Sunday, April 27, 2008

Biking the Nashua River Rail Trail

We haven't taken out our bikes yet, but when we do, you can be sure we'll be returning to the Nashua River Rail Trail. This beautiful 12.5 mile trail is used by walkers, bicyclists, in-line skaters, and in the winter, cross-country skiers. It's definitely busy on weekends!

The trail leads from Hollis, NH through the towns of Dunstable, Pepperell, Groton, and Ayer, Massachusetts. It offers flat, scenic New England landscape with many opportunities to see wildlife, including beavers, herons, and ospreys. As you ride, you'll enjoy some vistas of the Nashua River and will be winding your way through several town centers, farmland, and conservation lands.

In addition to birds and other critters, you'll see railway artifacts from what was known as the Hollis Branch of the Boston and Maine Railroad. Those granite markers with numbers were once used to indicate the mileage to Worcester, MA.

At approximately 8.5 miles, there are granite seats and a nice spot to enjoy views of Groton School Pond and an apple orchard. You can enjoy an ice cream in Pepperell town center (is there a recurring theme here?!) and I'm told there's a great bagel shop in Groton, though I don't have the name. Don't be put off by the fact that you'll be sharing this trail with a number of other nature lovers and fitness enthusiasts. In our view, it's well worth it!

Note: Photo of Nashua River Rail Trail and the Groton School Pond in Groton, MA (above) taken by Michael White on June 14, 2006. Used with permission.

What You Need to Know Before You Go: This is a busy trail. Keep to the right, single file and give a voice warning if you plan to pass someone. Children 16 and younger are required to wear bike helmets. In addition to a 10-foot wide paved path, there's a 5-foot wide equestrian path. It's common sense, but always yield to horses.

Directions and Parking: From Nashua, take Route 111 to a left turn on Route 111A. The trail is a short distance on the right. There's a large parking lot in Ayer Center and smaller lots in Groton, Pepperell, and Dunstable. For more information, visit http://www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/northeast/nash.htm .

Facilities: There are non-flush public toilets at the trail head in Ayer. Kemp's Service Station in Pepperell Center welcomes trail users to use their rest rooms.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cold Water Advisory

N.H. Marine Patrol and the Coast Guard have issued an advisory for kayakers, canoeists and other boaters, warning of cold water temperatures. "Boaters should not be fooled by summer-like temperatures, because the water is still dangerously cold," officials said. To sum it up, water temperatures in lakes and ponds remain close to the freezing point and if you fall into the water, you would only survive for a few minutes. (I still don't understand how those guys we saw on Saturday could swim safely in Gilmore Pond!)

"Officials say the spring snowmelt also has flooded many rivers and streams, creating even more hazards," according to a write-up in today's Telegraph. Have fun, but be careful. Maybe we'll take out our bicycles this weekend and wait a bit before getting back out on the water!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Where Do You Like to Paddle?

Where are your favorite places to canoe or kayak in New Hampshire? Why not share where you've been with others? We invite you to leave comments here (just click at the end of a post) or I encourage you to visit some of the other links under "Places to Paddle" and share your experiences.

You can read a just-published kayak report I submitted for Dubes Pond here on paddling.net -- a great source for places to go. Happy paddling!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Kayaking and Homemade Ice Cream

It just doesn't get any better than this! We took advantage of today's gorgeous weather to head to Gilmore Pond "on the spur of the moment." Of course, when you act spontaneously, you tend to forget things...like the binoculars and the new clips to secure our paddles to the kayaks (these should come in handy while we're busy doing other things like fishing or snapping photos.)

No matter what, Gilmore Pond never disappoints us. Within 15 minutes of being out on the water, we were watching a young bald eagle soar the thermals. Now that looks like fun! We also heard the tremolo of a solitary loon and later caught a distant view of this beautiful bird; I'm guessing his or her mate was sitting on a nest.
Aside from the wildlife, another highlight of Gilmore Pond for me is catching that illusive glimpse of Mount Monadnock. The mountain doesn't dominate the pond at all, it's just there in the far reaches, working its quiet magic.

