At 1,793 acres, the dePierrefeu-Willard Pond Wildlife Sanctuary is NH Audubon’s largest property. Much of the land has been protected because of the foresight and generosity of Elsa Tudor dePierrefeu Leland, who made the initial gift of land to National Audubon in 1962, and her successors. Outstanding features include Willard Pond, a pristine body of water of about 100 acres, home to nesting loons among other charismatic wildlife, trails to the summits of surrounding Bald Mountain and Goodhue Hill, huge glacial boulders, and an abundant diversity of plant and wildlife species.
This largest of NH Audubon’s wildlife sanctuaries has a diversity of trails and experiences, but the commonality across all of them is an abundance of exposed granite. Large granite boulders that dot the sanctuary’s trails make for endless fascination. Search for porcupine scat and the occasional phoebe nest tucked in a sheltered spot. For a water view, the Mill Pond Trail is a short walk with two stream crossings that may yield views of Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers feeding on the pond. The sanctuary’s most popular hike – Bald Mountain via the Tamposi Trail – is a regional favorite, and provides endless visibility to the south and east, a vantage point that is great for spring hawk watching.
Additional gifts, easements, and adjacent protected lands bring NH Audubon protected lands in the vicinity to about 3,000 acres, part of the 20,000+acre “super sanctuary” in which this property sits.
Yellow blazes, approximately ½ mile loop, easy
The Mill Pond Trail circles the Hatch Mill Pond, which was originally dammed to provide water power for the Hatch Sawmill. In addition to White Pine and Eastern Hemlock, a mix of hardwoods typical of the area including White Ash, Paper Birch, Red Maples, and bog-loving shrubs can be found along this trail. Beavers and otters are often seen foraging in this pond, and wood ducks, mallards, and geese nest here. Half-way around the mill pond is the start of the Goodhue Hill Trail (blazed in red).
Take caution in crossing bridges and rock fords when conditions are wet.
Red blazes, approximately 1 mile, moderate
Goodhue Hill sits above Willard Pond’s southeastern shore and is a prominent feature of the sanctuary. The Goodhue Hill Trail is reached via the south side of the Mill Pond loop trail. The trail is a steady, but in some places, steep, climb to a hilltop with great views in several directions. Recent patch cuts of about 15-acres in size near the summit have been created to provide early successional habitat, which will provide food and cover for mammals and birds like deer, turkey, and grouse. Moose sign is often found along the Goodhue Hill Trail. Typical forest birds of the area such as thrushes, vireos, warblers, and woodpeckers can be found along this trail during warmer months. At the end of the one-way trail is the summit of Goodhue Hill and its rocky southeastern face that provides habitat for numerous animals including the elusive bobcat.
Yellow blazes, approximately 1 mile, easy
The relatively flat Tudor Trail affords several wonderful opportunities to observe to observe Willard Pond. Look closely for Hooded Mergansers, Wood Ducks and Common Loons – which often nest near the pond’s edge. At a left fork is the start of the red-blazed Bald Mountain Trail; bearing right continues on the Tudor Trail and eventually, the scenic Pine Point on the northern end of the pond.
Red blazes, approximately ¾ mile, strenuous
The Bald Mountain Trail is the steepest access point to the Bald Mountain ledges, and can be combined to form a loop with the Tamposi Trail and Tudor Trail. Near the junction with the Tudor Trail, an impressive ledge of boulders deposited by receding glaciers can be seen along the left side of the trail. After the boulders, the trail veers sharply to the left, away from the pond, to begin the steep climb to the summit. The hike to the ledges is well worthwhile for its spectacular view of Willard Pond and the Monadnock Region, but this spot can also be accessed via the Tamposi Trail.
Yellow blazes, approximately 1 ¾ miles (including loop of Bald Mountain), strenuous
The Tamposi Trail is the longest and most popular hiking trail at Willard Pond. It climbs steadily through northern hardwood forest and crosses several stone walls that indicate former pasture use. Some large boulder formations are visible along the trail, and there is often porcupine activity noticeable in this area. Upon reaching mixed stands of conifers after about ¾ mile, the Tamposi Trail splits. Stay right for the quickest route to the Bald Mountain ledges (best view of Willard Pond), where the trail becomes steep (and can be slippery!) just prior to arrival there. If you’re feeling ambitious, return to the parking area via the Bald Mountain Trail and Tudor Trail, or continue to the forested Bald Mountain summit (great ledge views along this scenic trail). Stay left at the Tamposi Trail loop for a steady climb through mature Red Spruces to the summit and return via the loop trail. The Spur Trail begins just a short distance from the left loop.
Blue blazes, approximately 1 ¼ mile (including short summit loop), moderate
The Spur Trail traverses the 376-acre Tamposi parcel, which was protected by NH Audubon and its partners in 2006. It is the least traveled of the sanctuary’s trails. The State of NH – Forest Legacy Program holds a conservation easement on this land and oversees its management. This trail has moderate elevation change and is the most remote part of the property. Much of the trail is surrounded by early successional forest habitat due to recent forest management. This habitat protects bird species like prairie and chestnut-sided warblers, Eastern towhee, and others, many of which are declining. An old apple orchard is being managed by removing competing overstory trees which are shading them out and reducing their fruit production. This unique feature attracts much attention from mammals like bear, deer, and raccoon in late summer and fall. From the trail’s end, two clearings provide excellent 180-degree views in each direction.
Photos, from top: Willard Pond, by Phil Brown; the view toward the caretaker’s cabin across the Mill Pond, by Phil Brown.