Monday, January 30, 2012

Ridge Hill Reservation: Esker, Swamp, Hornbeam trails

Esker Trail, Ridge Hill Reservation, Needham, MA
The main trail in Ridge Hill Reservation is the Esker Trail, which runs along the crest of an esker cutting through the property (this is the "ridge hill" in "Ridge Hill").  One can get to the entrance from the back parking lot if you walk east in the meadow along the edge of the woods.  It is a wide and high trail and I frankly find it a bit monotonous. It does provide access to a relatively deep part of the woods and, more importantly, a nice section of the Swamp Trail. It is where you are most likely to see pileated woodpeckers and ravens in the early morning and hear owls at dusk.

Almost immediately after the entrance the trail branches.
Esker trail on left, Hornbeam on right
Stay to the left. You can take the Hornbeam trail on the way back.

Soon on your left you will come to the eastern end of the Swamp Trail, a now impassable trail that theoretically connects the Esker Trail to the western trail complex.
If the weather is right (dry and/or cold) you can make it through a good portion of the trail without getting too muddy. Today I wore my muck boots so I fearless stomped my way in.
A mossy wonderland.
Mosses and lichens in many shapes and sizes. That's a delicate fern moss above, if I'm not mistaken.
Eventually you will reach the impassable bit and will have to turn back.

As you walk further north on the Esker Trail you can see the enormous mound that is the town landfill to the right. (And the Fuller Brook--unpictured--below it). Maybe you'll also see a hairy woodpecker (as I did today).
Fork at the end of the Esker Trail
 Eventually you will come to a fork, signaling the end of the Esker Trail. Which way should you go? Usually at this point I turn around and go back, but today I thought I would follow each path to its end. If you go to the left you will eventually come to this:
 If you go to the right you will quickly encounter another fork.
Going to the left gets you this
While going to the right actually gets you some interesting scenery
and then the trail just disappears.

So there is no real reason to keep going north after the end of the Esker Trail. [2014 Update: The Esker Trail has been extended--there is now a delightful loop at the end of it.] In fact you might be best off walking only as far as the second intersection with the Hornbeam Trail and making a loop of it.
The northern intersection with the Hornbeam Trail approaching from the south
The northern intersection of the Hornbeam Trail approaching from the north
The Hornbeam Trail runs parallel to the Esker Trail along the swampy lowland. There is a nice new boardwalk [courtesy of Girl Scouts] that makes the walk easier during muddier days.
If you, like me, believe that trails should be bordered by lichen-covered stone walls, the Hornbeam should not be missed.
Eventually you will come to a fork.
If you go to the right you will rejoin the Esker Trail and soon reach the exit. If you go to the left you will join the increasingly decrepit "Fit Trail."

Keep going past the pull-up bars (or do some pull-ups if you feel like it) and you will come to the edge of the old Nike Missile site, now the site of the brand new Needham Community Farm.
If you are allergic to bee stings you are advised to keep your distance.

It is an easy walk through the fit trail back out to the meadow.

Official trail maps can be downloaded from the Town of Needham website. Just remember that not all the trails on the map are passable at present. There is a meeting about the future of Ridge Hill, February 9, 2012 at 7:15 p.m. at the Needham Library.

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