The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 10, 2010


The Cranberry Bog

Reflections on Baptist Pond. (Photo by Helen Lyons)

Even during the hottest days of the summer, there are some trails that always attract visitors. The conservation land at the Carlisle Cranberry Bog off Curve Street provides a wonderful system of trails which wind across the working section of the bog, along the nearby reservoirs and into the woods in Chelmsford. This land is particularly rich in wildlife and its frequently used trails make the bog one of the most popular walking spots in Carlisle.


The 310-acre Cranberry Bog conservation parcel straddles the boundary between Chelmsford and the northwest section of Carlisle. The land is fairly flat and includes wooded uplands, large segments of wetlands, several irrigation ponds, a certified vernal pool and the only working cranberry bog in Middlesex County. The working bog is surrounded and crossed by several dikes and the sand which is used in the cranberry farming operation is stored in piles on the land. The Tenneco gas pipeline runs along the Carlisle side of the town border.

The 105-year-old Bog House. (Photo by Helen Lyons)


According to Susan Pickford, (History of the Chelmsford Carlisle Cranberry Bog, 1991) before the land was converted into a cranberry bog, it was a grazing meadow and marsh along River Meadow Brook. In 1903, Warren and James Nickles of Carlisle bought more than 400 acres of land to create a cranberry bog. Two years later they built the four-story Bog House to support their farming operation. Over the years the Bog House was used as a caretaker’s house, and the large upper story was used for dances for workers and pickers. The forward-thinking Nickles had also purchased water rights that allowed them to control the discharge of water from Baptist Pond (also known as Heart Pond) in Chelmsford. The brothers built several dams and dikes to control irrigation and flooding of the cranberry bog.

The bog passed through several owners and in 1986 the Town of Carlisle purchased the 151-acre Carlisle portion of the land, including the 40-acre working section of the bog, from the Lowell Cranberry Company. At the same time, the town of Chelmsford purchased the remaining 159 acres of the Lowell Cranberry Company property.


The Cranberry Bog is home to a wide variety of birds and wildlife. Signs of beaver, fox, muskrat and mink activity are frequent. The wide-open vistas allow visitors to watch migrating hawks in the fall. Carlisle resident Tom Brownrigg has sighted over 129 species of birds in the Carlisle section.

The Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program has designated land in the area of the Cranberry Bog as a Core Habitat for the Blue-spotted Salamander and the Spotted Turtle. Recently, the Blandings Turtle, which is on the state threatened-species list, was observed at the bog.

Trails and features

The most unusual feature of this conservation parcel is the working cranberry bog. Forty acres of the land are leased to Carlisle Cranberries, Inc., owned and operated by Carlisle resident Mark Duffy. A series of educational signs which describe cranberry farming and harvesting are placed along the trails.

In addition to the commercial cranberry operation, the remnants of a small circular cranberry bog can still be observed between the active bog and Curve Street. This small bog was maintained for many years by the 4-H club, but has not been used for several years and is now becoming overgrown with small trees.

Two ponds or reservoirs, one to the north and the other to the west, are used to supply irrigation water to the bog. These ponds offer spectacular views and are home to a variety of wildlife including herons, owls, beaver, spotted salamanders and otter. River Meadow Brook, formerly known as Hale’s Brook or Great Brook, flows through the Cranberry Bog and south from the bog under Curve Street toward Old Morse Road.

Walking trails surround and cross the Cranberry Bog and a trail leads into the woods ending at a peninsula on the Chelmsford side of Baptist Pond The bog trails allow good opportunities to view nature, particularly around the shores of the ponds.

On a recent Saturday in August, a gentle but steady breeze off the pond cooled the trails around the bog, easing the early afternoon heat. Taking the East Bog Loop toward Baptist Pond from the Curve Street parking area, the trail leads past the old 4-H bog on the right. Late summer wildflowers were in bloom with seas of goldenrod, joe-pye weed and the invasive but still beautiful purple loosestrife. Vines climbing up through the sassafras and maples were not yet fragrant with the scent of ripening wild grapes that marks September. We were still in the dog days of summer. At the south end of Baptist Pond, despite the low water level and several active dogs, great blue herons posed and turtles idled on lily pads in the afternoon sun.

The East and West Bog Loops surround and cross the working section of the bog. These wide trails were originally (and still are) used to allow farm equipment access to the bog and to irrigation ponds. This portion of the trail system is very flat and easily managed by families with young children. It is also used quite frequently by joggers and dog walkers. These trails also provide a great vantage point to watch the annual cranberry harvest which begins in mid-October.

From the active bog area, the Pipeline Trail breaks north into the woods and connects with the Peninsula Trail in Chelmsford. A pleasant 3/4 mile walk brings the hiker to a small point surrounded on three sides by water. This is a perfect spot to relax and enjoy beautiful vistas across the water while observing a wide variety of birds, beavers, turtles and dragonflies.

If the sun is too hot and a walk in the shade is in order, the Otter Slide Trail, which begins on the south side of Curve Street near the Bog House, follows River Meadow Brook into the woods. Portions of this heavily wooded trail are muddy during high water season. When snow falls, otter slides can often be found on the banks of the brook. This trail connects to Old Morse Road and several smaller trails connect to Daniel’s Lane and Hart Farm Road.

Cranberry Bog. (Trail map courtesy of the Carlisle Trails Committee)


Today, the town uses the Cranberry Bog parcel primarily for agriculture, passive recreation and as a wildlife habitat. The Tenneco Gas Pipeline Company has an easement on a small portion of the land which is used to deliver natural gas via an underground pipeline. Trails which cross the bog are used for dog-walking, cross-country skiing, hiking and bird watching. Because the bog is actively farmed, hikers are asked to remain on the trails and to keep dogs off of all planted areas. Dog owners are asked to pick up after their pets and disposal bags are provided at the trailhead.


Parking for the Cranberry Bog is available on Curve Street at the Bog House and along the roadside under the trees just north of the bog house. A parking area is also available in Chelmsford near the Elm Street entrance. ∆

© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito