Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Cross-Country Skiing on the South Shore

Cross-Country Skiing on the South Shore
by Kezia Bacon, Correspondent

As I write this, it’s 70 degrees and sunny, which is more than a little odd for late February. It’s tempting to assume that Spring has arrived, but March lies ahead, and the odds are in favor of more wintry weather. If we get more snow, we’ll have more opportunities to complain about shoveling, but we’ll also have a chance to go cross-country skiing.

There are lots of places to cross-country ski on the South Shore -- so many it can feel overwhelming. If you like to ski, you probably have your favorite spot. If you’re looking for a designated ski course, take a drive and try the Weston Ski Track. But if you’re okay with sharing the trail with hikers, consider some of our local parks, preserves, and conservation areas.

The ideal site for cross-country skiing features either a vast expanse of open land (think: fields and meadows), or a wide trail through the woods. Some skiers like it flat and easy; others prefer hills for greater challenge. The best trails are those that curve gently. With 5-6 feet of wood, metal and/or fiberglass strapped to each foot, it’s not easy to make a sharp turn!

Here on the South Shore we can enjoy cross-country skiing in a variety of beautiful places. Probably the largest is the 4000-acre Wompatuck State Park (204 Union Street, Hingham), where you’ll find 12 miles of paved trails, plus quite a bit more unpaved. Which you’ll choose will depend in large part on how much snow has fallen and how many people have arrived ahead of you. Download a trail map from the park website and bring it along, so you can be sure not to get lost in this enormous property!

The Trustees, a land trust that manages more than 100 properties across Massachusetts, has several outposts on the South Shore that can be ideal for skiers. In Cohasset (Route 3A, near Stop & Shop), Whitney & Thayer Woods is an 824-acre property with over ten miles of trails. Just up the road in Hingham (Martin’s Lane) is the ever-popular World’s End, 251 acres with 4.5 miles of carriage paths and foot trails. And nearby in Norwell, there’s the Norris Reservation, 129 acres with two miles of trails – some narrow, some quite wide. There are two smaller Trustees properties that welcome cross-country skiers: Two Mile Farm in Marshfield (Union Street) is a smaller (68 acre) property with a 1-mile loop trail; and the Holmes Reservation in Plymouth (Court Street and Robbins Road) is even smaller (26 acres). There are no formal trails, but skiers will appreciate the rolling meadow that slopes to the sea.

The Plymouth-based Wildlands Trust oversees nearly 10,000 acres of land across the South Shore and South Coast. I spoke with Executive Director Karen Grey, to see which of the Trust’s 250 properties she’d recommend for cross-country skiing. Narrowing the scope to the South Shore, Grey’s number one pick was Willow Brook Farm in Pembroke, over 100 acres off Route 14. Also, nearby on West Elm Street is the Tucker Preserve, 78 acres on the banks of the Indian Head River. Just be careful of ice after the sun has begun to melt the snow!

Mass Audubon generally restricts activity in their sanctuaries, however their property at North Hill Marsh in Duxbury (Mayflower Street) is open to cross-country skiing. You can also find good terrain across the street in the Duxbury Town Forest.

I spoke with some seasoned cross-country skiers in Marshfield, and while they wouldn’t divulge their favorite “secret” spots, they made a couple of suggestions for suitable terrain. One spot is Nelson Memorial Forest (Union and Highland Streets), which can be accessed via the Union Street Woodland Conservation Area and the Wildlands Trust’s Phillips Farm. Altogether the three properties comprise 211 acres, and while the trails in Union Street and Phillips might be narrow, in Nelson Forest, you’ll find some lovely wide paths.

One additional spot is the Bridle Path in Marshfield. This three-mile rail trail extends from Station Street in Seaview (off Summer Street) to the CVS on Ocean Street in the town center. While the occasional road crossing will slow you down, this is otherwise an ideal spot for skiing.

Okay, so all we need now is some snow, right? Whether it’s this winter or in the future, you’ll want to take a few precautions before heading out onto the trail. Dress in layers, so once you get warmed up, you won’t overheat. If you don’t know the property well, bring a map. It’s best not to go alone, so bring a friend too. If you’re planning to ski a significant distance, it might be wise to carry a few emergency supplies – food & drink, hand/foot warmers, repair and first-aid kits. Also, know the symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia (white patches on the skin; uncontrollable shivering). Remain aware of how far you travel – and remember that you’ll need the same amount of energy, if not more, to go back.

