CHESTERFIELD, N.H. -- Thirty-two citizens from the tri-state area last week dedicated the opening of a new trail, which members of the local hiking community say will make Pisgah State Park the center of a regional trail network.
The Keene Connector of the Wantastiquet-Monadnock Trail was broken in with a through hike of the 10 miles from Pisgah to Keene on Sunday, Oct. 21.
Together with the opening of the Wantastiquet-Monadnock Trail from Pisgah Park (Kilburn Trailhead) to Brattleboro, Vt., three years ago, this event solidifies the strategic position of Pisgah State Park, according to the Chesterfield Conservation Commission Chairman Tom Duston.
"The trail we just opened we put as a dotted line on a map in 1991 and we've been working on it ever since then," Duston said. "So I was very excited, to say the least."
After parking at the Horatio Colony Preserve on West Hill in Keene last week, the hikers were bused to the Beals Road Trailhead, an entrance to Pisgah State Park off Old Swanzey Road in Chesterfield. They then hiked about six hours back to the Preserve on Class VI roads and constructed trails. Duston said there was a bail-out point along the way, though only a few chose to utilize it.
He said the hike also featured an exploration of the cellar holes and cemetery of the 19th-century Draper family that lived in Chesterfield, as well as a stroll of the beautiful trail system of the Horatio Colony Preserve in Swanzey and Keene.
"This area is by far the largest roadless area in southwestern New Hampshire," Duston said.
A new bridge across Wheelock Brook in historic Hines Meadow in Chesterfield was constructed for the event, which Duston said was co-sponsored by the Chesterfield Conservation Commission, the Friends of Pisgah, the Horatio Colony trustees, the Monadnock Conservancy and the Antioch New England Institute.
Most of the hike, he said, was within Tier I wildlife habitat, the highest category in the New Hampshire rating system. In addition to the large Horatio Colony Nature Preserve tract, a significant portion of the hike was on conservation easement land under the stewardship of the Monadnock Conservancy, he said.
Duston said he and other members of the commission have further visions of an additional trail from Pisgah to Mount Monadnock and a Vermont connection from Brattleboro along the West River Trail to the Long Trail/Appalachian Trail south of Stratton Mountain.
"With the opening of the North Bridge across Route 9 in Keene," he said, "it is now quite easy to walk -- or ski with only one take-off -- from downtown Keene to the Preserve parking lot where the new trail can be accessed."
Friends of Pisgah President Kathy Thatcher said the new trail will give people what they want, which is more of the wilderness aspect.
"It think it's a terrific trail," she said. "Pisgah is a great place."
One can now, Duston told the Reformer, hike on marked trails the 25 miles from Brattleboro to Keene, although official campsites are still non-existent there.
Thatcher and Duston would love to see a campsite built at Pisgah, an idea that Duston said was included in the park's original mission statement. Pisgah was officially opened in 1972, though work on it started in the ‘60s.
However, the state, Thatcher said, will not permit camping even though lands protected with money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act are meant to provide outdoor recreation.
Kenneth Desmarais, an administrator in the N.H. Department of Resources and Economic Development's Division of Forests and Lands' Forest Management Bureau, previously told the Reformer the department uses forest management for recreation and wildlife habitat maintenance. He said some people hunt at Pisgah and others use it for bird watching.
He also said timber harvesting creates a habitat that increases the number of game animals to be hunted and the number of bird species that can be viewed.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.