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04 August 2011

History of the Martha's Mile Trail (Cherry Mountain, NH)

New signs have recently been installed at both ends of the Martha's Mile Trail.  Many hikers are familiar with this short  trail (0.8 mile).  It runs along a ridge on Cherry Mountain and it connects the peaks of Mt. Martha and Owl's Head.   These signs were made for the Forest Service by Julian Czarny who hand-hewed them from a downed cedar tree just a few miles from his home in Bethlehem.  Recycling at its finest!

Here is a composite snapshot of the two new signs.

As nice as the new signs are, they are just one component of the story about this trail.  The hiking community can be grateful to Bill Nichols (Littleton, NH) who took the initiative in the 1960s to restore this trail that had been abandoned for many years.  I recently asked Bill if he would be willing to prepare a written account of his recollections about the Martha's Mile Trail.  He willingly complied and granted permission to post his chronicle that is presented below.

Although Bill retired as the maintainer of Martha's Mile in 2004, he is still active in trail maintenance.  He, along with a group of dedicated volunteers, maintains hiking trails under the jurisdiction of the Littleton Conservation Commission(LCC).  One such trail is the Kilburn Crags Trail which is one of the official trails listed in the venerable White Mountain Guide published by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC).
Background of Martha's Mile Trail

by Bill Nichols

In mid 1800's my Great Grandfather, Dr. William Hoople, built a summer home in the Jefferson Highlands of NH. It is located on Rt.2 next to, and just East of the Carter/ Bridgman house. His family and our next three generations spent every summer there. It is where from 1931 I spent my first eleven years every summer.

It was there, I was seven, when my Grandfather told me, pointing to Cherry Mt., “There used to be a trail that connected Cherry Mt. with Owl's Head but it's all grown up now”. For some reason I remembered that and over the years thought how much fun it would be to rediscover that trail.

It wasn't until ten years after I was discharged from the Navy, in 1955 that I was able to get to the summit of Cherry Mt. (Mt. Martha on the USGS Maps) and browse the woods in order to find the old footpath. On hands and knees I truly found the indentation in the earth of the old trail. There were Spruce trees 6” to 8” thick growing in that dip.

I then went to talk to “Hutch” in our Littleton Post Office Building where, in the basement at that time, was the office for the White Mountain National Forest . Mr. Hutchinson was the Ranger in charge of the Ammonoosuc Ranger District and I asked him for permission to reopen that trail. At that time he had no record of the trail's name if it ever had a name, he told me, “Go ahead, but if I ever could not keep it open I would have to remove any signage and obliterate the trail at both ends”. I agreed and started my plan.

There were several High School boys* who were interested in trail work and another friend who had worked for the AMC willing to get into this venture, so with saws, machete's and axes we did actually crawl through the woods to follow the old foot path clearing as we went.

The fire tower on the summit of Cherry was there then and Lawrence Fahey from Twin Mt. was the Fire Watch there for many years. He yelled down from the tower thinking we were out of our minds doing the work we were into but he got used to us and always gave us a good greeting at every meeting.

This work went on during weekends most of the summer of 1965/66 when we finally found a reasonable approach up the boulder summit of Owl's Head where our path joined onto the Owl's Head Trail kept by the Randolph Mountain Club.

I named the almost mile long trail after Martha the old name of the mountain. I would love to know the history about Martha. Was she an early hiker there, did she live in an early farm there or did she die on that hill? I may never know.

After my wife, Carol, died in 1985 I remarried Anne-Marie and she liked to go with me every spring to open up the trail from the winter's blow-downs. Several trips we hid the chain saw in the woods because we could not get all the work done in one day so it waited there until next time we returned.

Another person had adopted (an agreement with the U.S.F.S. to maintain) the west side (from Rt. 115) of the Cherry Mt. Trail but that person never kept the bargain, and because that was the trail we hiked up to work on our trail, and whereas we had all the tools, we ended up clearing that trail just to get to the summit and start our own work.  I know of no other mountain that has a trail with the same name that goes from one side of the mt. to the other.  It should be named East Side and/or West Side.

So, for 38 years (at age 76) we kept Martha's Mile signed, blazed and open, and my childhood dream did come true!

A lady from Franconia named Kristen Reinhold and her husband agreed to take over Martha's Mile in 2004/5 from me, and soon after, John Compton from Bethlehem, NH took on that responsibility.

*Helpers: Jeff Parker, Jim Clark, Steve Lewis, Ralph Digman, and Tony-Bill Sarausky.


Dan and Meena said...

What a great post, and nice history lesson! Thanks for this!

1HappyHiker said...

Dan and Meena: I was very grateful that Bill Nichols took the time to compile this history. It provided details and insight that only he could provide.

Thanks for taking a moment to post your comments!


Summerset said...

Neat! That is a great bit of history and such a personal story about making a childhood dream come true through good, honest, hard work.

Yvon said...

Thank you John for the history, Annie and I were there yesterday and I was looking for the history.

1HappyHiker said...

. . . and thank you Yvon for taking a moment to post a comment!
It’s wonderful to read that you and Annie found the history to be interesting!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article and work in helping keep the trail open. I'm going to hike Martha's Mile in the morning! I saw your many posts on VFTT and have been waiting to visit this in person.


1HappyHiker said...

Thank you Bill for taking time to post your comments. You have my best wishes for a fantastic hike on Cherry Mountain. On a good-viewing day, the vistas from the overlooks on Owl’s Head and Mt. Martha are spectacular!


Anonymous said...

Had a great hike. Hazy but the views were still phenomenal. Not a soul seen all day. I was treated to an amazing aerial display from 4 or 5 kestrels at the top of Mt. Martha. Martha's mile is very well maintained and I thank you for your hard work! My pics are on facebook...check em' out.
Bill Kanserski

1HappyHiker said...

Hey Bill . . . judging from your photos posted on Facebook, I’d say you indeed had a phenomenal day on Cherry Mountain.
Thanks for the follow-up, and thanks for your kind words about the maintenance of Martha’s Mile!


Anonymous said...

Mt. Martha is named after George Washington's wife.

1HappyHiker said...

Yes, that is indeed what is reported to be the origin of this name according to some sources, including the book "Place Names of the White Mountains" by Robert and Mary Julyan.