Friday, September 28, 2018

A tale of a fall hike at the kid-friendly Black Brook Preserve by Briana Bizier

With its cooler temperatures and the promise of colorful foliage, fall is the perfect time to explore some of the wonderful trails in our region.

Last Saturday, our family decided to celebrate the autumnal equinox by exploring Black Brook Preserve in the center of Windham. Managed by the Windham Land Trust, this 105-acre gem of trails and wildlife habitat is easy to locate and a delight to hike.

As soon as we parked at the trailhead, both our little assistants decided to hike the trail in “run mode,” as opposed to the slower and more adult-friendly “walk mode.” They took off down the trail at a sprint, leaving the adults panting in their wake.

Happily, we quickly discovered that the trails in Black Brook Preserve are absolutely perfect for children. There are plenty of hills that are large enough to be fun, but not big enough to wear out little legs. The paths themselves twist and wind just enough to keep kids interested, and the packed dirt of the trail is frequently interrupted by bridges, which range from split logs laid across the muddy patches to beautiful wooden structures complete with hand railings. These bridges seemed to occur whenever our littlest hiker started to lag and crossing them was often enough fun to encourage him to agree with his big sister’s plan to continue “run mode.”

Ian and Sage Bizier
Black Brook Preserve contains several miles of hiking trails, which are all named and clearly marked with trail blazes. Even better, there is a map of the entire preserve posted at each trail junction. After pausing for water, snacks, and a climb on an enormous glacial erratic boulder - the children told us it was a “kids only” boulder - we consulted the nearest map.

Let’s take the long way,” my eight-year-old decided.

Are you sure?” I asked. “That’s two and half miles.”

But the two children had already taken off in “run mode,” leaving my husband and I trying our best to catch them.

Fortunately, the preserve also includes several signs identifying flora or fauna as well as lovely wooden benches. We caught up with the children at one sign, where our eight-year-old explained she was teaching her little brother to identify a hemlock tree. After another long hill, the entire family stopped by a bench to watch a female downy woodpecker climb and peck along the trunk of a white pine. Our four-year-old was absolutely delighted by the noise and mess of the woodpecker’s work, and the woodpecker was undeterred by his shrieks of admiration. When the woodpecker finally moved on, my eight-year-old turned to me with quite the compliment:

That was cool, Mom.”

The long way, also called the Boundary Trail and marked with blue blazes, leads along the perimeter of Black Brook Preserve before crossing a large, open field. This meadow gave us a chance to scan the woods for signs of changing foliage, and our assistants each spotted small garter snakes in the grass and monarch butterflies visiting the flowers.

Although we managed to avoid a full hiking melt down, we did hear the dreaded “My legs are tired” at the edge of the meadow. Luckily, there was another exciting bridge waiting for us as soon as we re-entered the forest. The promise of crossing a very cool bridge was enough to make our four-year-old decide he wanted to hike by himself after all. Spotting another garter snake on the far side of the bridge also helped his spirits, although he decided not to join his big sister in a final “run mode” to the parking lot.

She sprinted ahead of us as the first brilliant red leaves of the season drifted to the forest floor. By the time my husband and I caught up with her, she was sitting on a bench at the trail head, staring at the map.

I can’t believe we hiked all that way!” she said, tracing the Boundary Trail with her fingers.
If you want to explore the kid friendly trails and bridges of Black Brook Nature Preserve, there is a convenient parking lot off Windham Center Road just south of Route 4. As always, even in the fall, I highly recommend sunscreen and bug spray in addition to water and snacks.

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