Wanda and Pete's Letterbox Plants
|A Mass NET-work of Nosox Boxes||A series of wonderful wildlife carvings by nosox planted along the Massachusetts portion of the New England Trail|
Planting boxes along the New England Trail (NET) holds a special meaning for me. The
Massachusetts portion ("M&M") of that recently designated National Scenic Trail, which now
extends from Long Island Sound in CT to the NH border with Canada, was one of the first
trails I ever backpacked while recovering from a fractured spine from a car accident over
30 years ago! Granted I had put in many thousands of day-hiking miles in many different
countries before attempting to see if I could manage an actual backpacking trip after all
my injuries, but those miles had come comparatively easy for me, so it wouldn't have ever
occurred to me to count those day-hiking miles. However, after discovering on the M&M that
I could actually handle backpacking, albeit with great pain, I decided to keep on doing
almost continuous long-distance backpacking trips for the next bunch of years, including 5
times through on the AT (Appalachian Trail), 3 times through on the PCT (Pacific Crest
Trail), the Continental Divide Trail from Mexico to Canada, and much, much more! Thus, the
"M&M" (Metacomet-Monadnock Trail) marks the "jumpstart" of what came to be my 30,000+ mile
"backpacking career" - and, of course, I'd have to more than double that number if I were to
include all the day-hiking miles I've put in both before and since those backpacking days!
Anyway, that's why this particular trail means so much to me, and why, after I heard a few years ago that it had been extended, one of the first things I had to do was go out and plant a letterbox series on the new CT portion heading down towards the Sound. ("Boxing the NET", planted in leapfrog fashion with Bluebird in 2011.) Then, in 2012, Trailhead Tessie took up the baton to plant a box in every town that the NET goes through in CT! That was just the impetus that Pete and I needed to re-hike the CT portions of the trail that we'd both hiked so many times over the years, but had "let slide" in recent times to allow for "newer box-build-up" along the NET to really increase the boxing "networth"! Then, when the call went out about perhaps extending the planting of NET boxes into the towns of MA, we put out the word that we'd be willing to come up from southern RI to plant if someone else would carve, and - lo and behold - MA master carver nosox answered the call!!!
So, that's how this particular collaboration came about: nosox lovingly prepared the boxes, and as we came up for a couple of Amherst International Folk Dancing trips in the spring of 2013, we started planting them! For greater accessibility, we decided to do it a bit differently from the CT model. Rather than one box per town, with varying mileages or locations that might appear to be obscure to folks not familiar with the trail, we chose to double-up on towns through which the trail mostly shared a common border, to give driving directions, including some of the lesser known trail sections to give this project the feel of a "Mass NET sampler", and to limit the hike for finding each Mass NET-work box to about one-mile round trip (always, of course, with the option to continue for more miles and boxes as the spirit might move!;-) And nosox decided, rather than sticking to town seals or something like that, to carve some of the cool critters that can be found along the trail! So, here goes...
1. MA NET - Southwick/Agawam: Chipper on the Mountain
If you're out to hike the whole M&M or NET in MA, head out bright and early to Rising Corner on Barry St. in the Feeding Hills section of Agawam near Southwick, west of Springfield at the CT border, and just start following the white blazes north! However, if you're just going for this one box (or perhaps including a visit with Susan B. nearby) park by the row of boulders on the north side of route 57 about a half mile or so west downhill from the Agawam/Southwick ridge border, or just a bit further west in the large gravel pull-off.
Follow the white blazes north past the gate on a flat old dirt road, pass an abandoned quarry on the right, and give a wave to Susan B. up on the hill. (You might want to go up and visit her afterwards, if you haven't already done so.) Continue following the white-blazed trail as it turns off the dirt road and contours right up the rocky hill. The narrow trail joins a slightly wider path still curving right uphill. (Watch carefully for this spot if you want to go back down the same way).
Go left at the "T" junction near the top of the first ridge, and continue northbound on the trail. Just before the final uphill push, see a tree on your left that looks like it is feeding on an old metal sign. Take 20 steps off trail at 285 degrees to a white birch with a large rock outcrop behind. Curve left another dozen steps around the left side of the outcrop plus another 6 steps to a pile of rocks near the southwest side of a tall pine. Note how the rocks closest to the tree are placed so as to be able to replace them in similar fashion to keep "Chipper" safe and happy! (Currently he is hiding about 3 rocks down under a reddish stone, and only the rocks nearest the tree are moveable, so don't try moving any others!)
