By Hope Jordan
Photos By Karen Marzloff
One benefit of working at NH Audubon’s McLane Center is that it’s easy to slip out of the office at lunchtime and take a walk on one of our beautiful trails. As a newcomer, I downloaded the trail map and was intrigued to learn that part of Audubon’s Turkey Pond Trail connects with the West End Farm Trail, which extends all the way to Carter Hill Orchard. The trip – one way – is supposed to be 7.25 miles long, and it seemed like a grand adventure for a fall Saturday with a sunny forecast.
My hiking companion met me in the NH Audubon parking lot, where we left one car and drove to Carter Hill to begin. The morning was foggy and misty, but we managed to find the parking area set aside for people using the trail. The orchard was swarming with apple-pickers and other visitors, so we kept our masks on and dodged the crowds after taking advantage of the porta-potties and picking up a few apples for lunch.
The trail begins behind the Carter Hill Orchard and skirts a small pond before heading into the woods. Most of the trail is wooded, and I regretted forgetting to wear hunter orange. Evidence of hunters was scarce, though, and the entire walk was within city limits and not far from roads and habitation, so I didn’t feel unsafe.
Because I’m trying to learn about birds, I did bring along my new Zeiss binoculars in their accompanying shoulder harness. Most of the birds I saw were chickadees, which I’m told are a good species to watch because they often show up with other, migrating species. Apparently, the chickadees show the visitors where the local food sources are. The dark quiet woods had their fair share of woodpeckers, but I have to admit I’m still working on being able to tell downy and hairy woodpeckers apart.
Unlike the crowded mountain trails up north, there were few other people on the West End Farm Trail, mostly locals walking their dogs. People can park at Swope Park or Dimond Hill Farm to do a shorter section. Most of them seemed impressed that we were going the entire length of the trail. I imagined that’s how a through-hiker feels on the Appalachian Trail, meeting day-trippers.
In Concord, it was less a hike and more of a ramble, but we were able to get our heart rates up during that early two-mile stretch by climbing the steep hill to Rossview Farm. Due to a landowner change at that spot, the original West End Farm Trail is blocked, so we had to walk east for a good half mile on District 5 Road to pick up some connector trails that originate out of Swope Park. We turned south and then west on these connector trails to pick up the West End Farm Trail once again near Currier Road. This adds at least a mile to the trip, but by then the sun had come out and the walking was easy.
A little further south, we emerged into the sunshine at Dimond Hill Farm. By now we were more than halfway through our journey, and ready for refreshment. In addition to some thoughtfully-placed Adirondack chairs, Dimond Hill provides picnic tables, gorgeous vistas and best of all, a farm stand brimming with locally-sourced foods. It was tempting to stuff our backpacks, but we settled on some ice cream made just down the road in Western MA, and soaked up the sun before heading back to the trail. The walking was fairly easy – the most challenging moments came when we had to get through some downed trees that were too big to move off the trail.
After crossing Hopkinton Road, the West End Farm Trail took us back into the woods. A mile and a half later we had to cross under I-89, which felt almost as jarring as hiking up Mount Washington to find tourists eating chili dogs at the summit. But it meant we were getting close to the end.
We then shared the paved bike path along the highway with a few cyclists, remembering to hustle over to the side so they could squeeze by. Instead of continuing to the Silk Farm Road bike path parking area, we took a connector trail that hugged the shore of Turkey Pond before turning east onto the Old Orchard Trail, just .7 miles of woods and pasture from the NH Audubon parking lot. This, too, probably added a little mileage to our trip.
The entire West End Farm Trail took us about four hours overall. Back at NH Audubon, we drove the car we’d left that morning back to Carter Hill, bought some more apples and planned to do it again in December.