Spring in New England is a strange time–we have sometimes experienced snow in May. I’ve seen folks out in bathing suits in 80 degree weather in April. Usually it’s pretty wet (like this year, thankfully) while other years the spring rains simply fail to arrive. Beautiful flowering trees and shrubs fill the landscape with color, but some of those same flowering trees may get hit with a late frost, removing local peaches from our farmer’s markets.
But there are some things I can count on every spring–ice cream stands that stood empty all winter post signs letting folks know they are back in business. Parks that were closed for “the season” open their gates, welcoming visitors. and all of us who have felt rather cooped up for the winter are anxious to get back outside.
I’m certainly among those who welcome easier walking in slightly warmer weather. I met my friend Raianne at West Hill Dam in Uxbridge this week. She had posters and post cards to share with me that will help spread the word about the upcoming “Massachusetts Walking Tour” coming to the Blackstone Valley and upper Charles watershed in early June. It was also a great opportunity to meet up with the Army Corps of Engineers Rangers who work at the dam.
While we enjoyed our walk the rangers were hard at work sprucing up the recreation area in preparation for the many summer visitors who enjoy the swimming area and multiple trails that traverse the area set aside by the corps of engineers for flood control.
Spring means, among other things, the likelihood of cool temperatures for our entire walk, a real pleasure for me.
We began our walk at the natural gorge area where the dam was strategically placed, then walked across the top of the dam before entering the woods at the far end of the dam.
Spring also often provides picturesque waterfalls, seasonal streams, for sure, but active, and so pretty, as they course through woodland areas.
We spotted signs that a pileated woodpecker had been hard at work, its stunningly straight lined holes in the dead tree so unlike holes other birds create.
I particularly enjoy visits to West Hill Dam because of the variety of habitats in close proximity. If you want open, sunny areas, the dam itself and the open meadow offer enjoyable places to get lots of sunshine.
If you are intrigued by woodland areas, or interested in seeing glacial erratics, these places are right there too. Hope to spot a beaver or muskrat? You may be lucky if you spend time along the wetland area at the back side of the swimming area, or in the marshy area where the West River flows south headed for the swimming area.
You might be interested in vernal pools, those temporarily wet areas that are perfect breeding grounds for wood frogs and spring peepers. Take a walk at dusk and keep your ears open to figure out where these pools are tucked away in hidden spots.
We walked past an old cellar hole, a reminder of those who in the past called this area home.
We could have walked much farther than we did. There are additional, well-marked trails north of the swimming area we skipped on this visit. Another visit is clearly needed!
As we made the 1 mile loop across the dam, through the woods, then circling back through the meadow, we returned toward the dam and Raianne spotted a large bird being dive-bombed by much smaller birds.
As we grew closer we saw that it was a red-tailed hawk perched on the edge of the gorge. It remained on its perch until we were pretty close, and only as we walked back onto the dam itself did it fly away, upstream, and found a new perch overlooking the river.
Thanks to Raianne for the pictures of this walk–and be sure to head over to http://masswalkingtour.org/ to learn where we’ll be in June. Want to join us? There’s information about that at the walking tour website as well.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress. She is a co-author of the recent community history, Bellingham Now and Then.