system of trails and that was just what I was looking for. Over the last twenty or more years the commission has built and maintained over 25 mile of trails. It is often hard work. It seems that every tree that falls in the forest falls on one of our trails, but, for me, there is little to compare with the excitement and pride of scouting and building trails that I trust will be cherished and protected by generations to come.
I am sure that, wherever you live, there are beautiful trails to explore. If not, you have work to do. I would like to invite you to visit some of our trails. I am sure you will enjoy our beauty, but more importantly, the more people walking along the trails, the less maintenance work we have to do. Our web site includes descriptions, and maps of our major wild areas along with directions, but let me highlight just a few of my favorites.
For More Images of the Forests and Trail of Chesterfield, check out this week’s edition of my regular Getting It Right In The Digital Camera Blog.
Pisgah State Forest:
Pisgah State Park includes over 13,500 acres, within the Cheshire County towns of Winchester, Hinsdale, and 5695 acres in Chesterfield. The park is a unique resource of rough forested terrain protecting seven ponds, four highland ridges and numerous wetlands. The area’s 21 square miles make it the largest property in the New Hampshire State Park System. Pisgah Park is interlaced with trails, largely maintained by the Friends of Pisgah, a dedicated volunteer organization committed to the protection of the park’s wilderness status. The Kilburn Trail, which originates from
the Route 63 on the western border of the park, is my favorite. This hiking trail traverses a low ridge to pristine Kilburn Pond. In the summer the pond is a great place for picnicking. and swimming. During the winter, snowmobiles are prohibited from the Kilburn trail, making it ideal for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Beyond the Pond a trail leads to Mt Pisgah with spectacular long views to the east and west. The vista to the east is especially dramatic with a view to Mount Monadnock, largely unobstructed by signs of intruding civilization. A total of 5 other trail heads provide access to the park’s abundant natural beauty. For more information check out the Friends of Pisgah website.
Madame Sherri Forest
The 488 acres of the Madame Sherri Forest was generously donated for conservation to the Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests by Anne Stokes. The forest is named for the eccentric Madame Antoinette Sherri. The Madame, who had worked as a costume designer for the Ziegfeld Follies in the 1920s, built her country “Castle” in the woods of Chesterfield. She became famous (or infamous) for the parties she threw for visitors from the city and was said to have driven about the town during the summer wearing a fur coat and nothing else. Madame Sherri died in 1965 at the age of 84, but for many years prior, the castle had fallen to neglect and vandalism. On October 18, 1962 it was destroyed by fire. The foundation, chimneys and a grand stone staircase from the once magnificent house can be seen adjacent to the Madame Sherri Forest on a side trail close to the entrance off the Gulf Road.
But the Madame Sherri Forest offers much more than a spooky ruin. The main trail initially parallels an active beaver pond and then slopes upward adjacent to a stream to Indian Pond. The pond is surrounded by rugged hills giving a sense of quiet isolation. Depending on the time of day Beavers can be seen patrolling the pond, slapping their tails to discourage intruders. A rough trail continues climbing steeply to the west reaching ledges overlooking the pond and the mountains to the east. It eventually leads to Mine Ledge and Mt. Wantastiquet with spectacular views of the Connecticut River, Brattleboro and the Vermont hills.
The Madame Sherri Forest is also the jumping off point for the Ann Stokes Loop Trail. This loop covers nearly 2 miles and provides an interesting tour of both the Madame Sherri Forest and the James O’Neal Town Forest. The trail was constructed by the Chesterfield Conservation Commission and dedicated October 17th, 1998. The Stokes Loop has become one of the most popular trails exploring the natural beauty of Chesterfield. It covers widely varying terrain and includes a visit to Indian Pond as well as the excellent views from East Hill.
Friedsam Town Forest
The 209 acre Friedsam Town Forest was a gift of the Friedsam family and is a precious conservation resource easily accessible in the heart of Chesterfield. For years the Sargent Trail was the primary foot path through the forest, passing a number of ancient border trees and a glacial pot hole in the middle of Twin Brook. In recent years we in the Conservation Commission have constructed a number of additional trails exploring other regions of the forest and providing some nice loop trails making possible to take a 2 mile hike through this compact natural oasis. One of my favorites is the Ancient Oaks Trail which passes a couple of majestic border oaks estimated to be over 250 years old. The Friedsam Forest is a wonderfully accessible option for hikers. It is particularly attractive during hunting season, since it is posted “No Hunting”, but it is still smart to wear orange in season. Form more information, check out the Conservation Commission website.
The Chesterfield Gorge Natural Area is a small site, but well worth a visit. The gorge is accessed from a parking area on Route 9. Much like Pisgah State Forest, the Gorge is supported by the dedicated, hard-working folks in the Friends of Chesterfield Gorge. Don’t forget to say thank you if you see one mowing the lawn around the parking lot.The Gorge Trail is only .7 mile long, but provides dramatic views of the Cascading waters of Wilde Brook. The Gorge is noted for its one dramatic 75 foot drop, but the brook travels through a number of interesting cascades and, especially during periods of strong run-off, offers numerous lovely photographic opportunities. For more information, check out our website.
These are just a few of the hiking opportunities in my town. Not bad for a place with “no hiking.”
If you plan to visit, check out our website for other trails worth exploring, but I hope that your take away message is to support the folks in your own town who are undoubtably working tirelessly to protect your local natural treasures. Join and support local conservation groups, show up for trail work days and let your town officials known that, even in these tough financial times, conservation deserves the time and expense. I can testify that the effort is well worth while, for you and for generations to come.
Again, or More Images of the Forests and Trail of Chesterfield, check out this week’s edition of my regular Getting It Right In the Digital Camera Blog.
~ Jeff Newcomer