2. MA NET - Westfield/West Springfield: Skunk by the Pike
For where to put this next critter, we couldn't help but think of the Mass Pike (different kinds of fumes!;-) The M&M/NET does have to cross the Pike here at the Westfield/ West Springfield border near Bush Notch, and we do recollect once seeing a gecko heading under the "wildflower tunnel" to the south. However, we thought the skunk would rather get quickly up onto the ridge to the north, further away from the traffic noise and fumes...so up, up, up you go!
To reach the starting point for this trail section from "Chipper", head a mile or so west on route 57, north on Longyard Rd/ Pontoosic Rd/route 187, east on route 20 across the Westfield River, north on East Mountain Rd to just under the Mass Pike, and then briefly east on Old Holyoke Rd to the silver gate with the "Closed" sign on it. As you walk past the gate, you should almost immediately see the white blazes of the M&M heading off to the right, but just go a few steps more and you should see the trail taking off up the hill to your left, opposite a yellow "no dumping" sign on a telephone pole on your right.
Scurry up the lightly-used trail at a pretty steady clip for a few minutes, and then, just after the last short steep pitch, the trail starts to level off at a slightly overgrown "T" junction. Going left will get you quickly to an ATV ridge road, but the white-blazed trail curves right following the eastern lip of the ridge until you reach the ridge line at the ATV road further along. ( If you miss this turn on your way back, simply follow the the ATV ridge road until you see a small green sign for "Widow Maker Trail", and you will know that the white blazes are close by to the east.) Continuing north now on the rocky ridge road, you soon fork left with the white blazes, go down a slight dip, then up to a ridge top with an old CAA beacon. Shortly past the unused beacon near the half-mile point, the trail turns right to drop down off the ridge at a tree marked with a white arrow. (There is also a green "private property" sign near here on a tree visible to those heading south.) 7 or 8 steps due south from the white arrow tree is a medium-sized tree that has gray rocks in front and tan rocks in back. Puzzle out which color rocks move so that you can carefully put them back together again after you have finished gently handling this cute striped fellow!
3. MA NET - Holyoke/Easthampton: Raptor on the Ridge
The M&M/NET along the Mt.Tom Range mostly hugs the Holyoke/Easthampton border, just as the Holyoke Range on the east side of the Connecticut River mostly hugs the Hadley/South Hadley and Amherst/Granby borders. The whole range is riddled with letterboxes, many accessed from the state park. However, since there was once a hotel called the "Eyrie House" on the northern escarpment (much like the Old Holyoke Mountain House on the other side of the river), we thought that it would be appropriate to leave this red-tailed hawk heading up there via the shorter northern access route. Of course, this half-mile hike will only get you about half-way to the "Eyrie"(ruins), but you can easily continue to "ad lib" your way onward and upward, if you're feeling "golden"!
To get to the Mt. Tom northern access from "Skunky", head north from the Mass Pike underpass on East Mountain Rd to route 202, then several miles east, following signs and turns, to I-91 north. Go 2 exits north (16 to 18), then a few miles south on route 5 to East St. Go west on East St. under the I-91 overpass, turn left onto Underwood Drive, and park near the grassy swath under the powerline right of way just a bit down the road.
It may be hot out here in the blistering sun, but just a few hundred feet up the grassy powerline swath, turning left with the white blazes will get you back into the cool welcoming woods. Follow the trail curving gently uphill, on and off an old woods road. After a slight downhill and a large 2-trunk hemlock on the left edge of the trail, start looking for a 3 X 4' basalt boulder about 5 steps off trail left. It has a tall tree to its left and a forked mossy log propped on its top right. Look behind the mid point of the boulder under some stones covered with leaves. (If you reach the blue-blazed McCool Trail, you've gone a bit too far for this particular raptor, but feel free to fly along as far as you please!)
