The ice storm four months ago has become a reference point for all my observations of southern NH trails this spring, and if you wonder why, one look around the Miller State Park parking lot at the base of Pack Monadnock will settle the question.
I can't begin to speculate on how many people it has taken to return trails around here to usable condition. The auto road, still gated to keep cars out, is clear all the way to the summit. The road sports a new edging of wood chips and sawdust from all the overhangs and broken limbs cleared from ice-damaged trees.
Here's what the low end of the road looked like last Saturday, at the base of the mountain where hardwoods predominate. The destruction must have been overwhelming to the first people who came by to check it out in December. The cleared road testifies to a lot of effort since then. Even so, I was stunned for a few minutes when I got out of my car and had my first look around.
I got there at of 8:15 in the morning The few other cars in the lot belonged to members of a trail-clearing party of Friends of the Wapack. The group's web site says that there will be a work party somewhere along the trail every weekend this season, and this must have been Pack Monadnock's turn. I heard a chainsaw being used in the woods off to my left as I descended from the summit later in the morning.
I decided to walk up the auto road, wondering just how blocked the Wapack and Marion Davis trails must be. I brought my camera in the hope of seeing some wildflowers growing low to the ground, but there has been way too much cleanup activity along the road to allow anything to sprout along the edges. I don't doubt that there are plenty of flowers farther from the road and along the trails. I did see lots of buds on trees and shrubs, reminders that the forest will recover as it always does after one of Nature's big events. One tree had lost its two main limbs and looked pretty sorry, but that didn't stop a bird from working on a good-sized nest in it.
The road's a mile & a quarter long, I think, and it rises 700 feet. Towards the top, where evergreens take over from the oaks & maples & birches, there is much less tree damage. The evergreens seem to have shrugged off the ice and bounced right back. The last few hundred yards of the road have blue blazes on nearby trees, and that made me wonder if the Marion Davis trail has been re-routed for a distance.
The summit, without the summer crowds, was a fine place to be. The view of Monadnock always pleases me, even on a hazy day. The cool morning was giving way to an 80+ degree afternoon, with a brisk breeze up on the landing of the fire tower. I later perched on a picnic table with my water bottle, looking over towards North Pack in its shades of green & grey. Close up, the woods show damage. From a distance, they look like they'll be around long after I'm gone, which of course is exactly the case.
On my last visit, in September, NH Audubon had volunteers at its raptor observatory near the summit, identifying birds in the fall migration. I was lucky enough to catch sight of a golden eagle that day, or so I was assured by one of the volunteers. Very different this weekend – not the migration season, and there wasn't so much as a turkey vulture soaring overhead. I settled for chickadees in the woods.
One Subaru – or more precisely, one Subaru's driver – drove around the closed gate to the auto road, surprising me on my way up. Aside from that, I had very little company: a half dozen dog walkers, one intrepid bicyclist, a runner (prepping for the race up Pack in late May?). I was therefore unprepared for the sight in the parking lot when I finally got back down a little past 11: more than 40 cars, with more coming in by the minute. That tells me that the Wapack Trail up the mountain is in fine shape, since all the people from those cars had to be somewhere, and they weren't on the auto road!