1-30-2021-Parsons-Chapman Wildlife Sanctuary

The Cold River by the River Trail, Chapman Wildlife Sanctuary and Visny Woods. (ED PARSONS PHOTO)

In these times when getting outside for renewal is so important, it is a good chance to explore new places. Recently, I visited a place in Sandwich called the Chapman Sanctuary and Visny Woods.

This 300-plus acre preserve is a great place to walk, snowshoe or cross-country ski. Abutting the national forest, the Cold River winds through it.

It was named for Leonard Chapman, known locally as Chappie, who owned the house and land there. Starting in the 1930s he raced sled dogs and later taught bird dogs on the property.

Originally 40 acres, it became a bird preserve in 1953 and gained non-profit status in 1955. Later, upon Chappie’s retirement, some of his bird dog patrons, including the president of B&M railroad, bought the property and let Chappie live there until his death at 92 in 1972. At that point, they turned it into a wildlife sanctuary in his name.

John Visny, an agriculturalist from Connecticut, managed a University of New Hampshire farm and later moved to Sandwich to farm his beloved 70 acres next to the Chapman Sanctuary. Upon his death he gave the property to the sanctuary. This includes a tall pine forest and a charming little pond called Teacup Lake, which was hand dug by a local.

Another piece of land abutting the national forest and acquired by the town in 1940 was later purchased as part of the sanctuary. Today, the sanctuary is a 501(c)(3) non-profit which just became public.

When I arrived there a few weeks ago on a brisk day, I walked down from the parking lot to a kiosk where visitors are asked to sign in. There is no cost. To my right was the Chapman House. The present caretaker of the sanctuary named Paul Healy, was outside and waved to me, adding that it was a beautiful day despite the cold air moving through the forest.

Healy replaced the last caretaker in April, lives in the house, greets visitors and maintains the property. This includes perennial gardens in the summer and trails. In 2020, 900 people signed in to use the trails, mostly in the summer.

Trail maintenance can include clearing brush and downed trees, seeding areas with plants that promote wildlife, and in the winter grooming most of the 10 miles of the trails with a snowmobile.

I walked further to a big map sign, and looked for the right intersecting trails to take to get to the River Trail, a newer trail that followed the Cold River as it descended from the mountains — my kind of trail.

It was pleasant to start out firm trails packed by grooming. After about three quarter of a mile I reached the River Trail and headed along it as it swung down to the Cold River. It is too rugged to be groomed or skied. There was only a few inches of snow.

I followed the descending river in shady hemlock woods, pausing frequently by cascades or pools. Smooth boulders were covered with snow, adding to the scene. It was a beautiful place to be, totally away from the modern world and its challenges.

Today, Robert Rowan is president of the Chapman Wildlife Sanctuary and Visny Woods. In the late 1980s, he and his wife and other volunteers cut the 1.4-mile River Trail. Along it there are numerous interpretive plaques describing the natural environment.

One that stands out for me is next to a Witness Tree, a hemlock that was referenced in a deed in 1790 when the property boundary was in the middle of the river. A blaze was cut on the trunk of the tree then, and is still visible as a healed wound on the bark.

When the River Trail turned right uphill toward its finish, I decided to continue straight along the river on a new trail called the River Trail East Loop. It was built three years ago on 68 acres of land purchased by George Bates, who actively promoted outdoor recreation in Sandwich before his death. It has an easement with the Forest Society.

Finally, the East Loop swung away from the river up to the Visny Woods, where I crossed a snowy meadow in the bright sun back to the trails near my car.

To get to the Chapman Sanctuary and Visny Woods, from Moultonborough take Route 109 to Center Sandwich. Bear right on Grove Street and right again on Mount Israel Road, where it is 3.5 miles on the left.

The comprehensive website is chapmansanctuaryvisnywoods.com.

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