Making The Canonchet Trail

By HHA Member Art Lewis

Photos by Bob Miner & Tom Helmer


Introduction To The Hoxsie Trail Project

The best introduction to the background of the Hoxsie Property’s transition into a Public Access Trail is in this ‘Open Letter’ from Harvey Buford to Tom Helmer.

The Hoxsie Property was acquired by The Nature Conservancy, (TNC), in December of 2010 from the Hoxsie family. US Forest Legacy Funds were used for the majority of the purchase price.

Ed Wood is on the TNC-RI board, and facilitated a meeting with TNC here in Hopkinton a couple of winters ago to discuss our shared interests, and ways to co-operate. We walked the Hoxsie property together that day.

TNC has first and foremost been about protecting ecosystems. They are of late more aware that a key component of their mission to protect nature is to build strong local support. Opening up their properties responsibly for public enjoyment is now understood to advance their mission.

Last winter, the Hopkinton Historical Commission, (HHC), began our local project of developing maps of all public accessible properties in Hopkinton. The current understanding with TNC is that I will flag the potential trail on the Hoxsie property, and they will inspect this temporary route, then decide if the layout is OK. HCC will then be able to develop & publish the Trail Map, not just for Hoxsie, but for the entire interlinked system of trails.

I have broached the ‘Trail Head Public Access’ subject with our local government, and believe I will get Town Council support to use some HCC Capital Improvement Project funds, along with Grant funds we will likely seek, to develop the trailhead parking on the Hoxsie property. After all, the Route 3 trailhead will likely also be the only trailhead for the Hopkinton Land Trust’s, (HLT), “Brown Homestead” at the Canonchet Woods property immediately West of Hoxsie.

The Hoxsie property is contiguous with 600 plus acres to the West that were protected around the year 2000 with leadership of TNC working with HCC while we were still creating HLT. Nine separate tracts were acquired from nine different owners in that deal. This cluster links at the North to the DEM, Audubon and TNC properties around Long Pond. They in turn link to Yawgoo and Patchaug Forest. Thus there is a huge amount of contiguous Interstate hiking available.

The intertwined Indigenous and Colonial cultural landscapes are what I think about most for the Hoxsie property. Combining the “Walk Amid” attraction of actual Archaeology/History found “In The Wild”, with the continuous Public Hiking Trail networks interconnection to thousands of acres of adjacent pristine forest is a combination that will certainly be a good reason for people to come outside and personally experience Nature, rather than passively viewing it on TV from their couch.

We know that HLT’s recently opened Tomaquag Trail at Grills Sanctuary has already drawn people from a wide geographic radius in the three Fall/Winter months since it has opened.

The Hoxsie property’s varied “Upland” terrain, and it’s long existence as unexploited woodlands have allowed a variety of niche ecology habitats to become established. They nestle amid prolific archaeological remains, an historic legacy now under our day’s stewardship. The resulting new Public Access Trail we are going to construct will surely reflect the goals of The Nature Conservancy.

This page will record this project from the start of exploring TNC’s Hoxsie Property with trained eyes and experienced Trail Constructors. Soon enough there will be hundreds of photos on this page. They will be organized into slide shows, identified by the date the photos were taken, and placed in chronological order. As the site resources and temporary Trail Route firm up, various Archaeological and Natural History features will appear again in these slide shows, as our understanding of the best blend of the hilly terrain becomes meshed with the educational opportunities to display the local historic legacy.

No doubt, as our Property knowledge base grows, the chronological record of discovery contained in these slide show photos will be reviewed by the decision makers, to insure the best possible route for the trail/trails, to guide the hiker to view this site to the best possible advantage.

The Exploratory Walks of 12/27/13

Two different groups of experienced Bush Whacking, Cross Country Hikers set out from opposite ends of the Hoxsie Property. Harvey Buford, Elwood & Cindy Johnson and Bob Miner, with his experienced eye and camera began the responsibility of marking the first version of the temporary trail, beginning from the proposed Trail Head at the Route 3 end of the property.

Mike & Marne McNamara, with Marne’s daughter Alicia, and Tom Helmer, with his experience eye and camera, came in from Lawton Foster North Road. This group was there to scout for items of interest for possible inclusion when the Trail Blazers eventually arrive in this area at some point in the future.

