Difficulty: Easy-moderate. The trail network consist of 2.5 miles of trails that travel over uneven forest floor and bog bridges. The most difficult trail of the network, Hemlock Ridge Trail, climbs a hill that rises 445 feet above sea level beside Northern Pond.
How to get there: From the junction of Route 141 and Route 139 in Monroe, drive east on Route 139 for about 0.2 mile and turn left onto Monroe Road (also known as Pines Road). Drive about 1.2 mile and turn left onto Dahlia Farm Road. Drive about 1.5 miles and turn left into the small outer parking area for Northern Pond Natural Area, which is marked with a small sign.
During the winter, this parking area is sometimes not plowed, so simply park to the side of the road. When the ground is free of snow, you can drive on a 0.1-mile access road from the outer parking area to a smaller inner parking area. Trails start from there.
The bogwalk nearest to the inner parking area on Old Tote Road Trail is sometimes flooded by beavers. When this occurs, hikers are asked to use a bypass trail, which is located about 0.25 miles south of NPNA’s outer parking area on Dahlia Farm Road. You can park in the town-owned gravel pit across the road from the bypass trail, according to the Monroe Conservation Commission.
Information: The 11-acre Northern Pond, fed and drained by Thurlow Brook, has been a fishing and picnic spot for generations. In 2005, residents of Monroe voted to preserve the pond and 160-acres of town-owned land surrounding it by putting it into a conservation easement as Northern Pond Natural Area. The easement, held by the Landmark Heritage Trust, will remain forever wild and available for the public to enjoy.
Under the direction of the Monroe Conservation Commission, a group of Monroe residents continue to create and maintain hiking trails on the property, as well as a small boat launch.
The land is open to the public for a variety of low-impact activities, including hiking, paddling, birding, fishing, hunting and trapping. Dogs are permitted but should be kept under control at all times. Fires and camping are prohibited.
The trails, which form two connected loops, are:
-Old Tote Road Trail: This easy 0.75-mile trail starts at the inner parking area and is the best access to Northern Pond. It passes through mixed forest and bog bridges to reach the base of a hill that is covered with hemlocks. At the base of the hill, you’ll come to a fork. Veer right to continue on the Old Tote Road Trail to the pond; or veer left to take the Hemlock Ridge Trail up the hill. The Old Tote Road Trail then skirts the base of the hill and leads to ledges along the short of Northern Pond before turning south and ending at a trail junction at a seasonally flooded marsh. At the trail junction, turn left to loop back on the Hemlock Trail; or turn right to hike on to the Thurlow Loop. As of November 2014, this trail was not marked with blazes or flagging tape.
-Hemlock Trail: This moderately challenging 0.5-mile trail travels through a dense hemlock forest along the ridge of a hill that rises 445 feet above sea level beside Northern Pond. You’ll see several boulders in this section of the woods. As of November 2014, this trail was marked with pink flagging tape. Follow the tape markers and keep in mind that the trail skirts the very top of the hill.
-Thurlow Brook Loop: This loop trail is 1 mile long and starts at the trail junction where the west ends of Old Tote Road Trail and Hemlock Ridge Trail meet. It crosses a small stream draining the marsh, then splits. If you veer right and hike the loop counterclockwise, you’ll soon reach a steep bank on the south end of Northern Pond. Soon after the pond, the trail passes the Beaver Dam Spur, and loops around through mixed forest.
The boat launch site is accessed by a rough and rocky road that is less than 0.2 mile long and starts at the inner parking area. The road is drivable only by four-wheel-drive vehicles with high clearance. Many choose to travel the road by foot.
Remember to pack out what you pack in, leaving behind nothing but footprints.
In addition to tall hemlock trees, the forest surrounding the pond is filled with balsam, pine, spruce, birch, oak and maple trees, according to the Landmark Heritage Trust. Also look for lady’s slippers, twinflower, wintergreen and trailing arbutus, which are all common on the property.
In celebration of the property’s wildlife, the Landmark Heritage Trust designated 2012 “The Year of the Bird” at NPNA. The trust asked people who hiked or went out on the
water that year to report their bird sightings. Hawks, ospreys, eagles, red-winged blackbirds, belted kingfishers, wood ducks, winter wrens and a wide variety of warblers were among the many birds spotted by recreationists that year.
A full list of the bird sightings reported that year is posted at landmarkheritagetrust.org, where there is also a downloadable NPNA trail map and pamphlet. NPNA trail maps are also available in a box on the bulletin board in the lobby of the Monroe Town Hall.
Personal note: Thanksgiving gatherings pushed back my weekly hike until Sunday, probably the gloomiest day of the week. Nevertheless, I was relieved to hit the trails and breathe some fresh air, despite the cold drizzle and overcast sky. You can’t always wait for blue skies to spend time outside.
Derek (my boyfriend) and Oreo (our dog) were kind enough to join me in exploring the trails near Monroe’s Northern Pond. We had a bit of trouble finding the outer parking area because the directions we had were a few tenths of a mile off, but eventually we spotted the “Northern Pond” sign and unplowed parking area.
We followed someone else’s snowshoe tracks along the Old Tote Road Trail, over frozen bog bridges and through a mixed forest to the edge of Northern Pond. Along the way, we had to navigate around a number of trees that had fallen across the trail in early winter storms. At the edge of the pond the unmarked trail was hard to follow, probably due to the number of blowdowns, so we decided to climb the hill to the Hemlock Ridge Trail, which runs along its top.
The Hemlock Ridge Trail was marked with blue and orange flagging tape, which helped us immensely. Picking our way around more fallen trees, we followed the trail down the ridge to Thurlow Brook Loop, referring to the trail map several times to make sure we were staying on track.
On the windless day, we could hear snow fall as it melted off branches overhead. We also listened to a group of crows or ravens that were making quite a racket. I never knew they could make so many strange sounds. Later, I looked up their calls on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, and based on recordings, I think we were hearing ravens, which make some fairly human-like noises!
Thurlow Brook Loop (which was marked with pink flagging tape) led us to the Beaver Dam Spur (marked in yellow flagging tape). After visiting the beaver dam (where we
did not spot any beavers, unfortunately), we called it a day and retraced our steps.
Near the end of the hike, Oreo stopped running ahead and decided to follow us so he could step in our snowshoe tracks. Every once in a while, he’d step on the tails of our snowshoes, causing us to laugh.
By the time we returned to the car, we were soaked through. The drizzle, fog, dripping trees and falling snow had made sure of that. But first thing was first — I stripped the doggy fleece off Oreo and wrapped him in a towel in the backseat. He was soon fast asleep.
More photos from the trip: