Friday, November 12, 2010
Most Carlisle residents are familiar with Estabrook Woods – the field research area for the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University and one of the largest tracts of undeveloped woodland within 30 miles of Boston. The varied terrain within the woods provides several distinct areas to explore. A large central wetland (Cedar Swamp) runs north-south for almost a mile effectively separating the east and west sides of the woods. The western portion of the property features many sites of local historic interest including old cellar holes, lime kilns and quarries. The Estabrook Road Trail, also located on the western side of the property is the route that was once taken by the Carlisle minutemen as they traveled to face the British troops in Concord in 1775. By comparison the east side of the Estabrook Woods, the area around Two Rod Road, has a quieter colonial history. Like Estabrook Road, Two Rod Road was once a main travel route between Carlisle and Concord. Unlike Estabrook Road, which connected quarries and mills to Concord, Two Rod ran through simpler farmland and pastures. Today a hike on Two Rod Road is a great way to experience “the other Estabrook Woods.” This walk, from Carlisle to Hutchins Pond in Concord, passes beautiful stonewalls, overgrown pastures and a spectacular ancient hemlock grove.
Landscape and wildlife
The Estabrook Woods, which straddles the border between Carlisle and Concord, includes over 1,200 acres of woodland, hills and wetlands. The central core of 650+ acres is owned by Harvard University and is used for biology field studies. The woods are home to a wide variety of plant and animal species, including several that are listed as rare or endangered. In recognition of its environmental value, the presence of rare and endangered species, and its archeological and historic resources the Estabrook Woods has been designated a Forest Legacy Area by the federal government. The state has also designated the Estabrook Woods as “core habitat” whose preservation is needed to protect biodiversity. Although mostly privately owned, the public is permitted to access miles of hiking trails for low-impact use.
Trails and features
The Two Rod Road trail begins at the parking lot at Malcolm Meadows on Stearns Street.
From the back of the lot a small path leads directly to the trail which passes under a large catalpa tree and into the woods. This old cart path, flanked by stonewalls two rods (33 feet) apart, passes from conservation land in Carlisle through the Estabrook Woods and on to the Hutchins Pond conservation area in Concord. Soon after entering the woods from Malcolm Meadows, Two Rod Road turns sharply to the left. Here hikers can see the first of two old pieces of farm equipment that had been left along the roadside.
One of the most striking features of the east side of the Estabrook Woods is the large number of stonewalls. Now that the leaves have fallen it is easier to see the many stonewalls that run perpendicular to those along Two Rod Road. In this area there are quite a few breaks in the walls. These are old entrances into areas that must once have been used as pastureland. One such area, Mason’s pasture, is marked on Two Rod Road near the town line on old maps of Carlisle and Concord.
After passing the Davis Corridor Trail, a view of the pond near the Sachs Greenway can be spied through the pines to the right. There are several spots on the Carlisle end of Two Rod Road that are often muddy, but this fall the trail has been dry for its full length. At the junction with the Sachs Greenway a stream usually runs under the trail. On a weekend in late October both the stream bed and wetland area into which it normally drains were dry. Some local residents remember when there was a small cranberry bog to the left of the trail near this point, but a short walk off trail showed no signs of surviving cranberry plants.
Soon after passing the granite post which marks the town boundary, the trail is crossed by another trail at a 90 degree angle. From this spot, “four corners,” hikers can take a side trip to a particularly beautiful hemlock grove. This unmarked east-west crossing trail leads toward some houses (to the east) or to the hemlock grove (to the west) while continuing ahead (south) on Two Rod Road leads to Hutchins Pond. By taking the cross trail to the west, hikers head into the interior of the Estabrook Woods toward the Cedar Swamp and the hemlock grove. The trail passes downhill through an area of mostly deciduous trees. Eventually the path curves to the left allowing a nice view downhill toward the swamp. A few hemlocks, mixed in with the oaks and birches, welcome hikers toward the grove. Soon the trail begins to rise, passing a small knoll on the right and immediately a second slightly higher knoll on the right. By taking a few steps off the trail to the top of the second knoll, hikers will be rewarded with one of the most beautiful spots in Estabrook Woods. From the top of this moss-covered granite outcropping is a wonderful view of the Cedar Swamp below. This is a particularly nice spot to stop and watch for wildlife.
Returning from the knoll, the trail enters immediately into the hemlock grove. In a matter of just a few steps, the environment is entirely different – almost magical. The filtered light is darker, hemlock needles on the ground muffle the sounds and the air carries the scent of the trees. At this point the trail follows a ridge above the swamp. There is no undergrowth in this area so it is easy to see across the grove in one direction and down to the swamp in the other. Further into the grove hikers will see significant damage – broken branches and downed trees – which may have resulted from heavy wind storms over the past two winters, or from damage inflicted by the woolly adelgid, an insect whose presence threatens the long-term survival of hemlocks. These fallen branches obscure what was once a circular trail in the middle of the grove. From here, hikers can retrace their steps to return to Malcolm Meadows via four corners and Two Rod Road, or can extend their hike to Hutchins Pond by continuing on through the grove. By continuing through the grove and staying to the left of the large rocks hikers can pick up the trail heading out of the grove where it rejoins Two Rod Road further to the south.
The walk from the hemlock grove to Hutchins Pond takes about 25 minutes. Once at Hutchins Pond hikers can connect to a heavily used trail that circles the pond. Side trails to the top of Punkatasset Hill, to trails in the south section of Estabrook Woods and to Monument Street at Hutchins Farm provide additional areas to explore. While in Carlisle, the trails are clearly marked. However, there are few signs in the Estabrook Woods and it is easy to get lost. Hikers should carry a map and a compass. The walk from Malcolm Meadows to Hutchins Pond is about 2.5 miles and takes about an hour in each direction. The walk from four corners to the hemlock grove and back takes about half an hour.
In addition to hiking, Estabrook Woods is also used for other forms of passive recreation, such as cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing and horseback riding. Harvard University uses much of the land for ecological and nature studies. Estabrook Woods is not publicly owned and the public is asked to respect research areas.
Access and parking
Hikers can access Two Rod Road from Malcolm Meadows in Carlisle. Parking is available at 319 Stearns Street. After entering the driveway turn left immediately at the sign for trail parking into a small gravel parking lot. The kiosk provides information about the Malcolm Preserve. Maps of the Estabrook Woods 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. ∆
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