4. MA NET - Hadley/South Hadley: Cubs in the Cave
Now hopping over to the east side of the CT River (via the route 9 bridge off I-91 exit 19), we first thought to plant these three little bears just west of the Notch near Bare Mtn. However, there are already plenty of boxes around that area, so we decided to give these bears a nap on the "quieter" west side of the Holyoke Range, closer to the CT River, accessed by following route 9 and Bay Road easterly, then curving several miles southerly on route 47 (from where Bay Road continues east). To start out on the right foot, find the dirt road across from the small cemetery on route 47 (about a mile south of the usual Skinner Park entrance which bypasses this portion of the NET). Turn west on this one-way dirt road (Old Mountain Rd), and park shortly near the M&M/NET trailhead on the right. Take the "Polish" trail (white and red) up the hill, passing the Mount Holyoke College cabin on your left. Bear left uphill, when the red-blazed Dry Brook Trail goes straight and downhill. Continue climbing under and around past the power lines, towards the top on rock with some flow lines still visible (somewhat like the basalt on Hawaii, but millions of years older!;-). The trail levels off for a bit passing a large cliff face on your right. Continue up to a 2-trunk horizontal "sitting tree". Actually, Pete says it reminds him more of a playground swing, so swing right past the "swinging tree" and up the bare rocks to a vista over the farms and river below. Shortly thereafter, in the next dip, spot a tree with 4 white blazes. At this tree, the current NET now turns right. You, however, should continue straight ahead on the old, discontinued trail about 20 steps to a tree with a browned-out trail blaze. Then, bear slightly left 3-4 steps to a tree which still has a white blaze on its back side. Take 3-4 more steps forward from the left side of this tree, and then 10 steps left (c. 310 degrees) on a small path. Turn and look about 250 degrees left to a rocky area. About halfway up the small basalt ledge to your left (about 10 cautious steps at around 250 degrees), find the three bears napping in their little cave behind a prismatic traprock door. Please be sure to replace them carefully and quietly so that they can continue their snooze! (However, if you still have plenty of energy, continuing another 4 miles or so along the M&M/NET to the Notch could possibly net you a dozen or more boxes!;-)
5. MA NET - Amherst/Granby: Hornets on the Line
When wondering where to plant a hornets' nest along the M&M/NET Pete suggested either finding an actual hornets' nest up in a tree or a buzzing power line to represent one symbolically. Given our time and distance constraints, the former seemed pretty unlikely, so we opted for the latter! This was especially convenient since there was a power line crossing just about 1/2 mile east of Harris St. along the Amherst-Granby border. Harris St. goes south from Bay Rd. just before reaching the Belchertown border, so this would be on the "quieter" eastern side of the Holyoke Range - away from the "buzzing crowds" of the Notch where quite a few other boxes may be found. And since Bay Rd. basically parallels the northern slope of the Holyoke Range, it's just a hop, skip and jump in your car to get from the bears on the west side of the range to the hornets on the east! (or a rather long walk over Long Mountain!;-)
Anyway, to find this box, go east from the trailhead parking on either side of Harris Road following combined markings of the M&M/RFT/NET. Head past the brown and yellow stripped gate on a flat sandy pine trail and bear right with white when the red-orange blazed Robert Frost Trail goes left. Ascend a sandy hill, and just after reaching a height of land with the "buzzing" power lines now visible ahead, stop to curtsy to a white birch queen on the left side of the trail with a thin white attendant lady-in-waiting on each side of her. Then proceed 8 steps more along the trail and look left to see a tree with a sharp elbow jutting out from its bent arm about 20 some steps away. Look under the left side of its twisted root behind a birch parchment scroll to find what all the "buzz" is about!
6. MA NET - Belchertown: Sally in the Glen.
One of the earliest MA boxes we remember in the Quabbin Reservoir area was a salamander, so we thought that this Sally might feel quite at home in a lovely little glen nearby, too! She's hiding out in a "shorter than average" section of trail at Holland Glen on the north side of route 9 about 2 miles northwest of its junction with Bay Rd., because winter storm damage beyond that point could make the trail somewhat difficult to continue to "plow through"! For now, simply follow the white blazes north from the small parking lot to the pretty little waterfall about a quarter mile up the trail. (Hopefully, high water will not prevent you from rock-hopping the stream to the east bank shortly before that!) From the pool at the base of the little waterfall with the slanted ledge rocks and tree growing out of them on the left, turn back 16 steps along the trail towards the large log lining the stream. Then, go 12 steps diagonally left ( 160 degrees ) to a mossy green sitting rock in front of a peeling birch tree growing out of the rock at the base of the ledge. The back leg of this tree points to where Sally is hiding in a small cave of mossy rocks under a flat stone speckled with tiny garnets on its underside. This could be a popular spot on a hot summer day, so please exercise great caution to keep Sally safe!
7. MA NET - Pelham: Froggie at the Falls
While the southern half of the M&M/NET in MA has remained essentially the same as I remember from backpacking through over 30 years ago, a few more northern parts of the trail have been undergoing some major changes. So, while we were off doing trail work again in Colorado in the late summer of 2016, Trailhead Tessie of CT kindly offered to transplant this froggie from its former waterfall home to a place further up the old M-M trail to get it near the junction with the new NET route. (Thanks, Trailhead Tessie!) Here are her updated clues from October 2016 as well as a map link she provided:
Cadwell Memorial Forest Park map: http://eco.umass.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Cadwell-Map.pdf
Park off Packardville Road at the entrance to the gated Tower Road. Walk up the Tower Road, and when it splits, stay left on a gravel road called Cemetery Drive. (Both park roads are closed to traffic). Look for white blazes to join the trail briefly at a stream crossing with a big culvert, and then follow the blazes left off of the road. Almost immediately there will be a large tree with a double blaze right turn. This is where the new NET splits off from the old M-M, which went down into a ravine on the left. From the double-blazed hemlock next to the fire ring, look across the trail to a triple oak. Go to it, then go a few steps further to a rock pilè, and check the left edge for a small cave behind a trap door.
8. MA NET - Shutesbury: Turtle on the Trail
This turtle used to hide out on an old section of trail near Atkins Reservoir, but has been transplanted as of October 2016 by Trailhead Tessie to get it back on track with the present NET route. New directions are as follows:
Quabbin “Off-Reservation land”. (Sorry, no dogs.) Park at Quabbin Gate PL8, located on the west side of MA 202, about 1.3 miles north of the intersection with Amherst Road in Pelham. If you get to the town sign for Shutesbury, you just missed it. Walk around the gate to follow the white blazes northbound, gradually heading downhill for about 20 minutes until you reach a bridge crafted by Troop 180. Cross over the babbling brook, immediately turn left off the trail for 11 steps, then investigate a ledgetop with a tall dead hemlock nearly fused with a black birch.
9. MA NET - Shutesbury: Beaver by the Brook
This beaver used to live on a section of trail in Leverett that had gotten so "chewed up" with private property gaps that it lost its connection to the NET! Consequently, Trailhead Tessie also moved this beaver to Shutesbury so that it could once again find itself on the current official NET route - and with a real beaver pond to boot! Here are her updated clues from October 2016:
Quabbin “Off-Reservation land". (Sorry, no dogs.) Park at a small hiker lot near Quabbin Gate SH7, located on Cooleyville Road in Shutesbury. Caution: There seem to be many different Cooleyville Roads! To find the right spot, drive about 4.2 miles north on Route 202 from the intersection with Amherst Road in Pelham, and turn left onto Prescott Road heading west. At about 1.2 miles, there will be a sharp right for Cooleyville Road (if you kept going straight on the main road, it would also be called Cooleyville and then eventually would turn into Leverett Road.) Take that sharp right, and now you are driving on the M-M/NET. See the white blazes? Follow this gravel road for about 1.4 mile down the hill until you reach the bottom, where the road crosses over a small bridge. Look here for a small hiker pullout on the right and park.
Walk a bit down the road in the direction you were driving (northeast) to see a second bridge just like the first. If you cross the bridge and walk a short ways, there is a nice view of the beaver pond. When you are done looking, come back to the area between the two bridges, and look carefully for Gate SH7 on the northwest side of the road. The entrance may be somewhat overgrown, but it is between the two bridges. Walk past the gate and follow the white blazes. After about 7 minutes, the trail will take a right turn at some electric poles. Keep following the blazes for only a few minutes and you will arrive at a small brook that flows into the beaver pond. Just before the brook, on the right, will be a large twin pine, with a beaver in front.
10. MA NET - Wendell: Ladybug along the Lane
How astonished we were to see that the place we had originally planned to leave this ladybug - the old woody lane where "Sir Wendell" meets "Lady Montague" - had been rechristened with the red blazes of the Robert Frost Trail, and that the white-blazed M&M/NET had been relocated further to the east, never again to encounter Lady Montague at all! No problem, though. We were heartily hailed by a passing troubadour who happily invited us to a spirited soiree at Hidden Valley, very near to the location of the first letterbox ever to be planted in the state of Massachusetts! We very nearly decided to leave the ladybug there at the site of this special "Walking Tour Concert", where both guests and musicians were required to walk the NET in order to arrive at the soiree at the appointed hour. However, next morning in the light of day, we reconsidered our plan, and thought that taking the ladybug on a lazy stroll amidst the pink-blooming mountain laurel blossoms along a new piece of NET, far from the "madding crowd on the other side of the tracks", would be much more to her liking...
