By Peter Hope
I write this in late May, but it already feels like summer! Eastman will again offer our ever-popular walking and hiking programs. This year both will run from July through mid-October, on Wednesdays and Saturdays respectively. If you have any questions about either, call me at 863-6456. And we always need new leaders! Don’t be bashful; it’s fun to lead a trip and share a favorite area with others.
In summer, a few simple and sensible choices are important. Dehydration is all too easy; carry with you two to three liters of drinkable water, as well as salty food and perhaps a source of potassium such as a banana. This is the way to avoid leg cramps and worse. Sunscreen, a hat and insect repellent are also important. Ticks are numerous this season; they are unpleasant and some carry Lyme Disease. Precautions are in order.
If you’re hiking at higher elevations, bring warm clothing, including gloves and a hat. A headlamp, guidebook, map, compass and first aid kit are among the essentials. A GPS or a cell phone may or may not get a signal. Always let someone know your plans, which should include your designated route and estimated time of return. Safety for yourself and others must always be your first priority.
This month I will focus on Eastman’s own Heath Forest. Thanks to Eastman residents Andy Eastman and Craig McArt, we now have a wide selection of trails for warm weather hiking and winter snowshoeing or skiing. Trail markings are color-coded. The best access for parking is at the end of Bogie Place, which is off of Troon Drive. Look for the kiosk that marks the start of the yellow trail.
After a short distance you’ll arrive at a trail junction. The new Blue Trail continues straight, slabbing the hillside, then climbing easily with several switchbacks to reach the Red Trail loop at its northeast corner (where it makes a sharp turn off an old logging road).
But I suggest that you use the Blue Trail for the return and, for now, continue on the Yellow Trail, which turns sharply left toward Eastman Brook, then right to closely follow Eastman Brook and Stocker Brook and their extensive wetlands. You’ll traverse a very attractive stand of white pine and pass close to a long, lovely, open forest glade. You’ll eventually reach my favorite lunch spot, an open grassy area on the bank of Stocker Brook; perhaps one day soon we’ll see a bench there!
The Yellow Trail turns inland at this point, soon reaching a junction with the Green Trail. The Yellow Trail follows an old skid road, climbing to meet the Red Trail. But instead, turn left on the Green Trail, which continues to follow Stocker Brook, albeit not as closely. After a time, the Green Trail also turns inland to climb another old skid road towards the Red Trail. But watch carefully on your left a little ways up for the woods road that is the start of the new Orange Trail.
The route follows the woods road for a short while, then jogs right on a series of old logging roads to avoid a wet area. It climbs gradually to intersect yet another skid road, just above the point where a large tree has fallen across it. If you bushwhack a few steps straight ahead, you’ll reach a lovely small pond. You can hear the traffic from the interstate, but you won’t see it!
Turn right uphill following the skid road. You’ll cross and follow along a brook that runs down the road; some trail work will be needed here to improve the route. The Orange Trail swings left for a level walk along another lovely open forest glade. It descends left for a short distance to cross a seasonal brook at the easiest point and swings right to climb through open woods, partly along a ridge. Eventually it reaches a good woods road, which was built to obtain gravel for the construction of I-89. (Hiking this loop in the opposite direction, you would notice that this junction is close to the height of land).
If you follow this road to the left, you’ll end up at Heath Lane, the old Howe Hill Road. Instead, turn right. Note the many invasive plants along the route. (Woodlands and Wildlife is actively engaged in a control effort.) You will reach the old gravel pit area. The Orange Trail skirts this on the left and, after several turns, reaches the point where the Red and Green Trails meet and end at an acute angle.
From here there are many options for the return. I suggest taking the Red Trail, which follows and, at wet areas, parallels the main logging road in the Heath Forest. You’ll pass the Yellow Trail on your right and the easterly loop of the Red Trail on your left. When you reach the Blue Trail, turn right to descend towards the trailhead.
The GPS tracking of this route is complete, and a detailed trail map of the Heath Forest will soon be available. Check on the Eastman website Members’ Area under Woodlands and Wildlife. I expect that the Heath Forest Trail brochure will be revised as well.
In the next issue I’ll cover hikes farther afield, but it’s good to know what’s available right here in our own backyard.