Exploring the Trails through Bedford’s Conservation Areas

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Ginny Steel will consult the Trails Committee’s Trail Guide in her hand before heading out on an early morning hike through Bedford’s Hartwell Town Forest.


Moving to Carleton-Willard Village at the end of the summer, I was anxious to become acquainted with my new surroundings.  Having lived in Wayland for 56 years and taking every opportunity to enjoy local outdoor areas, I was familiar with Sudbury Valley Trustees lands, the National Wildlife Refuge along the Sudbury River, and Wayland’s conservation areas, as well as some in Weston, Sudbury, and Lincoln.  Now I could explore Bedford.

Exploring Bedford has been an unexpected pleasure because most of the trails are both well marked and well mapped.  A friend had given me a copy of the superb little “Trail Guide – Bedford, Massachusetts 2017” (available at Town Hall for $10).  This whetted my appetite and added to my enjoyment with its high-quality maps and short descriptions of the various areas.  When my schedule and the weather allowed, I would check the master map in the front of the book, choose the destination of the day, and set out.

By the time winter caused a bit of a pause I had covered most of the areas north of the Great Road.  “The Wilderness” was my first and did well at living up to its name.  Late summer vegetation almost completely hid the stones leading up to some of the little bridges, but I didn’t turn an ankle.  It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, with no sign of any other person for the duration of my hike.  I did see, though, some tracks and fresh sawdust where a fallen tree had been cleared from the trail earlier in the day.

The Fawn Lake area called to me as our family had lived for two years in a rented house overlooking the lake in the early 1960s, I was intrigued to see how that area had changed and was fascinated by the beaver activity around the lake.  Buehler Ponds were next, and the York Conservation Area, both with lovely ups and downs.

My next hike was around the Old Reservoir, where the steep slopes were slippery with fallen leaves and early ice clouded the surface of the water.  At last, I was sharing the trails with others – joggers, dog walkers, families with children.

A snowless day in January let me walk the circuit around the Hartwell Town Forest.  Tree cover in the other areas was a mixture of pines and various hardwoods.  This area was different.  At first, I thought it was all tall pines, but then I realized that the ground was practically white with fallen leaves, from an understory of young beech trees – an unusual combination.

Click this link to view a PDF of the Hartwell Town Forest trail map.

Scenes along the trail:


My late February walk was particularly interesting.  I had chosen to explore the Shawsheen C.A., not knowing until I got there that it has not been maintained recently because of road work along the Middlesex Turnpike.  The trailhead parking and sign are gone, but it was not hard to park beside the road and find the trail.  Several large fallen trees appeared to block the trail, but other users had found ways around or over them, and I could do likewise.  Adjoining Oak Park Drive, this strip of land, sloping down to the broad marshes and the meandering river, had plenty of oaks.  But it also had many long-dead Eastern red cedar trees, some fallen and some still standing, thanks to their rot resistance.  These ancient cedars, and the iconic New England stone wall at the bottom of the slope, told me that this steep, wooded bank had once been an open pasture, where the cedars had taken the lead in reforestation.

Looking forward to spring, I’m ready to keep exploring and hope to see more people out on the trails with me.

Click this link to learn more about the Trails Committee’s work, and where to purchase a Trail Guidebook.


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