Back in the day (“the day” being the 18th and 19th century), Massachusetts was largely farmland. Most of the trees had been cut down when the land was “improved” to make it arable. With the expansion into the Midwest, specifically Ohio, where the soil was less rocky and better suited to agriculture (once they cut down all the trees there), New England farms began to be replaced with factories and mills and the farmland was gradually left to become forest again.
Chestnut Hill Farm in Southborough looks how I imagine Massachusetts looked in its agrarian past. It’s much more open and exposed than the other hikes we’ve done. The trail runs adjacent to (and partially through) a working farm. We got to see cows and tractors, which was predictably thrilling for the children.
We did this hike with a pretty large group of homeschoolers. Including our family, there were six moms, one dad, one grandma, and twelve children ranging in age from fifteen years down to six weeks. Having such a large group provided us with some great conversation. It also made it even more challenging to decide which path to take when the trail we were looking at did not match what was represented on the map. Trail selection by consensus isn’t fun, but having everyone look at me to decide which direction to go was rather more responsibility than I’d banked on. Out and back it was, as I didn’t want to be responsible for losing this very nice group of people, most of whom I’d just met.
We did, however, make it out and back fine. We never did find the side trail we’d intended to take, but we got to see flowers and spider webs and ticks and inchworms. The kids and I kept up our tradition of spotting amphibious life by seeing a tiny little toad. She hopped away before I had a chance to take her portrait.
As with most of our other hikes, there was no restroom, but there was an ample supply of maps at the information kiosk. As mentioned before, the map was of limited utility and the trails themselves were not clearly blazed.
The trail we took was, however, wide and fairly smooth, and I think it would have admitted a jogging stroller with little to no trouble. It went by what appeared to be an open-air storage location for manure, which was a little smelly, but aside from that, it was quite pleasant.
It’s probably reasonable to explain at this point that I’m generally not going to give a hike a negative review. I think that a hike is what you make of it. There’s so much personal opinion when it comes to hikes. Some like to follow what to me looks like little more than a deer path through thick woods and underbrush. Others prefer a three-foot-wide paved trail with interpretive placards every 50 yards along the way.
Me? I like it all, although the overgrown, poorly blazed trails trigger my unreasonable anxiety about ticks and poison ivy and make me wish I’d paid attention in Girl Scouts when we learned to use a compass. And that I’d brought a compass with me. Except that if I had a compass, everyone would assume I knew what I was doing. I would rather not give that impression if I can help it. I just like to walk around outside.
Even a bad day hiking I won’t generally attribute to a “bad” trail. With the possible exception of a narrow trail that runs along a steep dropoff with no railing. (Utah, I’m looking at you.)