To play the slide show, roll your cursor over the grey band at the bottom center of the initial photograph. It will darken into a VCR style control panel. Click on the arrow to play, click on the double bars to stop, and move the duration slider left or right to change the photo rate from it’s 5 second view cycle


The Exploratory Walks of 1/1/14

We again eventually split into two groups, one to continue refining the temporary trail, the other to view the Colonial sights. We were joined that day by 3 Generations of the Grant family!
Mal & Marilyn passed on their love of Hiking and Natural History to their daughter and son in law. They are wasting no time in giving the same special gift to their children.


1st Proposed Trail Walk Through, January 17, 2014

By the middle of January, 2014, Harvey Buford, Bob Miner, Mike and Marne McNamara and the other usual suspects had done sufficient hiking to mark a proposed trail route with yellow ribbon.

On Friday, 1/17, Cheryl Wiitala, Preserves Manager for The Nature Conservancy, met with the local representatives of the Hopkinton Conservation Commission, The Hopkinton Land Trust, The Hopkinton Historic District Commission, Mike Hoxsie, of the Hoxsie Family and The Hopkinton Historical Association at the Hoxsie Property to walk the proposed new trail.

It was clear from the beginning, as we crossed the brook splashing through it’s New England rocks, that this trail is going to be a delight. We moved from lowlands in farming country up through gradual hills beneath the mixed hardwood forest. Being January, we were grateful for the sun shining through the bare trees. Come July, we will be equally grateful for the shade from the forest’s canopy.

Cheryl clearly expressed her concerns that the trail not damage the ecology of the land, and that it also respect the archaeological legacy that abounds on this property which The Nature Conservancy is preserving for the future

It also became obvious that this was not the first time she had walked this land. She was quite familiar with the Colonial Archaeology, as she has been to these locations before.

Her active professional interest and personal “Sweat Equity” in this piece of Hopkinton, our small town, was noticed and respected. And although she was representing TNC, a National Organization, she was also a pleasant hiking companion, as familiar with the outdoors as all of us locals. It was a very enjoyable afternoon! And a productive one for the rapid development of the as yet unnamed Trail on the as yet unnamed Property.

Soon Cheryl let us know The Nature Conservancy’s choices.

#1. The proposed trail was fine! There were details to be attended to, such as having the exact route be as Ecologically Friendly as possible.

#2. The name of The Nature Conservancy’s new acquisition would be “Canonchet Preserves”. This will be on the sign along Route 3 in Hopkinton. This picture of the sign at Grills Preserve demonstrates the clear and factual style of the sign to be made for Canonchet Preserves, which will also include The Nature Conservancy’s Logo. (Once the new sign is up, I will insert it’s photo in this space.)

The Nature Conservancy will be on the top line, their Logo will be added once the graphic design is finalized

As All Terrain Vehicles, although popular, create significant foot prints and serious erosion potential, The Canonchet Preserves will discourage their use, as there are many other places to enjoy 4 Wheelin’, but a site that combines Colonial Archaeology AND the beginnings of the American Industrial Revolution is rare indeed.

She also sent us a preliminary map showing the Canonchet Preserves outlined in black, and the new Trail in yellow. For “Thru Hikers” the connection to the preexisting trail is also shown.


It is now late in January, we have already had a day at zero degrees Fahrenheit, and yet progress is now moving ever closer to brush clearing, trail markers, adequate parking and the hundred details that go into making the Trail a reality.

The “Brush Busters” Work Party, 2/1/2014

The week before, the temperature was at zero degrees Fahrenheit. We had snow a couple of days. Whoda thunk it that Harvey would schedule a work day for February 1st in New England. But as Mark Twain wrote, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a bit”. Sure enough, although there was snow lingering on the ground, the temperature made it into the mid 40’s, and eight of us answered the call.

We began the day by meeting with two of the Preserve’s neighbors, then we got to work.

The future parking area for Canonchet Preserves has the usual abandoned field assortment of sticker bushes and tall brush. Camouflaged in the brush were nasty surprises, in the form of 5/8 thick steel rod lengths that were used to strap around a wooden silo to keep the cylinder shape tight and strong.

The silo was long gone, but the loops and cut ends of this steel rod waited to spear a vehicle that dared to enter the overgrowth. So while the brush cutters went to work on the plant life, Ted went to work with his acetylene cutting torch to cut the snarl down to manageable lengths. But first we had to drag the steel out of the tangle of brush with a chain and a truck.

We made great progress, as you can see for yourself!


Marking Possible Additional Trails, 2/2/14

Harvey and the Brush Busters had walked a possible new route to merge with the first approved trail system shown earlier on the TNC preliminary Trail Map earlier on this page.

