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26 January 2014

In Praise of Hiking Adventures to Beaver Ponds

If you do some reading about beavers, you'll discover that their ability to change the landscape is second only to humans.  By building dams, beavers create wetlands which support biodiversity that rivals that of tropical rain forests.

In addition, there are also some aesthetic paybacks from beaver activity. The wetlands and ponds create natural clearings that allow open views of the surrounding terrain.  These vistas sometimes rival those seen from mountaintops and ledges.  Because of these viewing opportunities, I will sometimes seek out beaver ponds as a hiking destination.

Although I've visited beaver ponds at all seasons of the year, winter is a particularly opportune time since the ponds are frozen.  This allows easier access to these areas which are often surrounded by boggy areas that are difficult to traverse during warm weather months.

During the past few weeks of January, I've visited a couple of beaver ponds that were new destinations for me.  One of the ponds is located about a mile south of the Gale River Loop Road near Bethlehem, NH.  My journey to the pond was launched from a point near the trailhead for the Garfield Trail.  A logging road was used for the beginning part of the trek, and the final portion involved a bushwhack of about 0.5 mile which was overall relatively easy.  However, at one point I did encounter a nasty section of downed trees which required considerable zigzagging to work through the clutter.

Shown below are scenes from my visit to the beaver pond described above.  In the first two photos, the actual beaver pond in behind me.  The views are overlooking a wetlands/meadow area formed by beaver activity.
Southward vista of ridgeline between Mt. Garfield and North Lafayette
 Eastward vista of Twins on distant horizon (far left) and Mt. Garfield (right)
 Tracks made by a small animal who had also enjoyed a recent visit to the pond!
The preceding photos and text described the pond that was visited as part of a calculated and well-planned visit.  So now, here's the tale about a beaver pond that was visited sort of by accident.  As the expression goes, "Haste makes waste"!  Late in the day, an unexpected couple of hours became available for hiking.  Without taking time to thoroughly plan the trek and familiarize myself with the terrain, I hastily headed off for a bushwhack to a beaver pond on Cheney Brook (located on west side of the East Pond Trail).

Once I arrived at what I thought was my destination, I suspected something was wrong when the views weren't as I'd expected they would be.  However, I had no time to snoop around since daylight hours were waning, plus I needed to pick up my wife from work.  Later in the evening when comparing the photos I'd taken to those contained in Steve Smith's blog (click HERE), it became apparent that I'd overshot my mark and ended up at a smaller pond adjacent to the main pond.  TOTAL HUMILIATION!

Shown below is a Google Earth image of the two beaver ponds along Cheney Brook which I've dubbed as Big Cheney Pond and Little Cheney Pond.
Google Earth image showing "Big Cheney Pond" and "Little Cheney Pond"
And so with that bit of embarrassing explanation out of the way, here are some other details about this adventure.  I didn't run a GPS track, but roughly guesstimate that the round-trip mileage for this trek was about 3.7 miles.  Approximately 3 of those miles were on the East Pond Trail, and the remaining 0.7 involved bushwhacking.

En route to the spot where I'd begin my bushwhack, I needed to cross Pine Brook on the East Pond Trail.  The ice on the brook appeared thin, and it was punctuated with obvious gaps of open water.  I took a deep breath, hoped for the best,  and made the crossing without incident (other than frayed nerves)!

The photo shown below was taken as I approached the brook crossing on the return leg of my journey.  It appeared just as daunting, regardless of which side of the brook you were on!
The crossing of Pine Brook on the East Pond Trail
The early part of the bushwhack took me through some rather thick patches of conifers.  But before long, I was walking through a picturesque stand of tall, stately trees.
Picturesque stand of tall, stately trees en route to beaver pond on Cheney Brook
Despite being at the smaller of the two ponds, and despite it being an unintended destination, the overall vista was still quite pleasant.  And on another positive note, I'm always very keen on visiting new places, and this certainly qualified.  However, I must add that it would be preferable to do these visits by design, rather than by chance!
Osceola ridge as viewed from a smaller beaver pond adjacent to the main pond)
To sum it up, besides visiting natural settings such as mountaintops, ledges, and waterfalls, the unheralded beaver ponds are yet another resource for adding variety to my hiking adventures.


One Day in America said...

Hi John,

This is a great report!
I like your beginning comments on beaver ponds. Unfortunately for the beaver though, too many people in our country regard them as pests who interfere with development, (i.e. destruction) of land, rather than as the amazing engineers of aesthetic beauty that they really are!

And regarding your "haste makes waste" comments, well, sometimes that's all too true! But, even though hiking to the "wrong" pond was embarrassing for you, at least you got to visit a new place (as you point out) and it turned out to be a lovely spot in its own right. So everything worked out just fine! And—sometimes—a bit of a misstep makes for a better travel story!

Tim loves hiking to beaver ponds as they usually provide excellent fishing. But, obviously, that's also during the months when the ground is soggy and boggy. Luckily he has his fishing boots and waders on to solve that problem!

A most enjoyable post, John!

1HappyHiker said...

Rita, it's so nice to know that you (and apparently Tim as well) have an admiration for the underappreciated beaver! They are truly amazing!

Thank you for your kind words about my misstep. As you say, things did work out okay. Besides being a new place for me and a lovely spot in its own right, it was also a great "refresher course" on the importance of doing thorough prep work for each and every off-trail adventure. This time, the only "harm" done was ending up at an unintended destination. Obviously, there are other outcomes that could be less desirable!

So glad you liked the report!


heidi said...

Nothing better than beaver habitat for biodiversity! A great place to spot otters, mink, woodduck or fish for trout. Beavers are the trickle- economy that works. We found that even in our city when we installed a flow device to regulate pond height. Now we have a restored wetland, a safe pond and an urban adventure every day!

Heidi Perryman
Worth A Dam

1HappyHiker said...

Heidi, thank you for taking time to read and to respond to my blog posting about beavers. And especially thanks for including a link to your NPO’s truly terrific website “Worth a Dam” ( Your website contains great information and images relative to beavers, as well as the very interesting story of how your organization helped the city of Martinez, CA develop a successful strategy for allowing the beavers to stay in Alhambra Creek. This indeed was a fine example of humane environmentalism in the home town of John Muir.


Marty said...

Peak Baggers and now Pond Baggers- Someone needs to make a list and design a badge!!

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Marty,

Such a list might be helpful! It would provide some guidance about which ponds are already well-known and frequently visited. My preference is to explore lesser-known places that don’t make the lists. :-)


JimmyO said...

Pond baggers, I LIKE IT! A pastime available to so many more than the 4K footers permit. Don't get me wrong, I'm aspiring to complete the 4K footers myself but variety is the spice of life!

1HappyHiker said...

Thanks for stopping by to read my blog, and for posting your comments!

I certainly agree with you that “variety is the spice of life”! Variety does to our lives the same thing that spice does to food. It makes it more fun, and more interesting.

Best wishes to you for happy trails and a successful completion of the 4K peaks!