One of the favorite recreational opportunities residents and visitors to the Upper Valley enjoy in the fall is hiking the many area trails. Hiking allows an intimate relationship with nature and, in some cases, a birds-eye view of the spectacular fall color. Residents and visitors are particularly blessed with many local trails from which to choose.
One of the best sources for information on area trails in our area is the Upper Valley Trails Alliance located in Norwich. UVTA executive director, Russ Hirschler, says hikers should be able to thoroughly enjoy the area’s trails this fall, while keeping in mind that the trails get some of their heaviest use this time of year.
Norwich’s Gile Mountain Trail is undoubtedly the most popular of all Norwich trails, Hirschler says. A few years back, the trail received an upgrade with the installation of a series of stone steps, which resulted in the decline of trail erosion and added to the ease of use for hikers. This wooded trail makes its way to a fire tower, the top of which offers great views of the area.
With limited parking available for this trail and heavy use in the fall, Hirschler adds, “Please be respectful of the landowners when choosing a parking place.”
Another trail Hirschler recommends in Norwich is the Ballard Trail, a four-mile long trail located off Beaver Meadow Road. This trail runs close to the Charles Brown Brook, and takes hikers to Norwich’s ‘Grand Canyon.’ Crossing many wet areas and run-off streams, volunteer crews recently installed a new boardwalk, stepping stones, and improved drainage to make this trail more accessible during wetter periods.
Erosion after heavy downpours or a quick spring warm-up followed by a run-off causes trail damage requiring repair. Thanks to the employment of drainage standards when building – or rehabilitating older ones – trails are better able to weather damage from storms or run-off. Most problems occur on older trails where these standards have yet to be employed. Fortunately, Hirschler says there haven’t been any major storms in the recent past to raise havoc with area trails.
For families with younger children looking for a pleasant walk in the woods of Norwich, Hirschler recommends the King Arthur trail next to the King Arthur Store and Bakery. Accessible from the King Arthur parking lot, he says this trail, “is a great place for families.” Ending up at the Dresden athletic fields, this trail allows for non-technical biking as well. What better way to end your breakfast or lunch at King Arthur than by a short, pleasant hike through the adjacent woods?
Another great opportunity for family hikes are the trails around the Montshire Museum. Accessible from the museum grounds, trail maps for these walks are obtained from the museum.
Those looking for maps and descriptions of the area trails can access that information from the UVTA’s website. Descriptions of some area trails are on also on an app called Trail Finder which gives great information on many potential hikes in the area.
Hirschler explains that the UVTA works closely with area trails groups – such as the Norwich Trail Commission – to assess trail conditions, help find funding and volunteer assistance for trail work, and to provide professional guidance in determining work needed. As area trail organizations establish themselves and take on the work of maintaining and expanding trail networks, the work of the UVTA expands.
A recent project the UVTA completed with the Mascoma River Greenway (MRG) is one example. The MRG is a multi-use trail running through Lebanon and West Lebanon and is used by pedestrians and bicyclists. The UVTA built an access trail behind the Alice Peck Day Hospital which allows anyone – including disabled folks using wheelchairs or walkers – to reach the MRG. The 250-foot-long gravel and hardpack access trail has numerous switchbacks, which lessens the grade considerably. Lebanon is considering making the trail asphalt in the future. The dedication for this access trail to the MRG took place in August.
With so many trail opportunities available locally, residents and visitors alike should take advantage of the beautiful autumn colors and view them from one of these well-maintained walkways. Dress warm, be ready for some wet patches, and enjoy autumn from the trailside.
Written by Frank Orlowski and published in the Norwich Times on September 11th, 2019.