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First Day Hike draws happy crowd

  • Recorder/David Rainville<br/>DCR forester Helen Johnson, left, tells her hikers about the views in the distance and the wildlife underfoot at Crag Mountain in Northfield Tuesday. She and fellow forester Joelle Vautour led one of more than 650 National First Day Hikes on New Year's Day.

    Recorder/David Rainville
    DCR forester Helen Johnson, left, tells her hikers about the views in the distance and the wildlife underfoot at Crag Mountain in Northfield Tuesday. She and fellow forester Joelle Vautour led one of more than 650 National First Day Hikes on New Year's Day.

  • Recorder/David Rainville<br/>Novice and experienced hikers alike, 20 in all, embark on the trailhead to lower Crag Mountain in Northfield Tuesday. They were participating in National First Day Hikes, along with hikers in more than 650 other locations across the country on New Year's Day.

    Recorder/David Rainville
    Novice and experienced hikers alike, 20 in all, embark on the trailhead to lower Crag Mountain in Northfield Tuesday. They were participating in National First Day Hikes, along with hikers in more than 650 other locations across the country on New Year's Day.

  • Recorder/David Rainville<br/>DCR forester Helen Johnson, left, tells her hikers about the views in the distance and the wildlife underfoot at Crag Mountain in Northfield Tuesday. She and fellow forester Joelle Vautour led one of more than 650 National First Day Hikes on New Year's Day.
  • Recorder/David Rainville<br/>Novice and experienced hikers alike, 20 in all, embark on the trailhead to lower Crag Mountain in Northfield Tuesday. They were participating in National First Day Hikes, along with hikers in more than 650 other locations across the country on New Year's Day.

NORTHFIELD — If you don’t think trudging through nearly a foot of snow for hours sounds like a good way to start the new year, you probably weren’t part of National First Hike Day.

“I figured this would be a chance to get my New Year’s resolution out of the way,” said Susan Polucci, of Erving, as she sat bundled up in Northfield Coffee and Books with 20 others at noon, eagerly waiting to get to the trail head.

Before Tuesday, Polucci admitted, she’d hardly hiked at all.

“Looking around at everyone’s gear, I feel so unprepared,” she said, her fashionable footwear flimsy, and no match for the snowy trails. Others were bundled up in snow pants and waterproof boots, and many had hiking poles or snowshoes at the ready, should they be needed. Luckily, hike guide Helen Johnson had brought some extra gear for the less-than-prepared, and soon, Polucci had a sturdy pair of hiking boots on her feet.

The novice hiker, who had warned the crowd they may have to drag her out of the woods, wound up at the head of the pack as it worked its way up and down lower Crag Mountain.

She came back a changed woman, one who’s found herself a new, cheap, healthy hobby.

“I feel like I’m going to be a zealot now, preaching to people, saying ‘why don’t you get outside more?’” she said, as the group made its way back to warm, waiting cars.

Johnson, a service forester with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, was amazed at the turnout Tuesday.

“I didn’t think I’d even have a dozen people show up,” she told the gathered crowd before the hike. It was a pleasant surprise, but the crowd was a bit bigger than she and her co-guide, DCR management forester Joelle Vautour, had planned for. So, they enlisted a couple more guides from the group.

The skill level of Tuesday’s hikers varied, and so did their interests. Some wanted to climb boulders and scale high peaks for the views, some saw it as an opportunity to photograph the woods and wildlife, and others were simply curious about nature. One thing they all agreed on; it was a fine day for a walk in the snowy woods.

They hailed from Northfield, Erving, Athol, Orange, Petersham, New Hampshire and elsewhere around the region, and one had come all the way from Los Angeles, Calif., to visit a friend, and couldn’t turn down the wintery hike.

Father and son Randy and Joe Bovis hike the North Quabbin woods three seasons of the year, but had never set foot in the woods of Northfield. Joe’s mother, Sandy Bovis, usually “stays home and makes the hot chocolate,” but the guys talked her into Tuesday’s endeavor.

“I’ve never hiked in the winter before,” said Joe Bovis. “I’m definitely going to do it again.”

Once they left the beaten path, hikers found incredible views to the southwest, scattered animal tracks, and a porcupine’s paradise. Much of Crag Mountain sits on a fault line, and the plates’ movements and shifting ledge have created a cave-ridden hillside, a perfect place for the spine-covered critters to call home, said Johnson.

Crag Mountain and the woods around it were all the reasons she needed to move to Northfield two years ago.

“My first trip up here, I bush-whacked straight up the hill through thigh-high snow,” she said. It got rough at times, and she thought about turning back, but she pressed on.

“I found one spot with bright red blood, and no tracks. I knew an owl had just come by and grabbed something up. At that point, I knew I wanted to live nearby.”

Johnson isn’t the only one who’s been seduced by the beauty of Northfield’s hills and forests.

“I moved to Northfield because I wanted to be deeper in the woods,” said Marcia Glatfelter. She said she’s been hiking since she was five years old, and enjoys peaks like Wachusett and Watatic mountains in central Massachusetts. She often hikes in Northfield, alone or with a group.

“I like solitary and group hikes,” she said. “I met a lot of people from different towns today, and did some networking. It was fun.”

More than 650 hikes across the country registered for National First Hike Day, now in its second year.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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