By Judi Platt
When driving south on Route 10, it’s always a challenge not to let my eyes wander to follow Skinner Brook winding through the woodlands along the roadside. Or not to check if there are picnickers at the tables or kids romping over the stones at Brookside Park, a short distance from Rum Brook Plaza and Eastman’s main entrance. But, it’s an even bigger challenge to resist stopping to enjoy the newly expanded park on my northbound return home.
In 2016, the construction of a bridge over Skinner Brook opened up a four-season park with hiking trails that are a delight for youngsters and their adults. The trails, all marked with blazes, provide both a learning adventure and an easy hike or snowshoe trek for all ages. The brook is a spectacular sight when frozen over, the snow along the trail and in the fields, pristine. The fields are part of a 2014 purchase by the Grantham Conservation Commission of 21 acres—an old apple orchard and the 6.5 acres where the former Blue Mountain Grange Fair was held between 1947 and 1951.
Visiting this park is no ordinary woodlands adventure. This is one walk for which you do not want to leave your smartphone behind as nature and antiquity meet in cyberspace to the delight of both naturalists and technophiles. Signposts indicate points of historical, horticultural, and geological interest as hikers move through the orchard and fairgrounds. According to the Town of Grantham’s website, there are 18 documented points of interest in the park. At many of these points of interest, there is a QR code on the sign that can be scanned with a smartphone app to reveal a brief explanation or history of the artifact, tree, or geological formation. Some downloads contain maps and old photos, making the park a virtual historical museum in the woods.
Cross the new bridge and to the left is a natural wonder called the “Humpback Tree.” Aim your smartphone at the QR code and you can read the following text:
43.51056 N, 72.1330 W
This yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) was probably bent over as a young sampling when something fell on it. The main trunk was probably cracked resulting in the rotten core you can see exposed. Nevertheless, the remainder of the original trunk remained alive and sent up a new leading shoot. Because that new leader received more light than did the old top of the tree that was still pinned under debris, it grew and became the new trunk forming the mature tree you now see. Can you guess what fell on the yellow birch? Could it have been the tree which grew at the stump to the north?
Go ahead and try to ride the birch. The 30-inch circumference of the saddle won’t have any trouble holding you. We don’t know how old this tree is, but yellow birch often reach 150 years of age and some are known to have lived over 300 years.
There’s a lot more to be learned on the loop around the park. A stone wall north of the bridge contains stone from the foundation of a house that once stood on the site. Glacial erratic formations dot the landscape. A 24-foot-long “alligator rock” invites youngsters to climb on it. Brookside Park abounds with possibilities to awaken even the most dormant of imaginations and proves that a little knowledge as a side effect of exercise in the fresh air can be a very good thing.
To learn about the points of interest in Brookside Park, visit the Grantham Conservation Commission page at www.granthamnh.net.