A monthly column in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Downtown to the Mountain on the Cranberry Meadow Pond Trail

Cheney Ave. meadow, Pack Monadnock in the distance.
Picture this for your next hike: You start in downtown Peterborough, fueling up with breakfast at Nonies, Aesop’s Tables or the Peterborough Diner.

Under a brilliant blue sky, you cross the Contoocook River and head up Pine Street and Cheney Avenue. Then you’re on the Cranberry Meadow Pond Trail, passing through a tranquil meadow, with Pack Monadnock, your destination in full view.

In 3 miles you’re on the Raymond Trail at Miller State Park. Go another 1.6 miles and you’re enjoying the view atop Pack.

“I love how much people are hiking the trail,” said Swift Corwin, the Peterborough forester who helped create the trail. “For many, it has been part of their daily routine.”

The idea of a town-to-mountain trail came to Corwin in pieces a few years ago. Landowner Cy Gregg had asked for Corwin’s help to build a streamside trail east of Old Street Road. At the time, Corwin didn’t think that it would be possible to connect downtown with the mountain because of sizable wetlands between the two. The idea sat on the back burner.

The Italian Connection

It took a trip to Italy to give Corwin the big picture.

“One day, we had this fabulous hike from the village of Schio up to the top of Mont Novegno,” he said. “It was Christmas and there were lots of people making this walk.  I just loved that you could go from town to the mountaintop.”

When he returned, Corwin learned that the people who had bought land around Cranberry Meadow Pond had protected the property with a conservation easement held by the Monadnock Conservancy and wanted to make their land available to hikers.

A look at the map convinced Corwin that a town-to-mountain trail would be possible.

“Thanks to the generosity and cooperation of the other landowners along the way, the path and the possibility unfolded,” he said.

This was in 2008, when the economy started to sour. The idea of a cool, low-cost, local hike actually gave the project a boost.

Blazing a Trail

Corwin and staff of the Monadnock Conservancy got to work. They scouted routes, cut brush, built bridges and eventually marked the trail with blue diamond blazes.

By building a boardwalk, the wetlands that once seemed like such a barrier became a nice feature of the trail.

Many volunteers have pitched in. More than a dozen seniors from Conval Regional High School recently worked on the trail, marking switchbacks, repairing and installing bridges and stepping stones, building a small boardwalk and installing benches by the pond. That session was leveraged by Eastern Mountain Sports, which agreed to fund the seniors’ class trip if they completed a day of community service.

I think what I really like about the trail is the variety of landscapes it passes through,” said Emily Hague, the Monadnock Conservancy’s stewardship manager. “It really gives you a sampling, crossing a field, a wetland, a streamside hemlock grove, a pondside, a working forest, to the base of Pack.”

Access to Land

Hague credits the landowners who’ve generously agreed to host the trail. One landowner who completed a recent timber harvest also agreed to leave a buffer along the trail, demonstrating that well-managed woodlands and recreational hiking can be compatible.

Hague is also delighted that so many people are enjoying the trail. “Travelers from all over the country and the world write in our log book, and people walk the trail every day. It feels great to be able to provide this resource and to give people access to land that will always remain the way it is.”

Corwin knows that many hikers stop at the pond, enjoy the view, then turn back toward town. But continuing on towards pack, Corwin said, is worth the trip.

“The experience of being in town in the morning, walking through the village up Pine Street, across Cheney Avenue field, then across the boardwalk and into the deeper woods and on to the mountaintop and back is something that you won't forget.”

Eric Aldrich writes from his home in Hancock.