Beginning at the same point on the Rt. 3 Trailhead, instead of taking a Right and traveling North, the group took a Left, and traveled Northwest, but staying on the higher ground to avoid the wetlands. This “Brush Busters” trail then crossed a “modern” old bridge and proceeded due West for ¼ mile before angling diagonally Northwest about 3/16 of a mile to link up with the First approved Trail on the Northern boundary of Canonchet Preserves’ land.

The next day, Harvey & Tom passed up all the Superbowl pre-game overkill to hike Canonchet Preserves, scouting & marking an extension this new route. The goal was to merge with the approved trail, forming an actual loop, with this 2/2 trail merging in at the Stone Bridge and Colonial Mill.

These potential additions to the approved trail would make long trails at the Northern and Southern edges of the property, with a diagonal connection across the middle. But everything needs to be approved by TNC before they show up on the map. The slide show below records their progress.

When they were at the Mill Site, Tom shot a video of the Mill Stream, preserving a rare occurrence. During the previous week, we had several days where the temperature was zero through the low teens. This produced a Hard Freeze, and capped all the brooks with ice that was walkable thick. Then we had 3 days in the low 40’s.

The running water began to cut holes in the icy surface, and it was unsafe to trust it. The holes in one stretch at the Mill produced a “Lace” pattern, with the water splashing up through the holes in the lace! Downstream the flow’s splashing in the open air again was noisily amplified by the mill’s confining wall. You may wish to turn your volume down as you view this ephemeral phenomenon.

2nd Proposed Additional Trails Walk Through, 2/4/14

There was a big, wet, all day snowfall on Monday, 2/3, but Harvey got in touch with Cheryl about two new Trail possibilities. She agreed to come down and see for herself. Cheryl, Harvey and Tom met in a certified “Robert Frost Snow Filled New England Woods” the very next day.

Many hikers have never had the experience of being the first set of human tracks in the forest, but these three needed no convincing to add the stark fourth season to their hiking calendars.

The slide show below attests to the beauty of the woods in Winter. You too will find the varied terrain of Canonchet Preserves is singularly handsome as the rugged rocks show darkly through the snow blanket. You can see the ice nodules clinging to the twigs and branches sparkling like diamonds in the sun. Look close, and you will see the the hardy plants of Summer building up their strength for the Spring explosion, even as they are surrounded by the snow.

The 3 adventurers of this day, although on a “Work Walk”, urge you to try a hike in the Winter at least once. You have to use your head, as any trouble is far more serious when the temperature is below freezing. So THINK, already, and don’t do stupid things that will get you hurt!

Pick your Trail, and trusted companions, and go on outdoors together!
Soak up the special sights & sounds of Winter in the dazzling snow, under the deep blue sky above!

Who can tell what YOU might discover on a delightful journey into the Winter Woods!

Maybe, like us, you will meet the Nee-vie’, a prolific, dwarf, species of two sphere snow people.

Maybe you might even find yourself amid the abundance of Peace!


The New Preliminary Trail Map For Canonchet Preserves, 2/4/14

Moving quickly, Cheryl prepared a new preliminary map from the GPS data obtained earlier today. The trails will still be tweaked and revised, but this is a real good indication of how Canonchet Preserves will offer the Hiker a variety of Terrain & Ecology, while keeping the trail out of the darker shaded wetlands.

March 5th Activities

Cheryl Wiitala of TNC chaired the Construction Meeting that brought Marilyn Grant & Cindy Johnson of the Hopkinton Land Trust, co-owners of the Canonchet Preserves with The Nature Conservancy, Harvey Buford, Mike and Marne MacNamara, of the Hopkinton Conservation Commission & the Hopkinton Historical Association, and Rick Prescott and Tom Helmer, also of the Hopkinton Historical Association all together for a 2 hour planning meeting at Town Hall.

The Main Trail on Canonchet Preserves will be named “The Canonchet Trail”, carrying this same name through the HLT property ending at Stub Town Road. The various loop and connector trails will be named later. The date for the Canonchet Trail’s opening will be June 21, and it will be the site of HLT’s Annual “Summer Solstice Walk”.

After that meeting broke up, Cheryl, Harvey & Tom adjourned to the Canonchet Preserves, where snow continued to endure, to meet with Kat Zuromski, of the Southern Rhode Island Conservation District. Kat would be collecting the GPS Data for all the trails loops and connectors on the Canonchet Preserves, as well as the link to extend the Canonchet Trail further North to Stub Town Road.