Out & About: Public trail set to open on conserved land in Orford

Landowner Bob Hedges on a hike in Orford, N.H., in 2020. A roughly 1-mile, out-and-back trail to the summit of Stonehouse Mountain will soon be open to the public. (Courtesy photograph)

Landowner Bob Hedges on a hike in Orford, N.H., in 2020. A roughly 1-mile, out-and-back trail to the summit of Stonehouse Mountain will soon be open to the public. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photograph

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-24-2023 10:15 PM

ORFORD — When Bob and Christie Hedges bought their Orford home in 2000, they were immediately struck by the beauty surrounding them.

Over the years, they purchased neighboring parcels as they became available, amassing around 270 acres near the Lyme/Orford border, including the summit of Stonehouse Mountain.

Now they’ve conserved the land with a conservation easement held by the Upper Valley Land Trust, known as the UVLT, and in a couple short weeks, a roughly one-mile, out-and-back trail to the mountain’s summit will open to the public. An announcement about its official opening will be posted to UVLT’s website, uvlt.org.

“It really became a desire to want to share it with other people, too, and let other people experience the beauty of our land,” Christie Hedges said. The couple have heard that Stonehouse Mountain was named for a stone house that previously existed on the property but have not found evidence of it yet.

The area feels remote. Bob Hedges described it like being in the Pemigewasset Wilderness in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Walking around, the Hedgeses regularly spot moose, bear and bobcat tracks. There are ferns, rock formations and “beautiful mossy areas,” Christie Hedges said. The summit offers views of nearby Mount Cube and Mount Moosilauke.

“It’s an extraordinary place,” Bob Hedges said. “It’s extremely rugged terrain, so you think you’re actually on a 4,000-footer when you’re actually just in Orford.”

The first part of the trail is gradual before turning steep toward the top, said Jason Berard, vice president of stewardship at UVLT, a Hanover-based nonprofit. He described it as one-mile version of the Cross Rivendell Trail up Mount Cube.

Portions of a trail existed, and now the work has turned to connecting those smaller portions into one, Berard said. The Hedgeses have recruited friends and family to help build the trail, including their son, Connor, who was an intern with the UVLT about 15 years ago.

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“When friends come to visit for the weekend, they get enlisted as part of the trail work team,” Bob Hedges said.

Neighbors and other community members have also contributed to the work.

“It’s been a fun effort by a lot of people,” Christie Hedges said.

The land also connects to Mountain View Farm Conservation Area in Orford, which the UVLT owns. There’s also other land in conservation easements that contribute to important wildlife corridors, Berard said.

“There’s nearly contiguous protected property between here and Lyme Pinnacle,” he said. “This is an area that has a lot of unfragmented forest land and its definitely a priority area to conserve more land in.”

The next portion of the plan involves building a trail from Stonehouse Mountain to Mountain View Farm Conservation area, a 146-acre property owned by UVLT, that includes forest, farmland and access to Mason Pond.

“Once we get the trail section from the summit down to Mountain View done, then it would be possible for someone to make a hike from this trailhead to the summit of Smarts (Mountain), which is pretty neat,” Berard said. “We’re hoping that’ll be this summer as well, but the trail probably wouldn’t be ready until the fall.”

The Hedgeses hope that visitors to Stonehouse Mountain revel in the wilderness and serenity they have found there.

“I would also love people to walk away and realize they can just carve out an hour of their day and feel like they have gone to a really remote location and just experience the peace and the tranquility,” Christie Hedges said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.