EXPLORING MONADNOCK TRAILS: A walk along Edward MacDowell Dam

An endangered monarch butterfly with a damaged wing collects nectar at MacDowell Dam.

An endangered monarch butterfly with a damaged wing collects nectar at MacDowell Dam. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI

A variety of mushrooms grow along the Ridge Trail at the Edward MacDowell Dam.

A variety of mushrooms grow along the Ridge Trail at the Edward MacDowell Dam. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

A rock wall creates a natural path along the Ridge Trail.

A rock wall creates a natural path along the Ridge Trail. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Wooden walkways cross muddy parts of the trail on the Ridge Trail.

Wooden walkways cross muddy parts of the trail on the Ridge Trail. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

A snail shell found on the beach at Edward MacDowell Lake.

A snail shell found on the beach at Edward MacDowell Lake. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

A view of MacDowell Dam greets walkers at the entrance to the Wetland Wander Trail.

A view of MacDowell Dam greets walkers at the entrance to the Wetland Wander Trail. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Chamomile flowers grow by the lakeside.

Chamomile flowers grow by the lakeside. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

An orange sulphur butterfly rests on the beach by MacDowell Lake.

An orange sulphur butterfly rests on the beach by MacDowell Lake. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

The Wetland Wander Trail is a packed trail along the Edward MacDowell Lake.

The Wetland Wander Trail is a packed trail along the Edward MacDowell Lake. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Stopping points along the Wetland Wander Trail allow residents to explore the shoreline of Edward MacDowell Lake.

Stopping points along the Wetland Wander Trail allow residents to explore the shoreline of Edward MacDowell Lake. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

A variety of mushrooms grow along the Ridge Trail at the Edward MacDowell Dam.

A variety of mushrooms grow along the Ridge Trail at the Edward MacDowell Dam. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

An American toad sits by a stone wall on the Ridge Trail.

An American toad sits by a stone wall on the Ridge Trail. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

By ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 09-25-2023 10:25 AM

The Edward MacDowell Dam and Lake in Peterborough has been on my prospective hikes list for awhile, and I recently made two trips out there to explore two of their hiking trails, with a plan for a third sometime soon – there is a lot to explore on this sprawling, nearly 1,200-acre property.

The dam, along the Nubanusit Brook, was built between 1948 and 1950 by the Army Corps of Engineers, who still manage the property today. While its main purpose is to act as a flood-control reservoir, managing Merrimack River tributaries, it has had the side effect of creating a wonderful recreation space with great views of the lake and a lot of water wildlife.

The property has three main trails, all of which have their own merits. The two I have explored so far are the Ridge Trail, a fairly short wooded trail that follows along a rock wall at the edge of the property near the entrance to the park, and the Wetland Wander Trail, a flat, graded path that runs along the edge of MacDowell Lake.

The Ridge Trail is an easy to moderate hike, with a few sections of elevation. There are no real views, but it is a nice woods walk. The day I took the Ridge Trail, it was a very hot day in full sun, so being under the shade was a nice way to escape the heat. While walking, there are several streams or muddy parts, though all are traversable with wooden walkways. While walking, I spotted several different varieties of mushroom, and several American toads and a wood frog. While you can just double back through the trail once you reach the end, it also connects to the Wetland Wander Trail for a short walk back to the parking lot along the water, which is a nice end to the walk.

The Wetland Wander Trail has better views, and is more accessible if you have mobility issues or would like to bring a stroller, but is in full sun for most of the walk. The trail is bordered on one half by the lake, and for much of the trail, by marshy wetland on the other side, which creates some nice opportunities for beautiful flowers and wildlife sightings. I spotted several butterflies, including a group of orange sulphur butterflies cavorting by the water. I even spotted a monarch butterfly with a slightly damaged wing drinking from some flowers.

I was particularly excited to see the monarch. When I was growing up, I lived next to a milkweed field, the only source of food for the monarch. They were everywhere, and raising monarch caterpillars into butterflies was a common childhood hobby. But in the past two decades, monarch numbers have plummeted, and they are now considered an endangered species. It has become rare for me to spot one, though I’m always on the lookout, as they’re my favorite butterfly. In another favorite, I spotted a heron flying across the water.

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Both trails are lovely, if somewhat short walks. The trail along the waterway, particularly, is not very long, and to extend the hike, I continued along Richardson Road, which connects to the trail after exiting the dam property, but is not nearly so scenic.

MacDowell Dam is located on Wilder Street in Peterborough. From Route 101, turn right onto Union Street, and travel about 0.6 miles, before taking a left onto Wilder Street. The dam offices are at the end of the street. MacDowell Dam is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and sunrise to sunset the rest of the year. Dogs are welcome throughout the property except on the beach area.

Ashley Saari can be  reached  at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on X @AshleySaariMLT.