Also, while you’re out there, be mindful of other skiers. If you’re going to take a break, be sure to step off the trail. If someone coming up behind you indicates that they’d like to pass you, step off to the right. On hills, those descending have the right of way.

Kezia Bacon's articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 20 years of nature columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Hello, Raccoons!

photo by Sandy Bacon

Early one January morning, as the sun was beginning to rise, I opened my back door and was about to step outside when I noticed something unusual in the spot where I would normally place my foot. It was round, furry, brownish-gray, and about the size of a basketball. And it was breathing. Yikes!

I quietly closed the door, and then rapped on the slider to see if the creature would startle. It didn’t. It remained rolled up in a tight little ball, and appeared not to hear me. If it was sleeping, it was a very sound sleep. More likely, it was sick.

Sick raccoon on the doorstep.

I was pretty sure it was a wild animal, and not a confused housecat. I couldn’t see its head or tail, but it seemed to be the right size for a raccoon. I didn’t want to take any chances – it seems to me that disturbing any sort of slumbering animal is a bad idea --  so I chose a different exit. An hour later, the ball of fur was still there, still apparently snoozing.

When half of the day had passed and the creature had not stirred, I contacted Marshfield’s Animal Control Officer, Alyssa Ryan. I described the situation, and she said she would come check it out. “No matter how cute it may be,” Ryan warned, “do not try to pet it.”

I wasn’t at home when Animal Control stopped by. After assessing the situation, Ryan reported to me that the breathing ball of fur on the doorstep was indeed a raccoon, and it was definitely ill, probably with distemper, which is epidemic in our area right now. Sadly, the animal had to be put down.

photo by Sandy Bacon

Raccoons are not an uncommon sight on our back deck. Our property borders the woods and a freshwater wetland, so there is ample land nearby for wild animals to roam. In the mornings, we put out seed for the birds. Sometimes after the sun has set, a family of raccoons will come by and brazenly scarf down whatever bits remain. It’s amusing, if not unnerving, to turn on the light and see a masked critter look up and stare directly at you, with an expression on its face that seems to ask, “So what are you going to do about it?”

Raccoons are a common sight on the South Shore, especially at dusk and dawn – and the hours in between. Mostly they are active at night, but if you see one during the day, there is no cause for alarm, unless it behaves strangely – appearing disoriented or partially paralyzed, or perhaps wandering in a circle. Raccoons can exist comfortably in all sorts of habitats – farms, forests, suburban neighborhoods, and even cities – and typically make their dens in trees or in burrows abandoned by other creatures. Unfortunately for us, this can sometimes lead to raccoon dens in chimneys, sheds, attics, and the close-in areas under decks and porches.

Raccoons are easy to distinguish from other mammals of their size, due to the mask-like black and white color patterns on their face, and their striped black, gray and white tails. Their mating season runs from January to March. After a gestation period of just over two months, new cubs are born – most often in the mid-spring – with anywhere from 3 to 7 per litter. After another five months or so, they become independent, but usually remain with their family for much of the first year. They can grow in size to anywhere between 12 and 36 pounds, and range from 2-3 feet in length (tail included).

Raccoons are omnivores. If animal sources of sustenance are readily available – things like crabs, young birds and muskrats, turtles and their eggs – they’ll happily chow down. They may already be plotting to raid your chicken coop! Raccoons also consume nuts, berries and seeds, whether procured in the wild or in the backyard. Birdseed and suet are tempting, of course, but whatever food you’ve left in your unsecured trash barrels could also make a nice feast.

Outdoors is probably okay, but you don’t want raccoons taking up residence in your home. Some ways to prevent this are: securing your trash and compost against looters; keeping pet food indoors to decrease temptation; and capping or closing off chimneys, attics and the dark areas under porches and decks.

The creature on my back doorstep was probably suffering from distemper, which is the second most common cause of death for raccoons. There are actually two types of distemper – canine and feline – stemming from two separate viruses. Both are highly contagious, and begin with cold or flu-like symptoms that eventually lead to more debilitating conditions such as pneumonia, anorexia and brain damage. Neither virus has a cure, so when a raccoon with distemper is discovered, the standard treatment is euthanasia. Most sick raccoons don’t make contact with humans, however, so of greater concern is the spread of disease among animals. Humans are not susceptible to the virus, but our pets are, if they do not receive regular vaccines against the disease. Another good reason to go for that annual round of shots!

You can learn lots more about raccoons via the following two links, which I found very helpful while writing this article.


by Kezia Bacon
 January 2017 

Kezia Bacon's articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 20 years of nature columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com