The water temperature was probably no more than 50 degrees today. But that didn't stop three young men from taking an extended dip in the pond (brrrr!). From what I could tell, it was a springtime rite of passage for them.

We have a Gilmore Pond tradition ourselves. We almost always stop at Kimball Farm Ice Cream after a paddle at Gilmore (see the directions below). As you drive to Kimball Farm, you might think you're headed out to the "middle of nowhere." But when you arrive, you'll find hordes of people standing in line to order a delicious homemade ice cream cone or a lobster roll. There are plenty of picnic tables, an indoor restaurant, and a gift shop here. Be forewarned: portions are very generous at Kimballs. We split a small ice cream and it's more than enough for the two of us.

Directions to Kimball Farm: From Downtown Jaffrey, head east toward Peterborough. Shortly after passing Jaffrey Town Center, take a right onto Hillcrest Road. Drive uphill past a cemetery and then downhill until you come to a stop sign in front of Jaffrey Water Works. Turn left onto Turnpike Road and Kimball Farm is about 1/4 mile on your right.

Directions and more details on Gilmore Pond: Until I figure out how to put a link from one post to the next, just scroll down to my earlier post from April 11th.

Note: We have a saying in New England: "If you don't like the weather, just wait ten minutes." We went from cold, rainy, snowy days to warm temps in a very short time. That's why we were able to get out on the water a lot earlier than expected this year.
There's more to kayaking in New Hampshire than Gilmore Pond. I'll post trip reports from last season to Dubes Pond, Long Pond, Willard Pond, and other places soon...I promise.

Friday, April 18, 2008

What the Heck is "Ice Out?"

A neighbor remarked yesterday that our yard is one of only two in the neighborhood that still has enough snow "to make a snowball." It's true. There's a small, lingering patch of snow at the end of our driveway.

The good news is I'm pretty sure our snow will be history by the end of the day. It's actually 74 degrees outside! If you've never lived in New England, you're probably scratching your head right now, wondering how we can still have snow on the ground when it's in the 70s. I don't have a short, easy answer for that.

While we're busy watching the snow melt here in southern New Hampshire, I should mention that "ice out" is actually a big day for some folks in our state. New Hampshire officially declares "ice out" when the Mount Washington cruise ship on Lake Winnepesaukee can make all its ports of call. (The earliest recorded date was March 28, 1921 and the latest was May 12, 1888.) What does "ice out" day mean for those of us not on the ship?

Plain and simple, it means there's more open water for us to paddle. It's also when all the living organisms burrowed into the mud at the bottom of the water start to come to life. And it means the return of spring birds like loons and migrating waterfowl. It signals a time to locate your tackle box, because spring fishing has begun. Well, it doesn't all happen in one day, but you get the picture. If you're at all intrigued by the whole idea of ice out, there's a wonderful almost poetic article about the phenomenon here.

Maybe I'll start a poll. When do you think ice out will officially occur in New Hampshire this year?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Listen to the Haunting Call of the Loon

Very often, you'll hear the mystical call of the loon long before you ever see one. If you're like me, this intriguing call will stop you in your tracks, leaving you eager to hear more. (Thanks to some folks at the Loon Preservation Committee in New Hampshire, you can hear the loon's entire repertoire of hoots, yodels, wails, and tremolos below.)

The Common Loon has distinct black and white checkerboard markings, piercing red eyes, and a unique swimming ability. While most birds have hollow bones, the loon has solid bones, allowing it to dive deep. Loons can also submerge gradually, with barely a ripple, thanks to something called an internal air sac. You can learn more interesting facts about loons and hear their distinctive calls here, but there's no substitute for experiencing the real thing.

As you are out paddling New Hampshire waters, please do your part to protect these beautiful birds, which are a threatened species in our state. First, if you are fishing -- try not to leave behind any lead sinkers, jigs, or fishing line, all of which can be fatal to loons. Secondly, watch for warning displays during the nesting season, early May through mid-July. According to Naturalists John Hayes and Alex Wilson,
"If you see a loon flapping its wings and making a racket during the nesting season, steer clear. When you see a nest site marked with buoys or warning signs, as is done done on many lakes and ponds, keep your distance. "
I'll admit, it can be hard to keep your distance from such beautiful and intriguing creatures. That's when a good pair of binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens comes in handy. Don't leave home without them!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Paddling Gilmore Pond

A few more weeks before we can get out on the water
It’s April and there’s still a four-foot snowbank at the end of our driveway here in southern New Hampshire. Obviously, it’s a little too chilly for our first kayaking venture of the season, but for now we can reminisce about some of our favorite paddles, can’t we?

Gilmore is a gem

Crystal clear water...great views of Mount Monadnock...a bald eagle and beautiful nesting loons. I almost hate to let the word out about Gilmore Pond in southwestern NH. Since we first started kayaking two years ago, Doug and I have “officially” opened our season each year with a paddle at Gilmore. For me, paddling here is so peaceful it's zen-like.

There’s not much development on the pond and road noise is practically non-existent. Aaah…the quiet…except for the haunting call of the loons. At 125 acres, this isn’t a big pond, but it offers some real treats. As you paddle round the bend, you’ll suddenly find yourself looking up at Mount Monadnock
and wondering how 3,165 feet of trees and rocks snuck up on you!

The other surprise for me during our first visit was a chance to get up close (but not too close) to a pair of nesting loons. They really are beautiful and unusual birds, with many distinctive calls. I’ll write a whole post on loons very soon. For now, I can’t believe I’m saying this…but get out your Delorme Atlas and
start planning a trip to Jaffrey, NH.

What You Need to Know Before You Go: Motorboats are allowed, but Gilmore is a no wake pond. The residents here take the pristine cleanliness of their waterway very seriously. Be sure your watercraft is free of vegetation and everyone will be happy. Parking is very limited, but has never been a problem for us when visiting on weekdays.

Fishing: According to the NH Department of Fish and Game, the pond has trout (brook, rainbow, and brown) as well as small mouth and large mouth bass, along with pickerel and white perch. Doug fished here once at mid-morning and caught only a large blue gill. He’ll no doubt try again this year!

Directions: Take NH State Route 124 to Sawtelle Road in Jaffrey Center, NH; Take Gilmore Pond Road at crest of hill with flashing yellow light. Stay on Gilmore Pond Road until you get to boat launch area on the right. It’s a small paved area, very easy to put in. There are no facilities here.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Outdoor Adventures for Over 50s

For Beginners and Others
I just learned about this cool-sounding program for adults over 50 called Outdoor Ventures: Exercising Beyond the Gym. It's co-sponsored by The Massabesic Audubon Center and Catholic Medical Center. They offer a variety of classes, tours, and activities -- many of them geared to beginners and some for those with more experience.

Upcoming programs include:

  • A Kayak Safety Workshop

  • Beginner Kayaking on Lake Umbagog

  • Beginner Photography Hike Around Beaver Pond

  • Intermediate Kayak Trip on Pawtuckaway Lake

Interested in learning more? Download a pdf with their full calendar and registration information. http://www.keepandshare.com/doc/view.php?id=509969&da=y

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Mark Your Calendar

Opportunity to Get Outdoors and Enjoy

May 15 -- Beginner Photography Hike Around Beaver Pond
Sponsored by NH Audubon and Catholic Medical Center
Bear Brook State Park, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The trail is 2 miles with mild elevation changes.
Bring your lunch; Trip cost: $20
To register, call Massabesic Audubon Center (603-668-2045)
Or e-mail deb.sugerman@comcast.net