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Snowshoes Open New Paths to Explore

The first snows of winter don’t bring an end to outdoor recreation in Johnny Appleseed Country. Instead,  they open up a whole new suite of opportunities — like exploring the region’s  many trails and conservation areas by  snowshoe!  Like the Native Americans and early colonial traders and trappers, today’s outdoor enthusiasts can traverse pristine  snow to enjoy the beauty of Johnny Appleseed’s  backyard.  Snowshoes function simply by widening the distribution of a person’s weight on  their feet, which keeps them from breaking through the snow. Today’s snowshoes  come in several sizes, ranging from small  and light for short walks to large and rugged  models for backcountry hikes and  mountain climbing. Easy to walk in, they  require only a slightly larger stride than  normal footwear.  Johnny Appleseed Country offers a variety of trails for all abilities.

Getting Started  

For a family walk, try the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary in Princeton, where  well-marked trails lead to ponds, old pastures, forests, and a barn with a resident  sheep herd. The sanctuary offers guided  snowshoe hikes led by expert naturalists, and snowshoes are available for rent for a nominal fee during staffed hours. Or try a walk through Cook’s Canyon in Barre, an unstaffed Audubon sanctuary with an easy, level mile-long loop trail  that follows a brook to an old mill pond and waterfall, and the North Common  Meadow and Swift River Reservation in  Petersham, where trails lead to meadows, ponds, overlooks, cascading streams, and  evergreen hemlock  forests.  For some great views, head up Leominster’s Pleasant Street to Sholan Farms.

On fall weekends,  the orchard is  a beehive of harvest  activity, but winter  offers a serene experience  — and a terrific  vista of the city at your  snow-shoed feet.  And while Wachusett  Mountain  is a winter destination  for skiers and  snow-boarders, the  Wachusett Mountain  reservation also offers  opportunities for  snow-shoeing, and  fabulous scenic views  from the summit!

More Rugged Adventure

For a more rugged adventure, the trails on Wachusett Mountain in Princeton and Mount Watatic in Ashburnham have some steep, rocky sections, but are relatively short and the outstanding views are well  worth the effort – in the clear winter air,  you can see from Boston to the Berkshires,  Green Mountains, and Mount Monadnock  from both summits.  In Royalston, Tully Lake and adjacent  Long Pond offer long (4.5 and 7.5 miles  respectively) but mostly level loops with  scenic views. The nearby Jacobs Hill Reservation  has a 2.2-mile circuit trail that  follows easy to moderate terrain to Spirit  Falls and an overlook with a great view.

The Appalachian Mountain Club’s Worcester chapter, the Mount Grace Land  Conservation Trust, and the Northfield  Mountain Recreation Center all offer  group walks. Rentals are available at the  Trail Head outdoor store in downtown  Orange, where you can enjoy a cup of  coffee or snack at the Millers River Café  after your outing.  While on the trail, keep an eye out  for animal tracks — a great way to learn  about the lives of secretive creatures such  as moose, bobcats, fishers, coyotes, foxes,  river otters, and weasels. One of the best places to find tracks are areas where different  habitats such as forests, wetlands, and fields meet.  Watch and listen, too, for the hardy birds  that live here year-round, including owls, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers,  kinglets, cardinals, and waxwings. In some  winters, rare northern species such as pine  grosbeaks and crossbills venture south  from Canada. Check trail edges carefully  for snowshoe hares, which turn white in  winter to blend with the snow.

Be Prepared

While snowshoeing is a low-risk activity,  it does require several precautions. Be sure to carry plenty of water, especially when the snow is sticky; even when temperatures are cold, dry air and exertion  can rapidly cause dehydration.  Watch trail blazes carefully, as footpaths may be obscured by fallen snow, and use  caution around streams, brooks, wetlands,  and rocky areas. If you get lost, turn  around and backtrack along your own  snowshoe trail.  Finally, be sure to allow plenty of time  and get an early start, as the sun sets shortly  after 4:00 pm during early winter.  In addition to water, other good items  to bring on your walk include a waterproof  winter jacket and gloves, a map and  guide, flashlight, energy bars, and trekking  poles, which some walkers find useful.  And of course, remember your camera, as winter offers a wealth of photographic opportunities!

—  Contributed by John Burk