Thursday, July 2, 2009


Working on a new edition of the AMC Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide has gotten me out to some interesting new places this year. These are generally long days, leaving home in Lincoln early AM and getting home late in the evening, with multiple short to medium hikes. On this Thursday I headed down to the southeastern part of the state, wheeling along the backroads of Belmont, Gilmanton, Strafford and other quiet towns.

First up was Parker Mtn., a 1400-footer that is the highest peak in the little Blue Hills Range. Though views are limited, this turned out to be a pleasant 2.7 mile loop in the Strafford Town Forest. I went up via the Spencer Smith Trail (no relation). The sign is misleading as the distance to the actual summit is 1.1 mile.

About 1/3 mile up there was a nice open ledge on the left, the best viewpoint on the loop. Nice southern NH country scenery.

Along the ridgecrest there was an artful cairn.

At the junction with the Link (the descending trail for the loop) was an attractive ledgy area, but only a hint of a view.

I continued on the Spencer Smith Trail to tag the viewless summit, which sports a robust cairn.

The Link trail turned out to be a very pleasant descent route, through fine hemlock forest with good footing. A fun loop to start the day.

Next it was on to Blue Job Mountain, a 1357-ft. firetower peak in Farmington at the other end of the Blue Hills.

A few years ago the state created a new loop trail configuration on Blue Job. It's 0.5 mile up one side and 0.8 mile down the other. Much of the route is on private land - big thanks to the landowners!

The summit of Blue Job, with its big communications tower and boxy buildings, is not a particularly attractive place.

The firetower views are good on a clear day. Today the Whites were socked in far to the north, but the Belknaps and Ossipees were visible. Of interest closer in was Parker Mtn., which I had just been on a couple of hours earlier.

Before descending, I followed a well-beaten but unofficial trail over to the open ledges and blueberry fields of the mountain's north shoulder, sometimes called Little Blue Job. Copple Crown Mtn. and the Moose Mountains are on the horizon.

Here there was a clear view of the Belknaps.

Looking back at the Blue Job summit, that infernal tower dominates.

The upper part of the descent route from the main summit follows the old jeep road, which is paved in places to prevent erosion.

Next I headed down to Barrington and a spectacular little water body called Stonehouse Pond. This area has a public boat launch off a dirt road but the surrounding land is privately owned. There is currently an effort underway by the Trust for Public Land, the town of Barrington and others to purchase this property to preserve it as conservation land.

A herd path leads around the shore to the 150-ft. cliffs that give the pond its name.

A scramble up the path brought me out to the top of the cliffs and some interesting down-looks at the pond. A beautiful spot!

The last hike of the day was by far the longest. Over the last couple of years the Great Bay Resource Protection Partnership, a consortium of conservation groups and government agencies, has developed the Sweet Trail, a route leading over several parcels of conservation land from Longmarsh Road in Durham to the edge of Great Bay in Newmarket. The AMC trail crew and many volunteers helped build this 4.6 mile route, which has only 0.3 mile of road walking. The rest of the way it's in quiet woods and along a variety of interesting wetlands. This is a great addition to the walking opportunities in the Seacoast region.

A half-mile from the start the trail passed by this beaver pond, where an old stone wall has been submerged.

As the trail meanders through the woods, it is well-blazed with these markers.

My favorite spot was about halfway along, where the trail passes between two large swamps. This one is on the right (west) side, where I saw a green heron...

..and this one is one the east. At one spot the trail climbs over an interesting rocky hogback that divides the swamps.

Along the way there were many stretches of strolling through hemlock forest.

Another swamp is home to a Great Blue Heron rookery; a nest is seen on the upper left. Hikers should take care not to disturb these magnificent birds.

Farther along was this mellow walk through an oak forest.

Towards its south end the Sweet Trail enters the Nature Conservancy's Lubberland Creek Preserve. Watch out for poison ivy in this area! After crossing Bay Road you pass by this field on the left with a glimpse of Great Bay in the distance. About here is where I first caught a whiff of the salt marsh, an evocative scent that reminded me of the many fine walks I've enjoyed on Cape Cod over the years.

The trail ended with a meander through a pine grove down to a breezy spot at the edge of a spacious salt marsh, looking across at Great Bay. While I was here two ospreys sailed by.

Granite benches beckon for a long break in the salty air.

A monument explains how the trail received its name.

What a peaceful spot...

Just before I got back to my car, with dusk drawing on, I paused briefly to take a picture in the town of Durham's Longmarsh Preserve. If you like woods rambles, wetlands, and a taste of the sea, the Sweet Trail is sweet indeed.

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