Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ridge Hill Reservation: North Trail-Chestnut Trail loop

Sign at the Trail Head for North Trail at Ridge Hill Reservation
North Trail is the trail I usually take if I'm looking for a short "walk in the woods" at Ridge Hill. To get there you need to walk past the special event buildings and through the picnic area. Soon you will see a trail map (though right now this is still under construction).
As you walk north on North Trail there is a grove of tall white pine to the left.
 This is a great place to find pine warblers in the spring.

Soon you will see a fork in the trail.
Stay to the right. The trail to the left is unnamed (It offers a direct path to the Wellesley trail system.)

Very quickly you will see what remains of the "Drumlin Trail" to the left.
At present it is overgrown and a great place to pick up ticks. Avoid it. It rejoins the North Trail further on anyway.
Overgrown Drumlin Trail.
Soon you will come to the spot (on the right) where the Chestnut Trail joins the North Trail.
Chestnut Trail to the right
 Make a mental note of this spot. You can take the Chestnut Trail as an alternative route back.

Keep walking up the North Trail and eventually the trail will open onto a gas line easement.
Gas line easement. "Beard Trail" is across the way.
 This is officially the end of North Trail. Across the easement you will see a Wellesley Trail System arrow. This is "Beard Trail"--part of Ridge Hill but really more integrated with the Wellesley system. I usually continue walking north along the easement.
White-tailed deer getting to know one another.
I find the easement a great way to see and hear wildlife. White-tailed deer can be seen pretty consistently. Poachers (hunting is not allowed in Ridge Hill) know this too so it is best to wear orange during hunting season. Today I got to watch three deer (what I assume were young bucks post antlers) do a little dominance negotiation (ears down, tail to the side, some aggressive behavior). And then they saw me.
White-tailed deer, Ridge Hill Reservation, Needham, MA
White-tailed deer, Ridge Hill Reservation, Needham, MA
 This is where I saw a weasel catch a rabbit a couple of years ago. Right now the chickadees are singing. Later in the spring you can hear warblers and wood thrush.

The easement can be pretty swampy the further north you walk. You will eventually come to a stream.
It is time to turn around.

Walk back to North Trail and this time on your way south you can take the Chestnut Trail.

Chestnut Trail to the left
Depending on the time of year the trail can be hard to see--last year it was obscured by the growth of young pine trees--so keep your eyes open.

At one point the Chestnut Trail was carefully managed as an educational nature walk. Here is a sample of the old signage on a precious relic from an earlier era of forestry--a genuine American Chestnut tree.
American Chestnut sign
Now the trail is in a bit of disrepair, with at least one large tree fall blocking the path. Even more discouraging is the "Swamp Trail, which branches off on the left when you are traveling south.
Swamp Trail (white trail marker)
The Swamp Trail used to connect the western trails with the major eastern trail, the "Esker Trail." No longer.
There used to be a boardwalk here.
Once during a winter cold snap I did manage (wearing rubber boots) to walk the former trail. But this trail is badly in need of an Eagle Scout boardwalk project. During the summer, needless to say, the mosquitoes make this area pretty unpleasant anyway.

If you continue to walk south on the Chestnut Trail (a great place to encounter scarlet tanagers in June) you will emerge behind the Ridge Hill Reservation garage, not far from the start of North Trail.

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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