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Take a Hike: Ten minutes to a trail ... Thanksgiving walks

I am thankful for the beauty of our Harvard landscape. And the clean, clear air. And the shiny water of wetlands, streams, and ponds. And birds, and animals, big and small. I love walking through the glaciated terrain among erratic boulders and on the Earth’s bedrock.

Before or after our Thanksgiving feast, I will take a walk outside. I’ll need this walk. I know from past years that the strain from holding that particular angle my back assumes while chopping vegetables at the counter, washing dishes at the sink, and stirring pots on the stove will desperately need to be relieved by the gentle rolling motion of walking. The mental preparation of planning and coordinating the big meal will have produced tension in the mind and body.

So I will walk out the door, breathe in the fresh air, look into the distant hills and trees, swing my arms, and stride along the nearest trail that is just minutes away via a short road walk. And I will be thankful that there is no need to drive, load up the grandchildrens’ car seats, or be far from the roasting turkey.

The thing is, I need to do this most days, not just on Thanksgiving Day. A 2018 New York Times article by Jane Brody, reprinted Nov. 13, 2021, in the paper’s wellness section, says there is a positive correlation between the physical and mental health of a city’s population when residents have access to a park by no more than a 10-minute, or half-mile, walk. Of course the need for easy access to nature here in Harvard is not as urgent as in a city. Walking along the roads is a common practice here, but trail walking is more enjoyable for me.

The dream of a continuous network of trails in Harvard is still unrealized, but thankfully trails and conservation lands are distributed somewhat equally throughout the town. The map in the back of the Harvard Trails guide distributed by the Harvard Conservation Trust could direct many residents to trails within a 10-minute walk from home. (The information on the trust’s website may be helpful, but be aware that the interactive feature with the leaf icons is not accurate for some trails and inactive in others.)

In addition to the conservation trails listed in the guide, the trails at Horse Meadows Knoll and Elizabeth Brook on Sherry Road offer hikes within a 10-minute walk for nearby residents. Just over Harvard’s border on Littleton Road, Oak Hill conservation land with its network of trails is available to some residents via a short walk to the trailhead.

Some Harvard homes are within a 10-minute walk of trails near conservation land at the Delaney Flood Control Site and the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge. Fruitlands, a property of the Trustees of Reservations, also has a network of walking trails, free to members. And imagine how, if barriers around Devens were removed, even more trails, such as the one around Mirror Lake, would be accessible by foot to some Harvard residents.

For those occasions when getting to the trail involves more than a half-mile walk, I’m thankful I have plenty of options. That’s why my holiday wish list includes a membership or renewal to Sudbury Valley Trustees (new members receive an informative guide book), the Trustees of Reservations, Mass Audubon, the Harvard Conservation Trust (new members receive the “Harvard Trails” guide book), and the Nashua River Watershed Association.

For more information

  • Harvard Trails, 6th edition, is a publication of the Harvard Conservation Trust and is available at the museum store at Fruitlands and can also be obtained from HCT by request.
  • Trail maps are available online at harvardconser vationtrust.org, where the maps and the location of conservation lands on the Harvard map are accurate, but the leaf icons are inaccurate or don’t work. The problem is being addressed, according to HCT.
  • For a Fruitlands trail map: fruitlands.thetrustees.org/images/Trail_Map.pdf
  • For trail maps at Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge: www.fws.gov/uploadedFiles/OxbowTrails.pdf
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