Fox Research and Demonstration Forest
Hillsboro, NH. 2020-04-09 (Thursday.)
Via Ridge Trail.
Go out and wonder!
45 dF, pouring rain. Winds were negligible. Cloudy and sodden throughout.
This is, obviously, a departure from my norm. We went out for an easy 2-3 hour hike. There was no summit of consequence, no specific goal beyond just tramping around in the woods. Mileage in this forest can vary widely; choose your trail, walk. When you feel like you’ve had enough, make your way back to the car. Not a bad way to spend a rainy afternoon, right?
One huge thing I’ll mention is that the trail, while blazed insanely profusely, has confusing junction signs. Without an understanding of the trail network, it’s easy to get turned around. Don’t ask me how I know this. I suspect navigation on a sunny day will be a tad easier. But as a consequence of the massive amount of blazes, anytime we saw a fallen tree, there was a good chance that it had a blaze on it. And of course, that led to the obvious joke that it was the paint that was the culprit. Sinister indeed!
Anyway, that said, we had a nice day out, even if it was a bit soggy. Probably as much a product of the weather as anything else, we had the forest to ourselves. So as always, have a good backup plan so if you arrive to a parking area chock full o’cars, you can maintain good social distancing by going somewhere else if needed.
There’s not a whole heap of elevation gain. There is a hill that rises a few hundred feet, but no expansive views to be found. In a couple weeks, when the wildflowers arrive, it’s going to be worth snooping around, for sure. Trails were, for the most part, just plain old dirt and leaf litter. Soft on the joints, which was a nice change.
Chatting with a caretaker, there’s been a lot of headway in the forest, developing a blight-resistant American chestnut. On its own, this is exciting. There’s also a lot of basic research in silviculture going on as well. Good stuff. There’s not a whole lot of info that I could find, but there’s a nh.gov webpage here.
We saw a lot of spruce, some long leaf pines here and there. Beech trees (bear food!) and some birches. Tons of moss, seemingly everywhere, softening the edges. There are stands that have been logged, in the interest of opening up the canopy to give a boost to stuff on the forest floor, as well as allowing upper level stuff the space to spread out and produce seed. Lots of signs explaining things, which was nice. Stone walls seemingly everywhere. This is a forest to be examined and pondered, with small delights all around to be discovered. And then examined some more.
Oddly, there are boulders everywhere, suggesting this was an area of some interesting glacial activity. Perhaps because of the rain and general ick, I was having a tough time decoding things, so another visit, when the weather is a little more clement, is in order. There is an education center (shuttered for the Covid) so no doubt, I’ll learn more when things open back up.
I’d go out for a walk here on one of those days when it feels like something more aimless is in order. A walk to cleanse the palette, as it were. There are a lot of little things around — as I mentioned, those boulders being just one — so lots of places for examination of the smaller things. The lack of a wider view reins in the expectations, and leaves room to stop and see not just the forest, but also take in the trees themselves.
As always, stay safe out there.
Nuts and Bolts: The main office is at 309 Center Road in Hillsboro, NH. You probably want to just load that into your GPS and hit “go”, but it’s not hard to get to. Hillsboro and surrounding towns have a bevy of small shops and restaurants, so please be mindful that many of them have been hit hard by the shutdowns. Consider stopping in during your visit and show them some love.
BE AWARE! The forest is an active site of research, but part of that research includes the impact of logging on a forest. As such, there may be logging activities going on during your visit. There are many ways to get up close and personal with a tree. But there are a few that will ruin your day, and perhaps even your life. Be on the lookout for signage, and other indicators that danger may lie ahead.
The Gaia GPS app has a good map of the forest. Make careful note of where you start, because the forest, of about 1,500 acres, has numerous entrances and trailheads. The basic loop trail is the Ridge Trail, but there are many other smaller trails and dirt roads that you can get lost on. Just stay aware, and you should be OK.
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