Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?
These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.
Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...
...seems to be working so far
Friday, January 25, 2008
The foot prints in the snow tell the story: snowshoeing seems to be the state’s forgotten sport.
I have strapped on a pair of snowshoes at least twice a week since the first storms of early December and headed for a variety of public lands in Central Massachusetts with a friend and my collie. We rarely saw others on shoes. If there were tracks ahead of us in the snow, they were made by cross country skiers, snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle riders, and most often, walkers and hikers.
Snowshoeing is one of the simplest and least expensive winter sports to learn; it allows you to explore broad expanses of terrain as well as narrow trails and remote areas. There is nothing more uplifting than being the first of the day to view a vista framed by snow-laden spruce trees on a sunny morning.
With more than 20 percent of its 5.2 million acres of land — 1.1 million acres — protected by public agencies or private conservation groups, Massachusetts is one of the best places to explore with snowshoes. A good snow cover gives you a protective platform above the tangles, rocks and other stuff on the forest floor that impedes exploration at other times of the year.
This season is an ideal time to learn the sport; Mother Nature provided an enduring base of snow early on and she has been refreshing the cover at regular intervals. A weather pattern that shifts from a stretch of very cold days and nights to sunlit, above freezing days with some rain in the mix, has provided a top layer of corn or sugar snow — its fine granulated texture allows you to move with ease, yet provides traction on graded terrain.
Although rarely listed on signs as an allowed activity on public lands, snowshoeing is generally permitted at properties that allow hiking. The choices of where to go are virtually unlimited. There are nearly 450 state parks throughout the state; a host of state wildlife management areas, a few mountains with hiking trails, and at least three public water supply reservoirs that allow snowshoeing and hiking. There are also a number of land trusts and individual town recreation areas open to the sport, as well as areas managed by federal agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers. Trail maps are available on-line and usually at the recreation area. For starters, visit: http://www.massparks.org/ or http://www.massparks.org/.
One of the best places for beginners is the Central Mass. Rail Trail developed and maintained by Massachusetts Greenways ( http://www.wachusettgreenways.org/). The 30-mile trail begins in Sterling and stretches through several Wachusett area towns out to Oakham. Much of the trail is manicured, flat and wide, since it is maintained primarily as a walking trail.
There are two sections that are ideal for the novice: The trailhead off Route 12 and School Street in Sterling and a section in Rutland that stretches from Miles Road, off Route 56, to just before Rutland State Park. The Sterling section borders West Waushaccum Pond and has the added attraction of an antique and crafts shop at the trail head, while the Rutland section cuts through a ledge that provides spectacular and colorful ice outcroppings.
Three of my favorite places are Wells State Park in Sturbridge, the Wachusett Reservoir in West Boylston, Clinton, and Boylston, and the U.S. Army Corps recreation area at Westville Dam in Sturbridge. Of course, dogs are not allowed at areas near public water supplies such as West Waushaccum and the Wachusett and Quabbin reservoirs.
Wells has an excellent mix of challenging trails, but you can also stay on the unplowed meandering park roads. Wachusett has a network of fire roads, some of which stretch along the shoreline with magnificent views. My favorite road is accessed at gate 22 off Route 140 in West Boylston; if you keep bearing left, you can go north all the way to Route 12 at the causeway. The Quabbin Reservoir also has a network of old roads that are open for snowshoeing, including one with great vistas that stretches from gate 35 South along the Eastern shore. It is accessible from Old North Dana Road, off Route 122 in Petersham. Westville offers the choice of a challenging loop around Westville Lake and the dam, a fairly lengthy, but flat hiking trail that follows the west side of the Quinebaug River and a shorter access road that follows the other side of the river.
Snowshoeing is a physically demanding sport — fitness gurus say it burns about 40 percent more calories than walking. However, you can pace yourself and begin by renting shoes and trying them out in your yard.
New England Backpacker, at the corner of East Mountain Street and Route 12 in Worcester, rents and sells snowshoes, and can provide other information about the sport. You can get the basic instructions off the Internet, or you can take lessons. Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary in Princeton and the state’s Becoming an Outdoorswoman Program usually sponsor a learn-to-snowshoe workshop each season.
Once you decide to purchase your own equipment, buy the best pair you can afford and stay away from the inexpensive “walker” type of snowshoe. Snow conditions in this area are predominately hardpack or ice-crusted snow with a cover of powder or softer snow. Consequently, you will need shoes that have serious toe and heel cleats and serrated teeth on the sides at the middle of the shoe; the deeper the cleat, the better it will hold on up and down grades — remember, you won’t stay a novice for long.
Opt for a binding that is easy to get into and out of, but don’t skimp on the cleats and don’t cheat on the carry weight; get the model length that best matches your honest weight. I use the Atlas 10 Series shoe — the 23-inch Elektra. They are light, durable, and they go anywhere without slipping. They kick up snow when I hike in powder, but I wear waterproof gaiters to stay dry.
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