The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 22, 2010


The Cow Tunnel under Westford Street.
(Photo by Helen Lyons)

Hiking the Towle Land

Late fall is a wonderful time to enjoy the trails in Carlisle. The extensive trail network on the Towle Land provides a beautiful backdrop to view the foliage and, as the leaves fall, to view interesting rock and earth formations. At 20-25 acres, Towle Field is one of the largest open fields in Carlisle and is the most recognizable feature of the Towle parcel. However, the property includes a great variety of terrain and wildlife habitats and the majority of the 121 acres is woodland. The Towle Land is also home to several interesting stone structures including some that are believed to be Native American in origin, an area that is possibly an old quarry, and a stone cow tunnel which passes under Westford Street.


In addition to the large open field, the Towle Land features low forested rocky hills, a small pond, several small streams, wetlands and seven certified vernal pools. A small pond, located immediately east of the Towle Field was formed by damming a spring-fed stream. The trail that connects the parking area to the field crosses over this dam. Stonewalls mark the perimeter of the field and several can be found in the wooded areas.

Mixed forest of pine, maple, and oak covers about two-thirds of the property. The wooded areas are hilly, with interesting rock outcroppings and areas which in other years would be wetlands and flowing streams. The field and its margins are prime habitat for birds and other wildlife. A significant number of sugar maples, left from the original 25 planted by the boy scouts in 1979, can still be seen around the perimeter of the field. Although several invasive species including multi-flora rose and buckthorn have become a problem in recent years, wildflowers are also abundant. The information kiosk near the parking area lists approximately 50 wildflowers that have been identified in the field.


According to the baseline assessment compiled by the Land Stewardship Committee, 84 acres of what is now known as the Towle Land, including the field, pond and a large portion of the wooded land was purchased by the town from Dr. and Mrs. George Towle in 1968. Over the following 10 years, the town acquired additional parcels including the Ryan, Metivier, Clark/Foss and Carr/Warren parcels, increasing the size of the parcel to approximately 121 acres.

The baseline assessment states that remains of an old quarry can be found in the lower woods, but the specifics about any quarrying operations are not known. The same report notes that certain areas of the Towle Land are believed to have been used as ceremonial sites by Native Americans. Several stone piles are located in the southeastern section of the property and a large stone turtle effigy lies close to Westford Street. Also of interest is the stone cow tunnel which was built in 1914 by Dr. George Towle and Lawrence Sorli to allow cows to cross under Westford Street to the pond and pasture land.

Environmental protection and wildlife

Towle Field is a prime location for bird watching. Over 130 different species have been identified on the land. During the late spring and summer months, the field attracts nesting grassland birds, particularly bobolinks. In addition, bluebirds now nest in the boxes that are located around the edges of the field.

For many years, Towle Field was mowed by farmers who were allowed to keep the hay in exchange. A decline in the quality of the hay has forced the town to investigate other methods to control costs while maintaining the fields. Frequent mowing or haying is necessary to prevent overgrowth of buckthorn and poison ivy. For several years, sheep were imported to graze on the fields, but that approach was not economical. The central area of Towle Field is now mowed only at the end of the summer so as not to disturb nesting bobolinks. The outside margins are mowed several times during the summer to provide a walking trail around the perimeter of the field.

Trails and features

(Trail Map courtesy of the Carlisle Trails Committee)

The main entrance to the Towle Land is from the parking lot on Westford Street. The Towle Field Trail is particularly beautiful in the fall. On a recent walk in the early morning, the grass in the field was still a deep green while the maples on the perimeter of the field glowed a fluorescent orange and yellow. Scores of hawks soared over the field and, since it was early Saturday morning, there was little traffic noise.

By turning right to walk counter-clockwise around the perimeter of the field, hikers will quickly be able to take a 5-minute detour from the Towle Field Trail to see the old cow tunnel. The cow tunnel sign is posted at the edge of the field. Immediately after turning at the sign, there is a fork in the path. The smaller path on the right leads past an interesting stone-lined circular structure immediately on the right and continues into the woods toward the cow tunnel.

Returning to the field, the trail continues along the stone wall. The ¾ mile walk around the field brings the hiker past several old apple trees, bluebird boxes, a few pine groves and mature maples in full color. Be careful for poison ivy in the grass. To keep from disturbing the bobolink nesting areas, hikers are asked to keep their dogs on leashes during the spring and summer months.

About ¾ of the way around the field, a trail enters the woods. The trail follows the rolling contours of the land as it passes through the woods. Hikers can see quite a few interesting rock formations from the trail. A side trail soon breaks off, connecting to Bingham Road while the main trail continues downhill to a dry stream bed lined with rocks. After climbing a small rise the trail begins to run next to an old stone wall. There are some interesting rock formations to the left, sadly some have been vandalized with spray paint. Two short bridges span what would normally be wet areas. After this dry summer, all areas were dry enough to pass easily.

Soon the trail reaches a point where the Inner and Outer Loop Trails cross. This is a particularly beautiful area. The Inner Loop Trail brings the hiker immediately to an area of beautiful rock outcroppings. The Outer Loop Trail adds a half-mile walk past some hemlocks and through a hilly area where several vernal pools can be seen from the trail. The Outer Loop Trail then returns to meet the Inner Loop Trail. In this area are some particularly large glacial boulders and some rocky hills that are a perfect place to stop for a while. The Inner Loop Trail eventually leads to the Turtle Trail. This trail is not named for box turtles or snappers, but rather for a beautiful stone effigy. Look for it on the right.

By selecting a short loop, hikers can walk portions of the Towle trails in as little as 20-30 minutes. A walk around the perimeter of the field, the Inner Loop Trail, Outer Loop Trail and Turtle Trail will take two hours or more.

The Turtle Rock. (Photo by Helen Lyons)


The Towle Field is primarily used for passive recreation and the extensive trail system provides access for hikers, bird watchers and has long been a popular cross-country skiing site.

Access and parking

The Towle Land is located between Westford Street (across from Munroe Hill) and Bingham Road. There is also a trail entrance from Bingham Road. There is a parking lot at the Westford Street entrance. ∆

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