SUGAR HILL, NH — Two North Country residents have spearheaded the opening of a new trail located on the “quieter side” of the Bronson Hill Conservation Area.
Joanne and Kevin Jones, of Bethlehem, first envisioned the 0.4-mile MacCornack-Evelyn trail a year ago. They have worked with ACT volunteers and Littleton Boy Scout Troop 209 to make it a reality.
The trail leads into the MacCornack-Evelyn Forest, donated to the Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust (ACT) in 2006 by Martha (neé MacCornack) and Doug Evelyn.
“I love it here, it’s like a reverse hike … it goes down and comes back up,” Joanne said while walking the new trial on March 24. “It has a sanctuary feeling to it.”
The couple has been members of the land trust since its early days; ACT formed in 1999 in an effort to conserve Foss Forest, which adjoins MacCornack-Evelyn Forest, as well as containing the first part of the new trail. ACT owns Foss and MacCornack-Evelyn Forests outright and holds the easements for the privately-owned abutting properties of the Perkins-Porter Family Preserve and Overlook Farm.
Joanne and Kevin started to volunteer with the land trust when they moved to Bethlehem permanently in 2017. The couple met on a hike, have completed the 4000 Footers together, and also hiked all of the marked and most of the unmarked trails at the Bronson Hill Conservation Area.
“I’m in my early 70s now, and I’ve become a bushwhacker,” said Joanne.
While six miles (including the MacCornack-Evelyn trail) of official trails traverse the conservation area, other abandoned roads and trails are visible on the landscape. Visitors are welcome to hike any of the marked or unmarked routes, as long as they are respectful of the space around the landowners’ home.
The MacCornack-Evelyn trail is a reopened and redesigned version of a previously abandoned trail.
Joanne sits on ACT’s board of trustees and Kevin, an Eagle Scout, works to maintain trails at Bronson along with the Boy Scouts.
The couple got the idea to reopen the trail while looking at an old map of the property. The process involved cutting the trail with a weed-whacker, having a certified chainsaw operator come in to clean things up, a few reroutes to smooth out the trail, and lots of help.
Kevin says the scouts, even a small pandemic-appropriate group of six, can get a lot done very quickly.
The new route departs from an ACT-owned parking lot, maintained year-round, off of Pearl Lake Road. Kevin and Joanne like to use the lot to do longer loop hikes around the conservation area.
The MacCornack-Evelyn trail first heads 0.2 miles up the Carl Schaller trail, which Kevin maintains with the Scouts. There, at the junction with Perkins Way (marked with a white arrow), it turns left and follows orange flags through woods passing old stone walls, ferns and old spring houses.
As group hikes are currently suspended, Joanne, a retired librarian, is creating a self-guided interpretive brochure on the trail for adults and families. The brochure, as well as formal trail markers, will be ready this summer.
The MacCornack-Evelyn trail ends at a small clearing with a bench and view of nearby Ore Hill.
Sonya Salanti, also of Bethlehem, discovered and fell in love with the trails at Bronson Hill during the pandemic. She found herself hiking in the area every other week and decided she wanted to give back.
Salanti “adopted” the MacCornack-Evelyn trail, meaning she walks it about once a month, checking for blowdowns — if Joanne and Kevin haven’t found them yet in their own hikes — and does a few workdays per year clearing brush.
She says the trail is nice for a quick out-and-back or lunch stop in a quiet, lightly trafficked part of the trail system on a moderately easy trail.
“It’s a sweet, short hike, quiet and pretty with interesting features,” Salanti said.
Kevin and Joanne also say the trail has been a great snowshoe this past winter, and that they saw tons of animal tracks: many more than the more frequented parts of the conservation area. Joanne points out that no other marked trails go into the MacCornack-Evelyn Forest, nor the conserved regions due south of it, creating an open wildlife corridor.
“It doesn’t have a cabin with a big wowie view, but it’s really cool,” said Joanne.
The bench at the end of the trail is dedicated to Doug, who served on ACT’s board of trustees for nine years.
Doug’s wife, Martha, grew up coming to the now-MacCornack-Evelyn Forest with her parents and brothers every summer, the Caledonian previously reported. When Doug and Martha retired to Sugar Hill 15 years ago, they and Martha’s brother, Frederick, fulfilled their parents’ wish to conserve the 95-acre parcel.
“Every day we’re glad we did it,” Doug said.
Doug has hiked on the abandoned trail, even before the land was donated, and has been down to the bench himself. He said it’s quite unique and has many different aspects, including a beautiful little hemlock grove.
Doug and Martha said they love to see people using the land.
“Support ACT and the conservation of land!” said Doug. “We’re not making any more of it. The new generations are showing that they value the kind of lifestyle that you can have in an area like this.”