We love the spring and are excited for all the fun events that it brings: Beginners Paddles, gardening days, and Paddle-a-thon 2018 to name a few. Winter, though, offers its own opportunities for exploration and discovery. While the only way to get out on the river right now is to walk on ice (and only if you are an experienced ice walker), winter hikes are a great way to explore the open spaces in the watershed that help keep the river healthy and full of life. Here are some of the Ipswich River staff’s favorite winter hikes:
Crooked Pond (Boxford): The Ipswich River staff recently took a winter hike here and we encourage you to do the same. Part of the Boxford State Forest, the trail around this pond offers a chance to see two large beaver dams and the beaver lodge at close quarters. If the weather is cold enough, the ice should be thick enough on the shady side of the pond to walk along, but on the sunny side stick to the trail and search out the many beaver chews. You’ll likely even see a few beaver slides and prints along the banks.
Middleton Reservoir (Middleton): This large pond is where the Town of Middleton’s water supply is stored. The trail that follows most of the pond’s diameter can be reached on Route 62 West, or by a side street behind the Flint Public Library. Walking along the dirt trail you’ll come across a heron rookery that is currently about 20 nests strong. Explore this trail again in the spring to see (and hear!) the heron fledglings in their nests.
Independence Greenway Rail Trail (Peabody): There are many excellent rail trails in the watershed. Try starting this one where it begins at the Peabody/Middleton line, right by the South Middleton Dam on Boston Street. You’ll follow along the river then cross over a tributary, Norris Brook, before walking along Crystal Lake. Many birds, including beautiful Cedar Waxwings, can frequently be spotted in the trees.
Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary (Topsfield): One of the loveliest stretches of the river is also a great place to walk. This sanctuary, which includes the Great Wenham Swamp, is one of the largest Audubon sanctuaries in Massachusetts and a crucial area for the river’s vitality. After some snowfall this is a fantastic place to hone your animal track identifying skills. Bring a little bird seed and you can feed Chickadees, Tufted Titmice and Nuthatches right from your hand!
River Road Loop (Topsfield): Don’t have winter hiking boots? Try a paved route: park at the Trinity Episcopal Church and choose to follow River Road or turn to the left down Rowley Bridge Road. This walk is a loop, so there’s no wrong way. You’ll pass two Topsfield landings, farm lands and fields where deer and turkeys can often be sighted. These are not high-traffic roads, but be careful as there are no sidewalks.
There are many (many, many, many!) more wonderful hiking trails throughout the watershed. Try exploring Bradley Palmer State park in Topsfield, Willowdale State Forest in Ipswich, Harold Parker State Forest in North Andover, the Reading Town Forest, or come visit our trails right here at Riverbend! Do you have a favorite spot to walk in the watershed? Let us know or tag us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.