Friday, April 30, 2010
Happy Trails Estabrook Woods – traveling Estabrook Road
Every year in mid-April many townspeople, led by the Carlisle Minutemen, walk from Carlisle Center to the Old North Bridge. In a Patriot’s Day tradition, residents follow the same route once taken by the local Minutemen as they traveled to face the British troops in 1775. Today the walk along the 350-year-old Estabrook Road (Old Carlisle Road) brings the hiker into a land not only of great historic significance, but of unspoiled natural beauty. Frequently a subject of Henry David Thoreau’s journal writings, “Easterbrooks County,” as it was then known, is home to a wide variety of plant and animal species, including several that are listed as rare or endangered. Although mostly privately owned, the public is permitted to access miles of hiking trails for low-impact use.
The Estabrook Woods includes over 1,200 acres of woodland, hills and wetlands, making it the largest undeveloped woodland area within 30 miles of Boston. The central core of 650+ acres is owned by Harvard University and is used for biology field studies. A relatively small section of the Woods actually lies in Carlisle, but the two main north-south trails (Estabrook Road to the west and Two Rod Road to the east) were historically used for travel between Carlisle and Concord and both trails are easily accessed in Carlisle. A large central wetland (Cedar Swamp) runs north-south for almost a mile, effectively separating the eastern side of Estabrook Woods from the area around Estabrook Road. This article describes the area around Estabrook Road.
Trails and features
The Estabrook Road trail begins at the corner of Estabrook Road and Kibby Place in Carlisle. From here the wide, relatively flat main trail is an easy walk and families with young children in strollers can access its full length to Estabrook Road in Concord. However, this Patriot’s Day, two wet areas and a large fallen tree made the walk a bit more of an adventure.
The main trail is flanked by old stone walls and a number of others run through what is now woodland, a reminder that in colonial days much of the land near this trail was farmland. There are several old cellar holes in this section of the woods. One, the 1683 homesite of Thomas and Sarah Estabrook, is an annual stop on the Patriot’s Day walk.
Short walks on the many side trails bring the hiker to several lime quarries (to the west just past the Estabrook cellar hole) and further off the trail to the west is a large vertical rock formation known as Indian Rock. Across the main trail to the east lies the glacial “boulder field.” Continuing south on the Estabrook Road trail, a granite post stands to the east of the trail marking the distance to the Old North Bridge. Soon after passing the milepost, remnants of a lime kiln are visible on the east side of the trail and within a few hundred yards, Mink Pond appears to the east. Here the open space allows the hiker to stop and watch for hawks, woodpeckers, ducks, beaver and deer. After passing Mink Pond, the hiker can cut easterly through the woods (there is a small path) to return by the Esker Trail. Heavy spring rains have left the lower parts of this trail underwater, so for now, it is best to move further from the pond, using the Main Punkatasset and Cabin Trails to pick up the Esker Trail nearer the north of Mink Pond. This trail passes Saw Mill Pond and the site of the Thoreau family pencil mill and then rises to the top of the esker providing a wonderful 360 degree view across the pond and through the woods. The Esker Trail returns to meet the Estabrook Road Trail at the site of the lime kiln. Trails in this section of the woods take many turns and there are very few trail markers. It is helpful to have a map and compass when using the smaller trails.
Estabrook Woods is home to a great variety of wildlife. Its remarkable ecological diversity was demonstrated during the first Biodiversity Day on July 4, 1998 when a team of experts and local volunteers identified more than 1,900 species of plants and animals. Hikers can see many low-bush blueberries, huckleberries and an occasional old fruit tree along the trails. In mid-April a flock of wild turkeys was guarding the lime quarries, and early wildflowers (bloodroot, jack-in-the-pulpit, wood anemone, wild violet) were beginning to bloom.
The Estabrook Woods contains a network of trails that criss-cross a large tract of land. For adventurous walkers, there are a full day’s worth of trails, side trails and historic landmarks to uncover and spots of natural beauty to visit. For those who would prefer a shorter outing, the Estabrook Road Trail can be covered in about half an hour from the trailhead in Carlisle to the junction with Estabrook Road in Concord and the loop from Kibby Place around Mink Pond and back takes about 1 ½ hours.
In addition to hiking, Estabrook Woods is also used for other forms of passive recreation, such as cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing and orienteering. Harvard University uses much of the land for ecological and nature studies. Other groups, such as the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Audubon Society conduct classes and lead tours in the Woods. In early June the New England Wildflower Society will use the woods for a class on identifying ferns.
Access and parking
Hikers can access Estabrook Road trail from the corner of Estabrook Road and Kibby Place in Carlisle. Parking is available on the Kibby Place roadside. Estabrook Woods is not publicly owned and the public is asked to respect research areas. Maps are available at Harvard University’s Concord Field Station at the end of Old Causeway Road in Bedford and from the New England Orienteering Club.
Stephen Ells’ book,"The Seasons in Estabrook County", is a wonderful historical guide and handbook to Estabrook Woods. According to Ells, lime kilns were built by settlers to process locally mined limestone. A stone kiln was built into the ground and the limestone heated until it was transformed to plaster. This plaster was highly valued for caulking chimneys and plastering wall surfaces. It is said that the lime kiln on Estabrook Road was in use by the 1690s.
Ells states that Fenn School students calculated that Concord farmers dug out 7,600 cubic feet of rock from the largest of the lime quarries in the Estabrook Woods. “Thousands of tons were hauled a quarter of a mile south, where the ore was drawn up a ramp and dumped into the kiln.” ∆
© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito