For this year’s holiday staff outing the Ipswich River crew headed over to the Boxford State Forest. On the way, we stopped on Lockwood Lane in Topsfield to take a look at the upgraded culvert on Crooked Brook. Restoration Program Manager Brian Kelder and the always amazing (and former staff member) Jim McDougall explained the reason for the redesign, the challenges of the rebuild, and the ecological success that has resulted. Continuing further on, we then looked at a culvert that is still in need replacement; Jim pointed our areas that had been washed out by the Mother’s Day flood.
Next we met up with the incomparable Pike Messenger at the head of the Crooked Pond trail, in the Bald Hill Conservation Area of the Boxford State Forest. If you’re familiar with “Pike’s Hikes” held every Friday morning in Middleton, you’re familiar with the opening ritual. Pike will dole out some of his limitless knowledge in a prelude to the day’s walk and hand out maps in case, he warns, anything happens to him and the hikers need to find their way back on their own. This hasn’t happened yet, in my experience, but Pike’s maps are great things to have regardless. Watershed residents might be astonished to know the extent of trails available beyond the streets they drive everyday.
Crooked Pond has increased in size over the years due to its resident beavers. We took a moment to admire their handy work before heading into the woods, noting the outward curve, so different from human-built dams. We started on the shaded side of the pond, to some mild grumbling, but we’re a hardy crew. Enduring the chill was worth it to take our first steps out onto the ice. Those who have never been on the annual Middleton Stream Team Ice Hikes should definitely join Pike and the rest of the Stream Team for this winter’s outing, which is being co-hosted by Essex County Greenbelt. We do miss paddling during the cold season, but the winter freeze offers the opportunity for a unique view of the river, ponds and marshes in the watershed. Imagine walking next to a beaver lodge or beneath heron nests, maybe spying the tufted feathers of an owl.
Since the beavers at Crooked Pond had set up home on the sunny side, where the ice was still too thin, we didn’t get to walk beside it, but we did have a great view from the shore. We also saw recent chews on the nearby trees as well as a slide with a frozen beaver print.
Having made our way around the pond and back to the beaver dam, we spent a moment discussing the beavers’ building method, and how human influence and beaver design have altered Crooked Pond.
Thanks so much to Jim and Pike for sharing their wealth of knowledge and getting out in nature with us. The hike was a beautiful example of what winter days can be like. We encourage you to explore the outdoors this winter as well, and take in the seasonal charm of the watershed.