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Something Wild: West End Farm Trail

Recently the Something Wild team went for a hike. One thing to bear in mind when walking with knowledgeable biologists like Chris and Dave, is that hikes take longer than they might if you were walking on your own. 

Dave will stop to point out a tree with a much larger diameter trunk than the trees around it; and carefully explain how this tree may have survived a cut or a storm, growing very suddenly when it no longer had to compete for light with its neighbors. Chris will pause to consider what appears to be a big pile of sticks up a tree but is actually an unoccupied osprey nest. It does take a little longer to get where you’re going, but man is it worth it.

So here’s your chance to go on a hike with the guys, download this podcast to your phone and hit the West End Farm Trail. When we did, we went with Rob Knight, volunteer with the Concord Trails Committee. He helped shepherd the project through the many bureaucratic hurdles, and helped with the actual trail cutting.

Knight credits the work of Five Rivers Conservation Trust and the Concord Conservation Commission for their work on this project. The trail started several years ago with the Commission looking for a way to link the four farms on the west side of Concord: Silk Farm (in the south), Dimond Hill Farm, Rossview Farm and Carter Hill Orchard (in the north). “We had to get permission from a couple of private landowners,” which was crucial to creating this collection of new and existing trails.

“The original idea was to link different conversation areas,” Knight added that idea was also to connect neighborhoods in the capital. Knight imagines a time when each neighborhood in Concord would have a trailhead that would connect them to a larger of network of trails throughout the area.

West End Farm Trailhead at Dimond Hill Farm.

  We started our hike at Dimond Hill Farm. And what a view! Dave estimated that on a clear day in the autumn, you could probably see 60 miles. Diamond Hill is one of the three farms on the seven-and-a-half mile trail that is still in operation as a farm, and you just might run into Jane Presby, sixth generation proprietor of the farm.

The trail takes you through some of the history of New England farming. We’re not on the trail long before Knight points out an interesting feature: an ice pond. “And a very fancy ice pond you can see it has a cut granite ledge all around it.” He explains, the ice pond, and accompanying ice house, were essential to the running of a dairy farm in the 19th and early 20th centuries. “They would have needed the ice all summer for delivering the milk.” The ice house is no longer there, a small clearing next to the pond is its only remaining vestige.

We continue along the trail, keeping an eye out for trail markers (there’s one turn that’s easily missed if you’re too engrossed in the scenery). There’s a road to cross, and eventually what was once a babbling brook. Though because of the summer, the bridge that spans the now dry bed looks a little conspicuous. With that Chris begins smelling wetlands.

Beaver pond complex on Concord's West End Farm Trail.

  Over another small hill, Knight leads us to a beaver complex, pointing out the three ponds these rodents have constructed. Chris explains how each of the ponds are formed by beavers channeling water and flooding forest land. And if we come back in another year or two there could be a fourth pond. “You build another dam, flood another forest and presto you’ve got a fourth pond.”

Eventually this first pond drains, and shrubs and trees return to what is now a clearing. Dave explains those first plants to colonize after the water has drained are actually primary food source for beavers. “So they’ll move back up to the top of the drainage and they start all over again. So they cycle in and out, and up and down the watershed.” Flooding a forest seems like extreme behavior, but it creates habitat for fish, frogs, turtles and water birds. And all inside the city limits.

Ross Pond at the end of our hike on Concord's West End Farm Trail.

  The trail (and our guide Rob Knight) leads us to another pond also created by beavers, but this one still has a few trees standing in the middle of it. Chris points out the osprey nest in one of the trees. “That’s the only active osprey net in Concord. Ospreys were a state threatened species until a few years ago, but their recovery has been pretty remarkable.” Osprey nests are repurposed by owls when they begin laying eggs in late January-early February. So if you decide to take your skis on the in the winter, you’re likely to see something entirely different.

The West End Farm trail brought us into much wilder settings than you’d expect from the state capital.

Which only underscores that something wild is usually close than you think.

Dave, Chris and Rob Knight on the trail.

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