Over the summer we’ve been trying to get out on the weekends once in a while and do a little walking around to prep for the upcoming trip to California and Arizona. As I explained to the kids before our first trip, I don’t want to get all the way to the grandeur and majesty of the Grand Canyon or Sequoia and hear “I’m tired” and “My feet hurt” after five minutes.

We started off with a relatively short trip several weeks ago to Purgatory Chasm south of Worcester, which is as much a rock-climbing exercise as a hiking trail, and the kids do like to climb on rocks, so that was actually a big hit, there’s a nice park there too and we brought a picnic lunch and then did the trail, which took maybe an hour, hour and fifteen minutes. Chloe still wants to go back to that one.

A few weeks later we went to Leominster to the state forest there to do more of a real hike into the hills with Beth’s brother and his kids tagging along. That took closer to two hours and featured some short but fairly steep climbs, we should’ve done the loop in the other direction, and we didn’t really get to a point at the top where you could see much, what with all the trees in the way. There’s a nice park there too, with a small beach, and thanks I guess to government cutbacks typical of the Romney administration no one was there to collect a parking fee.

Much of July was taken up with swimming lessons and other active pursuits, along with several rainy weekends, and the last week has been 90+ every day, but this weekend was perfect weather so we took what might be the last hike before the trip and went north and west to scenic Ashburnham, just south of the New Hampshire border. I’ve only been to Ashburnham to go to piano concerts they have there on old restored pianos, but this was north of the town center, only about 45 or 50 minutes away, and not a piano in sight. Mount Watatic is a somewhat remote area that years ago was a ski slope, but closed about 20 years ago. In 2000, an evil communications company bought the entire mountain and planned to build a big old cellphone tower at the top, with an equally big access road to get there and some vague plans of development at the base near the main road. This was enough to get the locals to rise up and raise the money to buy the property in 2002 to keep it preserved the way it is. I think it’s managed by the DCR but owned by a land trust that is located in that area. There’s a new marker at the summit to commemorate this event.

The Midstate Trail (which also went through the Leominster State Forest to the south) cuts through the mountain, as does the Wapack trail, we were on a combination of the two that took us the longer but less steep way to the summit by way of Nutting Hill to the northwest (the picture above is actually from Nutting Hill, not Mount Watatic, with I think Wachusett in the background). Saw some people and families as we walked around, since this isn’t a DCR property there were no free maps, but the trails were well marked enough to at least have a pretty good idea where we were going. Towards the bottom we came upon a family with at least four kids heading up the shorter but steeper route on what was an annual pilgrimage for them, carrying a spaghetti dinner to eat when they reached the top. Several families had kids that looked to be about three, and they seemed to be doing okay. Ours did just fine too, Justin needed to stop and rest a lot, but his rest breaks were pretty short, and he did seem to find enough of interest along the trail, plenty of mushrooms, a few frogs, wild blueberries, and not too many bugs. The trails are mostly rocks or tree roots, very uneven footing, so you’re constantly adjusting your step to keep moving.

Since next weekend is Justin’s birthday I don’t know if we’ll get another walk in before we leave for LA or not. The weather is always a factor too. But even in the fall there’s quite a few more trails to check out around the state (plus that return trip to Purgatory Chasm), and then you have the foliage factor for enticement also. Now if I could just get some hiking shoes…

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