So, in order to find this ladybug's new reception site, head north from Shutesbury/ Locks Village, around the north side of Wyola, north up West St. and west on Montague to the 4th Gate of Wendell on the south side between Dirth and Carlton on the north. (Near this gate can also be found a fine emblazoned crest of the NET, and the castle approach road appears to go by the stately name of Hemenway - although my old map simply calls it "Swamp Road", a name seemingly more suited to an ogre than a lady!) Anyway, a leisurely stroll down this extremely gentle garden path for a mere matter of minutes, staying left at the fork for perhaps another 150 steps or so, should bring you to see on the right a 2-trunk maple with a skinny 3rd, left of which lies aslant a large mossy green rock with a white pine behind. Between white pine and green rock - your lady awaits!
11. MA NET - Erving: Deer in the Hills
Approached from the "backside", Northfield Mountain in Erving definitely feels more like a gently rolling hill where deer reside. To access that side of the trail from Wendell, take Depot Rd. past the railroad crossing, go west on route 2 through Erving, and then north on Mountain Rd. to a fairly large parking lot on the left with a sign for Valley View and Hermit's Cave. Follow the white blazes through hill and dale for a scant ten minutes or so, passing a cairn built upon a stump with a large diagonally-braced hemlock crossing above. Shortly thereafter spot to right of trail a large hemlock with a white arrow pointing left. On the right side of this tree lies a thin flat rock with a fallen antlered hemlock lying behind. Step down towards the antlered hemlock, then turn back to face the trail, and find a deer tucked behind branches in the crevice below the flat rock close to the standing white arrowed hemlock.
12. MA NET - Northfield: Goose in the Glade
Once again, changes in trail conditions have imposed changes in planting plans. We had considered planting this Canada Goose on a cool half-mile climb from Sky Farm up Crag Mountain, with views of Mt. Grace and Mt. Monadnock. However, that trail has now become a disconnected blue-blaze, and since we wanted to stick to white as much as possible, we're asking you to continue to the next available parking lot. From the Deer on Mountain Rd. in Erving, continue north to where the road turns to dirt in Northfield, then turn right on paved S. Mountain Rd. past the Crag Mountain former M&M, and then left on Gulf Rd. to the parking area on the left shortly past dirt Orange Rd. on the right. Cross Gulf Road to begin your trail jaunt with the white blazes to the east. After nearly half a mile, spot a glade of white birches on the left with a large 2-trunk hemlock and several rock outcrops uphill just beyond. Between two of the larger boulders directly behind the double hemlock is a small greenish wing of rock with a whitish trap door behind which nests this goose with a couple of stone eggs.
You can either return the way you came or take the blue-blazed "Over the Top Loop" as we did to add an extra half mile flight of fancy to your wild goose chase!
13. MA NET - Warwick: Mousie at the Shelter
And finally - the moment we've been waiting for: the resting place at the end of a long trail day! Actually, it turns out that after my first time through on the Appalachian Trail, I only very rarely stayed in trail shelters overnight, finding them to be too mouse-ridden for my tastes, and generally preferring my tent or sleeping under the stars. (Having shelter mice gnawing your fingers or running across your face in the middle of the night is no picnic!) However, this particular shelter site is special to me because it was the very first shelter I ever stayed in on my first full backpacking trip. So, for that I'll even wax nostalgic and offer Mousie some toast!
Anyway, to get to this "historic site" as the Goose flies, take dirt Orange Road southeast from Gulf down to a left on Wendell Road, right on Hockanum Road and left on route 78 through Warwick to just a bit over a mile north of the large Mt. Grace parking lot. At this point, find a small 2-car parking spot nestled in a hemlock glen to the left with the trail markers. Cross the bridge to the west and head up the trail to the next stream crossing, where you can see the shelter just beyond. From the back of the shelter take about 45 steps at 340 degrees to a smallish 3-birch/1-hemlock combo with just enough space for a mouse to hide under the birch on the back (north) side. This is about 15 steps east of a large boulder with a spiky hemlock fallen across its top, and maybe a foot west of a nice little patch of rattlesnake plantain.
So, here's the point at which we say, "Happy Trails and to all a good night!", as we settle down for a long rest. After this, the M&M/NET soon heads into NH on its way to Monadnock and now all the way onward up to Canada! Yes, the trail does loop back briefly into MA to touch in at Royalston, if anyone cares to add a Mass NETwork box to that town. And, of course, if anyone wants to pick up the banner to carry NET boxes up through all the towns in NH, that would be just terrific, too! Meanwhile, we just hope that as many people as possibly can will take some time to sample some or all of these varied trail sections and to enjoy some great nosox stamps as well!
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