Exploring Monadnock Trails: Ashley Saari – A hike through the woods and a visit to a wildflower garden

Wooden bridges cross the Dunbar Brook to a picnic area.

Wooden bridges cross the Dunbar Brook to a picnic area. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Fiddlehead ferns grow throughout the property.

Fiddlehead ferns grow throughout the property. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Lesser periwinkle (also called dwarf periwinkle, myrtle or creeping myrtle) grows along the trailhead.

Lesser periwinkle (also called dwarf periwinkle, myrtle or creeping myrtle) grows along the trailhead. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Dunbar Brook runs through the property.

Dunbar Brook runs through the property. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

A view from the wildflower garden.

A view from the wildflower garden. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Huge glacial erratics mark the end of the first leg of the trail loop.

Huge glacial erratics mark the end of the first leg of the trail loop. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

A man-made seat to stop and enjoy the woods.

A man-made seat to stop and enjoy the woods. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

By ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 06-21-2024 12:05 PM

As we settle into summer, and some of the spring rain clouds start to clear, it’s time to get back into my favorite warm-weather activity and start exploring trails. For my first hike of the year, I decided to pick a new spot for me -- Peterborough’s Shieling Forest.

As indicated by its name, this woodland hike is a pleasure, with about two miles of trails – a main loop and several side excursions or cut-throughs – with my own hike covering about 1 1/2 miles in just over an hour.

The land was donated to the State of New Hampshire by the late Elizabeth Yates McGreal, a longtime Peterborough resident who wrote the Newbery Award-winning “Amos Fortune, Free Man” about the life of Amos Fortune, a prominent Black early resident of Jaffrey who settled there after being freed from slavery.

It’s a nice woodsy walk, but one of the most-interesting points is the Elizabeth Yates McGreal Wildflower Garden. Located on the side trail known as “Brookside,” it’s easily reachable by entering the trail loop from the far right entrance, located at the end of the meadow where the two trail entrances can be located.

Featuring multiple well-constructed bridges crossing Dunbar Brook, which creates a nice view and burbling soundtrack, you can explore the planted wildflowers, located along paths framed by natural branches, with spots to sit and enjoy the atmosphere. When I visited, most of the plants were only just poking through the soil, so it’s a place I’ll definitely want to come back to when the plants are more in bloom, but it was still interesting to check out all of the metal nameplates for the plants growing there, such as Creeping Snowberry, Bleeding Heart, Painted Fern, Woodland Pinkroot and Trillium, and identify the just-budding sprouts.

While you can visit the garden early on in your hike, I took the other entrance, leaving the garden for the end of my walk. While certainly a lot of work went into the garden, there are some interesting sites along the way as well – particularly a strikingly large set of glacier erratic boulders that sit at the end of the first leg of the Boulder Trail. It’s hard to describe their scale, I doubt even my photo really does it justice.

Along the walk, I found two spots where a chipmunk or squirrel had stopped to take apart a pine cone, and some deer droppings, and at one point, identified the call of the black-capped chickadee (which I’m intimately familiar with, as one lives outside my window and likes to greet the dawn with the repetitive two-note call).

There are a few surprises along the way, including some arrangements of large rocks into small chairs (one of which was where I found the chipmunk lunch spot – seems he ate like a king that day!), which is one of the fun parts of exploring a new trail. There were fiddlehead ferns throughout the property, and along the edges of the forest, some sensitive fern as well.

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It’s a mostly easy hike, with some slopes on the back half of the loop, though nothing incredibly steep. Some areas are swampy, including muddy sections of trail, with some small downed trees on the back half of the trail, though nothing impassible.

The entrance to Shieling Forest is located on Old Street Road in Peterborough. From Route 101, on Old Street Road, it is located about 0.2 miles past the Sand Hill Road intersection. There is ample parking, and dogs are allowed while leashed. Trails are open from dawn until dusk. For information, call 603-431-6774.

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