Friday, September 24, 2010
Exploring the CCF land: the new southwest trails
The recent purchase of the Benfield Property and several nearby parcels has provided acres of new conservation land to explore and the Carlisle Trails Committee has responded by creating several new trails. In particular two trails have just been completed in the southwest corner of town near the boundaries of Acton, Concord and Carlisle. These new trails on Benfield Hill and in Ben’s Woods just off West Street, together with the trails at the nearby Spencer Brook Reservation, allow hikers a great opportunity to explore this quiet section of town.
The Carlisle Conservation Foundation now owns 61 acres of land that was previously owned by Ben and Marion Benfield. This land is now permanently protected, publicly-accessible open space. To enjoy this property, new trails have been created on Benfield Hill and Ben’s Woods. Each of these parcels is mixed forest of varied terrain. Benfield Hill, which lies to the northeast of West Street, reaches the highest elevation in the western side of town and is dotted with granite outcroppings, hemlock groves and a vernal pool. Ben’s Woods, on the southwest side of West Street, features rolling hills in a mixed forest. This area was the site of an old lime kiln. The 32-acre Spencer Brook Reservation was the first parcel purchased by the CCF 50 years ago. It is largely wetlands, with open fields near West Street and South Street.
These trails are the first in what many conservationists and trail enthusiasts hope will become Carlisle’s “Western Corridor,” a range of trails that will connect land held by the Carlisle Conservation Foundation near West Street to nearby conservation lands in both Acton and Carlisle.
Spencer Brook Trail
The trails in the Spencer Brook Reservation are laid out in two loops with several spurs, all a very short distance from West Street. Entering through a break in the stone wall on the southernmost trailhead on West Street, the trail passes along the perimeter of an open field. Spencer Brook lies to the right, but the area between the fields and the wetlands is thick with saplings, obscuring the view of the marshland. By staying to the right of a grove of deciduous trees and bushes, the trail enters a smaller area in the back of the field. Here a granite bench provides a stopping spot to observe and listen for signs of wildlife. From the bench, the trail continues through a break in the trees to another field. From that point a short spur breaks off into the woods to the right while to the left the trail continues through a wooded area and on to the field on the corner of West and South Streets. Several old apple and crabapple trees stand near the field margins. The circular trail then loops back through a wooded knoll to the starting point.
These trails are flat, short and easy to walk, and would be a pleasant hike for most children. There are several open areas that would be perfect for picnics although there is some poison ivy in the grassy areas.
The newest in the area, Marion’s Trail, travels through Ben’s Woods connecting the level open fields of the Spencer Brook Trail to the more rugged rising terrain of Benfield Hill. The entrance to Marion’s Trail is at the intersection of West Street and Pope Road. From the road, the trail rises gently through young mixed woodlands with several mature pines. Stone piles can be seen occasionally to the right from the trail. The trail then passes through two stone walls, runs for several hundred yards along the Acton/Carlisle border and enters a small hemlock grove. From that point the trail descends through older woods toward West Street where it ends diagonally across the street from the entrance to the Twin Peaks Trail. According to “Trails in Carlisle,” Marion’s Trail has a very high water table and often draws lightning strikes. Marion’s Trail is slightly elevated and can be easily walked in about half an hour.
Twin Peaks Trail
Twin Peaks Trail rises more sharply than the other trails in this area. From the trailhead on West Street, the trail immediately enters an area that, in any other year, would be wetlands. A long boardwalk spans this area and connects to a narrow trail which runs along a boundary-marking stone wall. The trail quickly rises through a mixed forest tinged with the fall yellow of a myriad of ferns. As the trails passes through the first break in a stone wall, it becomes quite narrow, with Applegrove Lane only a few yards away as it reaches the top of the first hillcrest. An old ski slope can be seen off to the right of the trail. The trail passes through a small hemlock grove and descends to the site of a large vernal pool. There are several interesting rock formations and granite outcroppings in this area. The well-marked trail forks just past the vernal pool. The Bypass Trail loops just around the vernal pool while the Loop Trail continues further into the woods, returning to meet the other side of the Bypass Trail. Along the Loop Trail are several large granite outcroppings and quite a few boulders – perfect areas to stop and enjoy the woods. In this area are quite a few yellow birch and hemlock mixed in with white pine, maple and oak. Blueberries, partridge berry and ferns comprise a good portion of the low growth. Continuing back toward the vernal pool, the trail passes through a grove of majestic hemlocks, with a larger grove on the other side of the stone wall.
The southwest trails are used primarily for passive recreation. In addition to hiking, the trails are used for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, bird watching and observing nature. Several town groups have sponsored nature walks and vernal pool studies in the area.
Access and parking
Hikers can access The Spencer Brook Trails from entrances on West Street, South Street and Westford Street. Marion’s Trail can be accessed from West Street near the intersection of Pope Road, or from West Street near the intersection with Applegrove Lane. The Twin Peaks trailhead is on West Street near Applegrove Lane, directly across from the entrance to Marion’s Trail. Parking is available on the roadside on the west side of West Street in several areas where the shoulder is wide: near Applegrove Lane and near the intersection with Pope Road. Parking for Spencer Brook Trails is available on the edge of South Street near the corner of West Street
This weekend, join the Carlisle Conservation Foundation as it hosts a celebration at the Spencer Brook Reservation in recognition of its 50th anniversary. As part of the festivities, the CCF will provide a special opportunity to view the site of the proposed boardwalk and wildlife observation platform at Spencer Brook. In addition, the Trails Committee will lead hikes on the Spencer Brook, Twin Peaks and Marion’s trails, giving townspeople a chance to explore the new conservation lands in the southwest corner of town. ∆
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