The late Nicole Cormen, a dedicated conservationist and Lebanon City Councilor, loved Lebanon’s trails and natural areas. She and her friends liked to hike a different trail every Friday to honor the memory of Laurel Letter, who created Lebanon’s first conservation lands map by hand long before GPS and Google Maps. If you were lucky enough to get out on the trail with Nicole or Laurel, you could be guaranteed to learn a few things about the trees, wildlife, and flowers in Lebanon’s conserved lands.
It’s a bit of a challenge to choose a few favorites from the City’s 22 miles of trails on more than 1,880 acres, with more publicly accessible trails owned and maintained by others to explore. To help me decide, I talked with Ron Bailey, volunteer trail steward extraordinaire, who has designed, built, or maintained nearly every trail in the City’s extensive system. Here are a few options to consider:
One of my favorite memories of Signal Hill is of a frigid winter night in 2008 when I joined intrepid land stewards Nicole Cormen and Ron Bailey in burning a huge pile of invasive buckthorn on the open summit. The event required permission from the City Administration, the Airport, and the Fire Department, but we made it happen complete with a marshmallow roast. We hiked up the steady incline from Alden Road through two beautiful open fields before turning into the woods for the final ascent. In a just a mile of moderately easy walking, we were greeted with open views of Mt. Ascutney and the surrounding peaks.
On a recent visit, I explored a new trail that loops back down the hill to the meadows past a lovely small pond, with many wildlife tracks to study. Signal Hill’s history is interesting, and it has an historic connection to our brush fire. According to the City’s website, it is “part of the old chain of signal hills and mountains that date back to the Revolutionary War days when signal fires were lit atop the hills to indicate that the Redcoats were coming.”
Farnum Hill Preserve
A jewel in the middle of the City, Farnum Hill is an 880-acre forested tract gifted to the City by Dr. Myric Wood Jr. and family in 1982. As early as 1780, the first meeting house in Lebanon was built along one edge of the preserve, as well as the first road. Later the land was farmed by the Aspenwall and Farnum families. Today, a series of ridge trails with five access points provides hiking, mountain biking, skiing, snowshoeing, and trail running opportunities. The terrain is hilly and steep in places, but my favorite way to explore Farnum Hill is to hike it end to end. You can drop off a bicycle or car at the trailhead 2.4 miles up Poverty Lane, then journey back to the access across Poverty Lane Orchards to begin the roughly 2 hour walk. Shorter loops are available, including the Ron Bailey Trail, and the City’s parks and recreation department hosts the Farnum Five Trail Run here every fall.
Alice Peck Day Hospital Nature Trails
Designed by John Morton, a two-time Olympian and member of the Biathlon Hall of Fame, the APD trail system rolls gently over five miles of woods behind the hospital and neighboring retirement communities, Harvest Hill and The Woodlands. If ever there was a perfect place to cross country ski after a decent snowfall, this is it. The trails are wide enough for skate skiing, and you hardly know you’re ascending the side of a hill as you meander through a series of easy loops with excellent signage and benches strategically located for rest and reflection. For the very adventurous, this system connects with the City’s Starr Hill Natural Area off Young Street, offering additional loop trails. John’s vision of a trail system for everyone to enjoy was enthusiastically supported by the first administrator of the Harvest Hill facility, and is regularly maintained by the hospital. The trails are open to the general public.
Hats off to the trailblazers and stewards like Nicole Cormen and Ron Bailey, who have worked tirelessly along with City officials to create a network of trails and natural areas in Lebanon, most of them permanently protected. These public lands provide for wildlife migration, environmental education, and the simple enjoyment of nature. The next time a Friday rolls around, maybe we should all go for a hike.
The Lebanon Conservation Commission and Planning Department provide oversight and maintenance of the trails and natural areas. Complete descriptions and maps are available on the Planning Department website.
Cindy Heath has hiked nearly all of Lebanon’s trails and all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000 footers. She is the former Director of Recreation & Parks in Lebanon.