Winter walking: Winter hikes for seniors

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  • Jeanne and Hardy Ballantine hike the Mill River section of the Robert Frost Trail in North Amherst on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jeanne and Hardy Ballantine of Amherst hike the Mill River section of the Robert Frost Trail in North Amherst on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jeanne and Hardy Ballantine of Amherst pause on a bridge over the Mill River during a hike on the Robert Frost Trail in North Amherst on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jeanne and Hardy Ballantine of Amherst hike the Mill River section of the Robert Frost Trail, marked by orange blazes, in North Amherst on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jeanne and Hardy Ballantine of Amherst hike the Mill River section of the Robert Frost Trail in North Amherst on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jeanne and Hardy Ballantine of Amherst hike the Mill River section of the Robert Frost Trail in North Amherst on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The entrance to the Connecticut River Greenway State Park/Conservation Area off Damon Road in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Hikers set out Wednesday on the Fort River Trail of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge's Fort River Division in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hikers set out on the Fort River Trail of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge's Fort River Division in Hadley. Photographed on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hikers return from a visit to the Fort River Trail of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge's Fort River Division in Hadley. Photographed on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 2/4/2021 3:08:59 PM

Editor’s note: In this periodic column, an Amherst couple who have spent time exploring area walks will highlight different trails — some familiar, others not — in the region that are suitable for seniors, and those with some limits in mobility (including wheelchairs, walkers, strollers and small children).

Cooped up? Looking for a diversion? Need a little movement to maximize health?

The following descriptions give information on trails in the Pioneer Valley area that are easy to negotiate in winter, with descriptions of hike locations and the surrounding area, trail surface, parking and recommended equipment to be prepared for hiking conditions. Most of the trails are relatively flat with few obstacles.

Directions to hikes are from Northampton, Amherst, Hadley, South Hadley, Belchertown and other communities in the area. Hope this helps make “getting out” appealing and possible. And please send ideas for hikes you recommend to add to our lists.

Each of the hikes get a rating of 1 (easy and flat, wheelchair accessible); 2 (generally easy, but may be a couple of muddy spots or fallen trees to get around or roots that stick up on the trail) or 3 (some ups and downs in trail and/or some uneven places from roots or rocks or some small climbs around or over obstacles).

Mill River Trailat Puffer’s Pond

Description: Mill River Trail, a Level 1 Kestrel Land Trust property located on Mill Street in North Amherst, is wide at the beginning and located between the river and a wooded hillside — beautiful scenery!

Cross a bridge and continue on trail. Soon the trail splits, with a left fork going up a hill by railroad tracks. The right fork goes up a gentle hill and becomes a bit more rugged as one progresses. If one continues up the hill to the right, it comes out on the street near Cushman’s Market — cup of tea, anyone? One can also stay on fairly level ground and circle around back to the bridge and parking lot, less than one mile total.

There is also a trail around Puffer’s Pond, but it is more challenging with roots and climbs, and narrow in places. It then circles two sides of the pond on one-way roads with safe walking along the sides. One can also walk along the Mill River trail just off the bridge on the one-way road at far end of Puffer’s Pond; this path is fairly flat and goes along the river. Walk a ways, then turn around and return to bridge. This part of Mill River is a more frequented trail, so you’ll probably pass other walkers.

Directions: North Pleasant Street, Amherst, dead ends into Pine Street. Turn left and immediately angle right onto Sand Hill Road. At bottom of hill, turn right on the one way road with Puffer’s Pond on left. Maps available at amherst.gov, AllTrails or Kestrel Land Trust site.

Parking and transportation: Just past Puffer’s Pond, there are many parking spots on the left side of road. Walk across the road to the marked entrance to Mill River trail.

PVTA Bus No. 33 goes from downtown Amherst to Puffer’s Pond (check PVTA route schedules for details).

Facilities: None in winter.

Dogs: On leash.

Be Prepared: When snow or ice on path, wise to wear cleats and carry polls.

Silvio O. Conte Trail

Description: A one-mile, Level 1 loop, “universally accessible,” located at 69 Moody Bridge Road in Hadley.

Much of the walk is raised boardwalk, and the remainder is a level gravel walk with boards along the edges and with many lookout points and benches. The walk is accessible for wheelchairs, strollers and small children, and is a favorite with bird watchers, especially early mornings.

At the entrance to the walk are signs introducing the pollinator garden and pollinators that frequent the area. Also, see some signage with descriptions along the path, which includes diverse landscape, including river, wetlands, meadows and forest, boasting a variety of habitat types, including hardwood forest, floodplain forest and grasslands attracting a diversity of resident and migratory wildlife. Path goes clockwise, one way during COVID.

Directions and parking: Located on Moody Bridge Road. Access from Moody Bridge Road off South Maple Street is closed, so you must enter Moody Bridge Road from Bay Road. (Note: Moody Bridge is a small side street, so watch carefully for street sign.) Sign on left off Moody Bridge Road leads to large parking area at start of trail. You can see it from Moody Bridge Road.

Facilities: Frequent benches and lookouts; no bathrooms.

Dogs: On leash.

Be prepared: When there’s ice or snow on path, it is wise to wear cleats and carry poles, though there are railings on the boardwalks to help.

Connecticut River Greenway State Park

Description: This Level 1 walk (446 Damon Road, Northampton) is on part of the rail trail that goes over the Connecticut River and toward Hadley and Amherst. It is a wide, paved path, and you will usually find others who are enjoying this walk (meaning it is more populated than most of the other paths).

This is an out and return on same path walk unless you have a car parked at each end. Go as far as you like — remembering that you have to return! If you are fortunate, you may see eagles flying from branch to branch above the river. Cross over the bridge — it’s a beautiful walk over the river!

Directions and parking: From the traffic circle on Route 9, take the first exit onto Damon Road. Immediately enter parking area on right. The walking/biking bridge is just off the parking area and is your destination. It’s very visible. Plenty of free parking.

Facilities: None open now.

Dogs: On leash only.

Be prepared: Cleats and poles important only if recent snow or ice. Path is generally clear.

We welcome ideas for other trails to explore and add to the list!

Jeanne and Hardy Ballantine live in Amherst. To send ideas for more hikes, email jeanne.ballantine@gmail.com.


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