Hikin' Herons! Part 2: Waterfowl Haven

Hikin' Herons! Part 2: Waterfowl Haven

[Note: Don't skip Part 1 of the Hikin' Heron series – Introduction & Overview – for resources and links to trail maps!]

I've driven past the Chocorua Village fire house a million times, but my attention usually hasn't been on the simple, unattractive building. There's Mill Pond, and just beyond, Chocorua Lake and Mt. Chocorua, itself. The gateway to the White Mountains. When driving up this stretch of road, I'm usually enamoured with whichever stuffed exotic animals the gift shop right past the fire house has on display in their front yard – always some lion or giraffe splayed out, waiting for the right passerby to take it home. A mainstay on the north side of Chocorua Village.

Waterfowl Haven trail map

The Waterfowl Haven trailhead is just behind the fire house, hidden in plain sight. It was tough to see while driving by, but I parked at the fire house and walked just a few steps up the road – and there it was, behind overgrown roadside tangle.

Our Hikin' Heron Adventure begins!

Wilder was ready to go after that hour-long car ride and once I had his orange safety vest and leash on, we got right to it. It was a very short stroll through these quiet woods, along someone's backyard and directly behind the fire house, to an intersection at a frozen-over section of the marsh which lends this area its name. We could run over a wooden bridge or take a loop through the woods and walk along the sunny side of the marsh.

We turned right and followed the marsh, enjoying the sun's attempt to brighten a messy patch of woods – recent storms had tossed around more than a few trees. It wasn't hard to get lost, but I kept an eye out for trail blazes, anyway. A few backyards were visible through the naked trees of late autumn.

Waterfowl Haven: marsh

The name Waterfowl Haven invites imagination – golden marsh with species upon species of winged wonders flying, roosting, bobbing, and carousing among the cattails and milkweed. We never did see any waterfowl on this late November day, but the glassy marsh reflected the sun, and the trapped grass in the ice – done growing for the year – reached out anyway.

Waterfowl Haven: Forest Loop

The trail was a good loop, back around to the fire house. Wilder had great fun crawling through the wreckage along the shore. Soon we were back at my car. Well, let's start all over again! In a moment, we found ourselves at the intersection with the wooden bridge again. Just beyond lied the Field Loop Trail. There was snow and leaves on the bridge and our crunching paws and shoes were the only sound out here. That, and the occasional gust of wind, a good winter blast to forewarn us of its inevitable arrival.

Wilder carefully stepped over the bridge – bridges always confuse him – and seemed pretty happy to bounce off the other side back to solid ground. He'd stop occasionally and stand proud, look around, seeing and hearing things only dogs know of. Wind or waterfowl, I'll never know.

At the edge of the field, we met a dancing apple tree, shaking its branches gently in the wind, forgotten fruit falling, piles of tart green all around us. We crunched over the apples and into the field, a slight uphill toward the woods beyond. There were some woody stems and brambles in the field that Wilder didn't like, so we hurried.

Waterfowl Haven: Field Loop

Back into the trees, we found a brook and another bridge, but this time Wilder took a dive for the brook and I let him dip his feet and face in with gusto. Then we ran – and ran and ran – all along the next section of trail, along the marsh, right to the very end of Waterfowl Haven, where the trail fizzled out into what looked like someone's backyard meadow. And so we headed back. We had to cross a flooded brook first. I hopped it carefully, but Wilder took to it like a fish might. Or perhaps a waterfowl.

Wilder about to get messy

It was a little disappointing, I guess, not to see any birds or wildlife as we strolled, but it's a quiet time of the year for ecological activity. I'd certainly like to come back in spring, summer, early autumn, and even in the depths of winter and see how this area changes with the seasons. The amount of life that lurks here must be staggering. A beautiful gem just off the highway.

We had our first victory of the Hikin' Heron challenge behind us. It's onward and upward from here, Wilder! Lucky for us, we weren't done for the day. I left his vest on as I pulled onto Rte. 16, and drove toward the blustery White Lake for our next hike.



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