Taking a winter walk to a new trail: Gene’s View

Courtesy photo Dave Coughlin, foreground, and Gene Van Loan inspect ‘the twisted tree’.

When the Bedford Land Trust set the date for a winter hike at the Van Loan Preserve, the usual questions came to mind. Will there be enough snow for snowshoes? Will it rain? When Feb. 18 arrived, neither of these conditions was of concern.

Sunshine greeted us with temperatures in the 40s. The winds were calm; the snow-cover measured between 12-15 inches. But, the snow was light and fluffy – potentially making forward progress slow and arduous for those wearing hiking boots.

Our goal for the morning was to hike the Van Loan Trail and then the Anna & Pic Loop to the southwest corner of the Van Loan Preserve to view the new spur trail, Gene’s View. This new trail was created by BLT Trustee Brian Nolen as an alternative wetland overlook when the Anna & Pic Loop Trail became repeatedly impassable due to beaver activity at the northwest boundary wetland.

The new trail is named in honor of Gene Van Loan for his efforts to preserve his family’s land of some 68 acres with a conservation easement granted to the Bedford Land Trust in the year 2000. In 2011, the Van Loan family generously donated the ownership of property to the Town of Bedford.

As soon as we crossed Wallace Road from Benedictine Park to the Van Loan Preserve trail entrance, it became obvious that other visitors had already flattened the path to a series of boot prints. With BLT Trustee Erik Tolf in the lead wearing

snowshoes, the path was widened for those following along in hiking boots.

Upon entering the woods, it was possible to start paying attention to the winter landscape rather than every forward step. Along the path from Wallace Road, we viewed a very large multi-forked Eastern White Pine among smaller skinny mixed hardwoods.

According to a report by County Extension Forester Jon Nute, a tree harvest of mostly white pine occurred in 1986. This harvest created gaps in the tree canopy that allowed sunlight to reach the forest floor. Regeneration or “new growth” occurred resulting in a dense undergrowth of saplings.

A winter hike at the VLP is very different than one in spring, summer or fall. For example, the terrain is blanketed in white making the scene look both clean and serene. With fewer birds overwintering, there is an absence of song. A peaceful stillness prevails. At different points along the trail, we could see numerous tracks heading off into the woods. It became evident that we humans were not the only ones using the paths.

At the entrance to the new spur trail, we paused for a ceremony of installing a new wooden trail sign, “Gene’s View” (created by BLT Trustee Rebecca Martin and husband Roger) and picture-taking. Once at the wetland overlook, we moved on to the frozen pond to get a better view of the expanse of the open space and to take some group photos recording the day.

On our return trip, we walked southeast on the Anna & Pic Loop to the Van Loan Trail that borders Riddle Brook. That is where we noticed “the twisted tree.” While several explanations were offered to explain the cause of its deformity, the mystery will remain until “trees can talk.”

The Van Loan Preserve is a little jewel just outside of Bedford’s Historic District. Once there, it’s possible to feel quite removed from civilization with only the peaceful sights of nature. We are, indeed, lucky to have such high quality open space available to us year-round.

More information about the Van Loan Preserve is available at: www.BedfordLandTrust.org. Please click on “Lands We Conserve” and then “Van Loan Preserve.”

– By Jeanene Procopis,

Bedford Land Trust Trustee