Red Hill River and Homestead Forest
“The Lakes Region Conservation Trust (LRCT) is an independent, nonprofit, member-supported organization dedicated to the permanent protection, stewardship, and respectful use of lands that define the character of the region and its quality of life.”
– LRCT Mission Statement
A year ago I thought I had run out of trails to hike in the Lakes Region. I have lived in the area for more than 40 years and have hiked all the trails in the Ossipee, Belknap and Squam Range, and many others throughout the area. I also have looked northward to the White Mountains, summiting all the peaks above 3,000 feet and trekked hundreds of miles of trails. Always looking for new trails to hike and areas to explore, I wandered to the mountains of Maine, Vermont, and New York. I even traveled westward, hiking in the Rockies of Montana and the Sierras of California; south to the Appalachains. For some of us I think it’s in our DNA to look beyond our own shores, to lands yet to be discovered. There is a strange longing to search for new and far-off domains. Emily Bronte wrote,
“I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading,
Where the wild wind blows on the mountainside.”
Yet, if I look closely in my own “back yard”, I can find those unique and beautiful places, “Where the wild wind blows on the mountainside.” I don’t need to travel far and wide. John Muir wrote, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” Just two years ago, looking for trails closer to home, I discovered a number of areas, conserved by local, regional and statewide conservation organizations. For the past two months I have written about trailed properties conserved by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust. This week I discovered the Red Hill River Conservation Area in Sandwich and the Homestead Forest Conservation Area in Ashland, two amazing and stunning properties.
The Red Hill River Conservation Area is located between Range Road and Great Rock Road, not far from Center Sandwich. It not only provides a scenic woodland and wetland complex, but also contributes significantly to the area’s wildlife communities and water quality. The Red Hill River and its tributaries flow from and through areas such as: Red Hill Pond, Red Hill, and Garland Pond, where significant land has been conserved by the town of Sandwich, LRCT, and The Nature Conservancy. The original parcel of 372 acres was purchased from Denley Emerson, a Sandwich resident, who sold five properties to the LRCT, including the magnificent Dinsmore Mountain Preserve. Another parcel, sold to the LRCT by the David Leach Family, was added later to the Red Hill River property, bringing the total area to 416 acres of conserved land. In addition the Red Hill River Preserve abuts the 176-acre Myers-Schneider Property on which the town of Sandwich holds a conservation easement, totaling 592 acres of unfragmented forest. The conserved land provides habitat for bear, bobcat, beaver, fox, moose and many other animals and plants. The conserved land also helps to maintain water quality in the Red Hill River watershed for the benefit of Sandwich and nearby towns.
Reuben and I began our hike through the Red Hill River C.A. on the Jocelyn Fleming Gutchess Trail, starting from the parking lot on Range Road. The trail took us through open woodland, bounded by stone walls. We eventually reached the Red Hill River and discovered a large complex of stone walls, a barn foundation and a cellar hole. After exploring the abandoned farm complex, Reuben and I journeyed along the entire length of the trail, as it runs along the bank of the river. We encountered massive white pines, gnarly hemlocks overhanging the river bank and a large beaver flowage. Gnawed tree trunks and beaver lodges indicated an active colony living in the area. Our hike came to a halt when we reached an abandoned bridge abutment. We turned around and headed back toward Great Rock Road, passing through wetlands, cedar groves, huge ash and towering white pines. We ended our hike on Great Rock Road and ambled back to the parking lot, bushwhacking through the forested landscape.
A few days later Reuben and I drove a short distance from our home to the Homestead Forest Conservation Area in Ashland. The conserved property is literally 10 minutes from my home, located at the end of Lambert Road. Some locals know it as Devil’s Den, because of a rock slide and the numerous “caves” created by the fallen boulders in one section of the property. These 604 acres of conserved land contain a collection of cellar holes, barn foundations and rusted wire that indicate it was once home to at least five farms, and a homestead agricultural society that existed here in the 1800s. Now the pastures and fields have grown back into forests, leaving little evidence that this area had a rich agricultural tradition. Property to the north and west is conserved by the New England Forestry Foundation, a private landowner and the Squam Lakes Conservation Society via ownership or a conservation easement, creating contiguous parcels of land totaling 1,128 acres.
From the end of Lambert Road, Reuben and I began another exploratory adventure into New Hampshire’s past, as well as discovering beautiful woodlands, steams, rock formations, caves, wetlands, and viewpoints. We first climbed the Winona Ledge Trail (blazed yellow) which led us to a series of cliffs overlooking Winona and Waukewan Lakes. At the end of the trail we found a rock cairn marking the height of land. We continued to follow the cliff edge, hoping for a better viewpoint. As we bushwhacked along the ledges I found trees stripped of their bark, signs of porcupines living in the crevices and openings in the ledges. I quickly summoned Reuben to my side (he’s been quilled before) and hustled back to Lambert Road to continue our mission of discovery.
There are red, white and blue blazes throughout the property that identify the internal and outer boundary lines of the property. Don’t mistake these for trail blazes as I did. They will take you into areas where you may get lost. Stay with the yellow blazes. We returned to the Lambert Road Trail, which at one time served as an important thoroughfare for the families who lived in the area, connecting Holderness and Ashland. Staying on the road, after walking a mile, we found the trail sign for the Gobban Trail. Adjacent to the trailhead is the largest stone foundation I have ever seen, a fantastic structure. When viewing these old cellar holes I’m always amazed by the immense granite boulders that had to be lifted and fitted into place. After a thorough inspection of the foundation, we began a 600-foot climb to a rock outcrop with a remarkable view of Winona Lake and the Belknap Range. We then continued on the Gobban Trail, climbing over ledges and through stands of white pine, red oak, sugar maple and ash. We then came to the junction with the Devil’s Den Trail and began the last leg of our journey to a series of rock outcrops and the infamous Devil’s Den. We found the “cave” where the legendary devilish phantom lies in waiting for an innocent hiker to fall into his hole. Reuben looked into the den and cocked his head, as if hearing the scream of an ancient wild beast. He turned with his tail between his legs and scampered down the rocky path. I quickly followed after Reuben, thinking I heard footsteps behind me, and we were soon back to the parking lot.
With the end of our expedition of discovery we began looking forward to the next hike on lands conserved by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust. There are still numerous trails waiting to be found. I often wonder why people continually hike on the same trail, time and time again, when there are miles of trails throughout the Lakes Region waiting to be discovered. I look forward to returning during summer when cellar holes and foundations will not be buried in snow. Maps of trailed properties of the LRCT can be obtained from the LRCT office, Dane Hill Road, Center Harbor or online at https://lrct.org
At this time of year I recommend wearing traction on your boots, either Microspikes or Hillsounds. If we get more snow, then snowshoes will be in order. Parts of the trails in both of these properties can be skied, but other sections are rugged and rocky. Be sure to have a map, available through LRCT, and compass or GPS.
This article is the fifth and final in a series highlighting properties of the Lakes Region Conservation Trust. LRCT has conserved 145 properties totaling over 25,000 acres in the Lakes Region. Many of these properties are trailed and open to the public for recreation.
For comments or questions contact Gordon at email@example.com