The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 28, 2010


Town Forest: A microcosm of Carlisle’s history

On East Street behind a cement-post guard rail, lies a hidden treasure – the Town Forest. Although many residents pass by it every day, it is little-used. But this unusual parcel should not be missed – it is home to a variety of wildlife, it contains a small network of beautiful hiking trails and it has a particularly interesting social, political and environmental history. It was once the woodlot for the town poor farm then became one of the first actively managed forests in the county and a WPA project site during the Great Depression. Today the Town Forest is a protected area for rare or endangered species.


This way to Hurricane Alley. (Photo by Helen Lyons)

The Town Forest is approximately 69 acres of hilly mixed forest and wetland. It includes planted mature red and white pine forests, wetlands, several streams and three certified vernal pools. The adjoining eight-acre Heidke land was given to the town in 1978. Although this parcel is almost entirely wetland, it creates an effective wildlife corridor by extending the Town Forest toward the conservation properties in eastern Carlisle and on to the Concord River.


The Town Forest was once part of the 158-acre Nickles Farm which was purchased by the town in 1852 for use as the Town Farm. Here the town’s poor would live under the watch of a superintendent. Beginning in the late 1880s the town authorized the sale of cordwood from the forested section of the Town Farm to offset the Town Farm expenses and other municipal expenses. In 1922, due to a high demand for wood and resulting deforestation due to over-harvesting, the town voted to use 46 acres of the Town Farm to establish a town forest. The forest would provide a “wild park area” for the town, provide income from the sale of cordwood, provide bird and game sanctuaries and would be used to conserve the water supply. In 1925, the town added another 25 acres of the Town Farm land to the Town Forest.

Over the next several decades thousands of birch, red pine and white pine saplings were planted, trimmed and harvested as part of the forest management plan. During the Great Depression the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) funded forestry work on the property and cordwood from the forest was sold or provided to the local Board of Welfare. The famous hurricane of 1938 took down many of the trees and despite further WPA work after the hurricane, records show that management of the Town Forest seems to have ended in the early 1940s. The land has been under Conservation Commission management since 1994.

The Town Forest has long been used for bird watching and other wildlife observation. During the period from 2000-2008, over 50 species of birds had been identified within the forest and several rare species of animals and plants have been found in the area. The Town Forest is now included in the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program Priority Habitat map for 2008. This listing indicates that the land is considered a likely habitat for particular rare species and for this reason must be protected from disturbance.

Trails and features

The only public entrance to the Town Forest is from East Street. A large sign marks the trailhead which runs downhill past a number of downed trees and sandy wash-out from this spring’s heavy rains. The trail soon passes to the right of a wetland area that is currently thickly populated with skunk cabbage. The trail then widens as it rises into the pine forest. Here the trail becomes part of the north-south Double Loop Trail. On the west side of this trail is the first of several rock-edged pools. This pool is near a loose rock pile which may have once been a foundation. By taking the smaller trail that continues uphill to the west, the hiker passes over a newly constructed boardwalk and up to “Hurricane Alley” a wide north-south trail. This upland section of the forest features blueberries, wildflowers and ferns under a canopy of pines. This particularly beautiful trail follows the hillside to two granite posts which mark the property boundary.

The Crossover Trail proceeds downhill from Hurricane Alley, crossing the wetland on a second boardwalk and leading down to a red pine forest. By remaining on the Crossover Trail as it crosses the Double Loop, the hiker will pass another rock-edged pool before the narrowing trail crosses through a break in the stone wall and ends at the wetlands of the Heidke Parcel.

The Double Loop Trail covers most of the central part of the Town Forest. Here the hiker follows a wide logging road through long rows of white pine, spruce and red pine that were planted in the 1920s and 1930s. The eastern side of the northern loop, which is narrower and hillier than the western side, follows a spruce-lined stone wall above the wetlands. The trails can be easily walked in about an hour.

(Town Forest trail map courtesy of the Carlisle Trails Committee)


The Town Forest is lightly used, but is ideal for hiking, bird watching, biking, horseback riding, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. The Trails Committee has sponsored several walks on the property and Boy Scouts have used it for camping. Hikers should be aware of poison ivy along the edges of the trail. Mosquitoes are now noticeable near the wetland areas.

Access and parking

The forest is located between East Street, Brook Street and East Riding Drive and is accessed from the main entrance on East Street near the intersection with Maple Street. There is no parking lot but there is space for several cars to park on the roadside near the trail entrance.

Town Farm – caring for the poor

According to the Town Forest baseline assessment compiled by the Carlisle Land Stewardship Committee, in the years before a national welfare program was in place each town would care for its own poor residents. In small towns like Carlisle, the poor were generally taken in by individuals who received a small payment from the town to cover their expenses. In 1852 the town purchased the Nickles Farm to house its poor population, elected the Overseers of the Poor to administer the Town Farm and hired a superintendent to manage its day-to-day operation.

By the early 1900s, the number of residents at the Town Farm had decreased significantly and in 1922 the town decided to sell the farm. The remaining residents were moved to the State Infirmary in Tewksbury and the farm land was leased for several years until it was sold. According to the baseline assessment, in 1922 “support of the poor” was the second highest item on the town budget, exceeded only by the cost of the schools. ∆

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