by Marian Harman
The Sassafras Trail winds through forty wooded acres of conservation land in the northerly part of Town. A large parcel of this land was donated to the Town by Joe Flaherty, builder of several houses on Tenney Rd. This trail is a little over a mile in length one way, and is steep and rocky in many places. There are also wet areas to be negotiated. Good hiking boots and maybe a hiking stick will be helpful. The trail traverses diverse habitats, from wetlands to high rocky hills. The area is particularly interesting for its many large boulders, most of them glacial erratics. Erratics are rocks brought here from the north by the glacier and deposited as the glacier receded about 10,000 years ago.
There is a small parking area at the end of Sawmill Road. From here, enter the trail over a sturdy bridge built in 2015 by Eagle scout Owen Orford. Take the trail to the right down a small hill. The trail flattens out and you walk past several large boulders covered with foliose lichen. This lichen is particularly welcoming because it indicates good air quality. It will not grow in polluted air. If the weather is dry, and the lichen seems dead, a fun thing to try is to pour a little water on the grey lichen and watch it instantly turn green and start photosynthesizing. Try not to disturb the lichen; it grows very slowly and has probably been growing on these rocks for many decades. Little polypody ferns peek out from cracks in the rocks.
Further along, another trail takes off to the right and leads to wetlands and private property at the Villages at Stone Ridge. Continuing straight ahead on the Sassafras trail, you will pass interesting plants such as witch hazel which, surprisingly, puts out its straggly yellow blossoms in October, even after the leaves have fallen from the small trees. Sassafras for which the trail is named grows in or near wetlands. You may recognize it by its tendency to put out three types of leaves: an oval leaf, a mitten-shaped leaf with one thumb, and a leaf with two extra lobes or thumbs. Leaves and branches are aromatic and insecticidal. This tree was once used to make root beer, but is now considered carcinogenic and should not be consumed. Many yellow birch and red maple, sphagnum moss, and sensitive fern also grow in this wet area of the forest. Birds love this area and many species can be seen and heard in the spring and summer.
As you proceed, you will come upon a trail leading to the right, with a trail marker indicating the turn-off. Staying straight would lead to private property on which the large glacial erratics known as the “house and barn” sit, and then on to Summer Village. Proceeding to the right on the Sassafras trail, you will climb a rocky hill. Here, where the land is dry, pine and scarlet oak, blueberry and partridge berry dominate the forest.
At the end the trail goes down a very steep hill, and over a wooden bridge. It ends at Tenney Rd. Turn around and retrace your steps to get back to the parking area on Sawmill Road.Parking: Ample
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