Spring is here, but this year’s two dozen snowstorms have left lots of snow to go exploring in the woods. Last Wednesday, Peter and I were contemplating the “plan for the day.” I suggested snowshoeing at Heron Pond, near Chocorua Lake. We once mountain biked there before it was closed to biking. We hiked there, too, but we’d never visited in winter.

It’s a short drive from Conway, 8 miles south on Route 16, to the Scott Road turn-off. It’s right past Monkey Trunks on the right and Washington Hill Road on the left. Across from the Runnell’s Boulder, visible even in winter, Scott Road is on the right.

Turning there, we drove .4 mile down a dirt road, passable now, but muddier later. We parked at the Hammond Trail parking lot on the right. Only one other vehicle was there. Judging from prints in the parking lot, walkers, dogs, snowshoers and cross-country skiers had been there before us.

Crossing the road, we spotted the access trail, not by its snow-covered Bolles Reserve sign, but by footprints up the snow bank. I was surprised to see ski tracks on the other side. The Chocorua Lake Conservancy (CLC) map shows XC trails scattered throughout their protected lands, but I hadn’t thought of skiing here. Obviously, others knew better.

We followed the trail out into an open field. To our right, we could see an old farmhouse, with Bald Mountain ledges behind it. Once the Hammond Farm, it is now owned by the Scott family. The Mary P. Scott Nature Reserve we crossed through is one of many reserves managed by CLC.

At junction signs for Old Mail Road and Heron Pond Trail, we turned left, following Heron Pond Trail into the woods. The trail was wide and relatively flat. After passing a registry box, we had only two challenges. One was crossing a narrow bridge over Allen Brook with two feet of snow on it and no room for error. The second was climbing up a steep esker to get a view of Heron Pond, also known as Lonely Lake. Making it past those obstacles, we were rewarded with a winter view of this unique kettle pond.

Rather than climb down to the pond, we bushwhacked along the esker’s top, angling our way down the other side to intersect Pond Loop Trail. Turning right, we followed ski tracks back to the junction with the Heron Pond Trail. We turned left, cautiously crossed that bridge again, and arrived back in the field. It was a short snowshoe, less than a mile, but it whetted our appetite for coming back on skis.

Thursday, armed with backcountry skis, we headed back to Scott Road. Climbing the snowbank, I tossed my skis over the other side. Once the skis were on, off I went. The glide was good and I was ready to try the skiing.

Across the field, we went straight on Old Mail Road. It reminded me of old time skiing before “groomed” trails, where we skied woods roads and snowmobile trails. I enjoyed its gradual downhills and up hills until I came to a stream crossing. No narrow bridge here to navigate-no bridge at all! The skier had veered right off the trail, next to the stream, until he found a place to cross. I decided I’d try that, too. Peter declined, saying he was ready to go back.

Consulting the CLC map, I figured if I could make this crossing and another stream crossing on Pond Loop Trail, I could make a nice loop back to Heron Pond Trail, and meet Peter back in the field.

Making the first stream crossing, I skied to “the Triangle” where several trails intersect, turned left, and found the second stream crossing with a short bridge. I crossed it easily. This .3 mile connector climbed up and down some small hills. If I needed to control my speed on downhills, I could take one ski out of the tracks to brake. It was like old-style skiing!

At Heron Pond Trail junction, I turned left, remembering to watch out for that narrow snow-covered bridge. Crossing it on skis was more challenging than snowshoes. The narrow ski track to it was downhill — a totally different predicament! If I didn’t line it up right or went too fast, I was going in the water. I erred on the side of caution.

Slowing my skis down, placing my poles in front of me at the bridge, then inching forward, I put them in the tracks over the bridge and let them go. Making it safely to the other side, I breathed a sigh of relief and skied back to the field. Just as I emerged from the woods in one direction, Peter emerged from the other trail — perfect timing!

The open field with its small hills beckoned me to play. I went up and down them several times, trying a few Telle-turns. Although my ski tour was only a mile, I knew there were longer skis to be had here. I’ll be back if the snow holds.

If you like exploring on your skis and snowshoes, this trail system on the northern end of Chocorua Lake is worth investigating. For maps of trails, go to tinyurl.com/y6mac99d or consult the Wonalancet Outdoor Club Trail Map and Guide at tinyurl.com/lzdg2uz.

Any season of the year, except mud or bug season, would be a good time to visit this unique system of trails. It’s easy to get to, not very crowded and presents multiple options for trekking through the woods. As Steve Smith, the Mountain Wanderer, said, “There is a fine network of trails here that provides possibilities for interesting loop hikes in the 3 to 5-mile range.”

As Ed Parsons related in his Conway Daily Sun article, “It offers a “moderate outing on gentle terrain.”

What makes this area special is the variety of activities you can do here and things you can see. I’ve seen comments online from hikers, runners, geocachers and others who’d been there. I’m sure naturalists and bird watchers visit, too, for there’s a great variety of plant, tree and animal life to observe.

For geologists, numerous glacial remnants here are worth exploring like eskers, erratics, and kettle ponds like Heron Pond. A “kettle” is a “depression on the ground left the melting of a mass of glacial ice, surrounded by glacial sediments. Many kettles now contain ponds or wetlands.” (Eusden, et al, ‘The Geology of New Hampshire’s White Mountains’).

For history buffs, remnants of early settlers abound in old cellar holes and roads. “Splitting Stone” shows where they split off granite foundation blocks for house construction. The “Hunter’s Blind” indicates where people waited for the game. All these special places are indicated on the map.

Fortunately for all us, these lands are open to use and enjoy, due to the conservation efforts of the Chocorua Lake Conservancy, established in 1968. It “owns and manages almost 1,000 acres of conservation land across 20 properties in the Chocorua Lake Basin, and protects almost 3,000 additional acres through perpetual conservation easements and covenants on over 120 other properties.”

Explore here on foot, snowshoe, or ski and appreciate land that was conserved for all of us.

March events

Great Glen Trails: Sundays, Bill Koch Ski League, young skiers from 1-8 grade, 1:30-3:30 p.m., through March.

Jackson Ski Touring Foundation: Friday Gliders, Sliders and Easy Sliders, through March, 1-3 p.m., 2-hour social ski followed by snacks and beverages.

Sally McMurdo is a cross-country ski instructor at Jackson Ski Touring Foundation. For almost four decades, she has explored New England's groomed and ungroomed trails on all kinds of skis.

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