Friday, July 18, 2014

The Woods are Lovely, Dark and Deep

Photo courtesy of The Nature Conservancy
We visited Sheldrick Forest Preserve in Wilton recently -- a simple place of quiet beauty not far from busy Route 101.  I love this type of place! No one has "packaged" it into an experience; No one is telling you where to look and what to see -- although I'm going to offer a few suggestions that I hope will enrich your visit and not intrude on it.

There's an interesting conservation story about how Sheldrick Forest came to be protected. While researching my book on southern New Hampshire, I was lucky enough to connect with Swift Corwin, the private forester who started the "Save Sheldrick Forest" campaign in the late 1990s. You can read more about this grassroots effort on The Nature Conservancy's website and in the book, of course.

                              Big Trees and Glacial Features
For now, let's talk about what you might see here today. You'll start by parking your car in a field off Town Farm Road. The grass was almost knee-high when we visited a couple of weeks ago. If you take Helen's Path, after a short walk you'll come to a 5-acre stand of old-growth trees on your right. There are white pines, hemlocks and oaks as tall as 150-feet high and some as big as 30-inches around.

To a casual observer, they look like ordinary trees. But if you stop to think that most of our forests had been cleared by farmers in the mid-1800s, this five-acre parcel stands out. Some of the trees here are almost 200 years old!

It was this discovery that first led to the effort to save this 260-acre parcel from development. (Secretly I was proud that I could pick out these trees without any signage...only from knowing that they were there to begin with. You'll be able to recognize them, too.)

I learned from Swift (the forester) that Sheldrick Forest also has some geological features left by the glaciers, including kettle holes and an esker ridge. I had no idea what an esker ridge was...but I've since learned that it's a ridge carved by melting glacial streams.

Illustration  from the book courtesy of Nancy Murphy
While we were there, we climbed to the top of the ridge, which overlooks Morgan Brook and gives you a nice glimpse into the beauty of the forest below. It's kind of neat to stand there and think about the glacial streams that carved it. We didn't see any wildlife while we were in the preserve, but we did hear the hammering sounds of a pileated woodpecker echoing loudly through the trees.

To be honest, I'm usually a little fearful about hiking this type of forest, since I always think about bears, bobcats and other wild animals that call this place home. What would I do if I came face to face with a bear? I don't know! But in the end, I'm glad we ventured here. Sheldrick Forest Preserve is calm, peaceful and beautiful in a very understated way. If you have a chance to visit, write in and tell me what you thought.

Things to Know Before You Go: There are three miles of well-marked trails through the preserve; these trails connect with the Heald Tract which offers another 8 miles of trails. When you come here, definitely use insect repellent and dress in long pants and preferably long sleeves. The parking area looks like the perfect habitat for deer ticks. There's a small information kiosk with trail maps, I believe. It's probably best to download one before heading out, though.

Directions: You can find those on The Nature Conservancy website.


Andrea said...

It's great to see you back again Lucie. I have a couple of suggestions of places to explore for you. The first is Andres Institute of Art in Brookline. There is a great sculpture park with a lot of hiking trails. (fair warning: it used to be a ski area, so it is all on a large hill, or small mountain) The second is a place that I was hoping to learn about; The Souhegan River Canoe trail. Which goes from Greenville to Merrimack, and is divided into sections by the launches. I would love to hear from someone who has paddled it. (hint, hint)

Lucie said...

Hi Andrea,
Great to hear from you! I remember that you and your Mom (I think) were kayaking almost every week. Andres Institute of Art has been on my list for a while, but maybe you will nudge me to get there sooner. I haven't heard of the Souhegan River Canoe trail, but I'm going to look it up. How about you attempt it and write a post??

Robert Lazzara said...

While NH is generous with more mountain hikes than I will ever know (much less experience) there are far fewer places that afford a good walk-in-the-woods. Of those, Sheldrick really is exceptional for all the reasons you provided. I hike the Whites for body, and places like Sheldrick for the soul.

Lucie said...

Hi Robert,
Thank you for your comment on Sheldrick Forest. I love your quote, "I hike the Whites for body and places like Sheldrick for the soul." That is the same sentiment expressed to me by the forester that helped to preserve this spot. He said the property had the feel of a "sacred space." So true.