Nature 101

Checking out the many Oak Hill fire tower trails

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I have hiked the seven miles of the Oak Hill trails, but not all on the same day. The final ascent to the Oak Hill fire tower, which I have reached from both the Oak Hill Road and the Shaker Road, is rather steep. Just before arriving at the top, you get a perfect photographic view of the fire tower.

This part of the woods was lumbered in 1988, and some of the trails created by logging skidders were converted into hiking trails during the summer of 1989. The Dancing Bear trail, a recent addition to the network, leads to the Swope Slope vista from which you can see a wide swath of New Hampshire landscape, including Mount Kearsarge.

The 1920 Asiatic blight killed the American chestnut trees that were once prominent in this area. Now you will see many American chestnut saplings trying to reclaim their spot in the sun, but their center leader is already dead. Today, we know nothing about "roasting chestnuts by the fire."

Shortly past the Dancing Bear trail recently, a barred owl swooped past me. I heard no fluttering of its wings and I was impressed by its silent flight. Most owls have a comb-like fringe on their primary wing and tail feathers that enable them to fly without a sound. This adaptation enables them to noiselessly capture their prey by stealth. Flight for most birds is a swishing, noisy affair which gives potential prey time to scurry away. I stood there amazed as the owl flew through the trees as quietly as a stalking cat's paw on newly fallen snow. In fact, the barred owl is known as a cat with wings.

Near the entrance to the Vista trail on Shaker Road, there is a large cellar hole. By guesstimating the age of the trees growing out of the stone foundation, you can gain a general idea about how long ago the building that sat succumbed to the elements. This may have been a farmhouse in the mid-1800s when this hillside was all pasture.

When you hike the Oak Hill trails, you might come across Concord's largest white oak tree, with a trunk that is over 44 inches in diameter. And keep your eyes open for any owls, because you will not hear them - unless they give a hoot.

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