Old trail gets new route
Land preservation changes hiking trail
“The final 22-mile section of the New England National Scenic Trail in Massachusetts, from Pelham to Wendell (shown in the attached map), is currently being completed. It will complete a gap and connect the entire 215-mile long-distance trail route. The trail here gradually descends into Wendell State Forest, passing Ruggles Pond, Lyons Brook, and Mormon Hollow Brook, on its way to MA Rt. 2 ("Farley Village"). Much of this section lies inside Wendell State Forest on the south slope of the Millers River Valley.”
Call it the M&M Trail, MM&M Trail or, now, the New England National Scenic Trail.
But in any case, get out and hike it if you can, says the Appalachian Mountain Club.
The problem is, it may not be just as you remember it. The 215-mile trail, which was officially rededicated last month, is missing a 22-mile section, mostly in Franklin County, that’s been re-routed a few miles farther east, through state Department of Conservation and Recreation lands.
The trail has also been extended four miles southward in Connecticut to Guilford, on Long Island Sound. And as part of its new federal designation as part of the National Park Service, the trail has its first dedicated staff position, trail planner Joshua Surette, to coordinate trail volunteers, collaborate with partner groups like the Appalachian Mountain Club and Connecticut Forest and Park Association and keep in contact with landowners along the route. There is also a second staff position in Connecticut.
Volunteers are now clearing and marking the trail, as well as building stream crossings, along the 22-mile stretch, which had been between Route 9 in Belchertown and Rattlesnake Gutter Road in Leverett. The former Metacomet Monadnock Trail, a 117-mile way originally laid out beginning in the late 1950s by University of Massachusetts professor Walter Banfield, used to run through forest in Pelham, Shutesbury, Leverett and Montague that was owned by W.D. Cowls. But after Cowls objected to the National Scenic Trail designation that was sought by outdoor enthusiast and former Congressman John W. Olver of Amherst, AMC and the National Park Service worked with DCR to re-route it through Quabbin Reservoir watershed lands.
As a result, the re-routed section of the National Scenic Trail leads along old logging roads and some newly blazed trails through wooded sections of DCR-managed, non-reservoir lands east of Route 202, from Belchertown through Pelham, Shutesbury, New Salem and Wendell, then back into Shutesbury, where it rejoins the old trail alignment at Lake Wyola State Park, says Surette.
Parking will be available at Cadwell Memorial Forest in Pelham, where Mount Lincoln is located, as well as on Jenison Road in Wendell and other locations, where AMC is building trailhead kiosks with information about permitted activities and area maps.
“Its not hike-able yet,” Surette said. “Portions are finished, but there still need to be some stream crossing structures.”
Only 3½ miles of the 22-mile stretch will be new trail, but he said people won’t be able to hike on any of it until it’s officially opened— unless AMC decides later to open portions that have been completed. Also, he advised against trying to hike along the old Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, where, on the instruction of landowners, white trail blazes marking trees along the route have been painted over in brown.
“They would have a tough time, because when we made the closures, we painted over white blazes with brown paint at the request of the landowner,” Surette says. “AMC is not maintaining those trails anymore, and they might have gone back to nature, or if they’re on woods roads, they may have been modified by people doing forestry operations on those lands. We do not advise people to try and hike the old sections between Rattlesnake Gutter Road and Route 9 in Belchertown.”
The relocation of the 22-mile section might confound some hikers who were accustomed to easily pick up sections of the Robert Frost Trail that connected in Montague, Leverett and Shutesbury, Surette said.
While the New England Scenic Trail technically ends at the New Hampshire line, the M and M Trail continues to Mount Monadnock, under the auspices of the local volunteers in the Granite State. From there, hikers, can continue along the 48-mile Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway, and from Mount Sunapee along the 75-mile Sunapee Ragged Kearsage Greenway, according to Heather Clish, AMC’s director of conservation and recreation policy.
Clish said that federal designation for the trail network that was also known as the Metacomet, Monadnock and Mattabesett Trail not only brings in the support of Surette’s position in helping coordinate with volunteers and with landowners, but also to work on long-range protection of the trail and to reach out to the region’s school groups, urban residents and others “who may not even know there’s a trail there.”
Although she does hear from about a dozen people a year who are “through-hiking” the entire trail, Clish said most of the hikers are day-users of the trail, “probably hiking sections close to home.”
The new designation may change that, with the help of the enhanced website.
Already, trail volunteer Harry Sharbaugh in Erving said he’s met a few hikers from “far-flung places” in other parts of the country — something he’d never seen before.
On the Web: