Thursday, October 29, 2009

Are new trails a priority at Hawksnest?

Recently I learned about plans for a trail around Oliver Pond in Hawksnest State Park.  I understand that this plan died when residents on Round Cove Road objected.  They said there were already nice places to walk, such as the lovely and rustic Hawksnest Road.

Oliver Pond-- The south shore in on the left

Trails exist along the north sides of both Hawksnest and Oliver Ponds.  One can easily circumnavigate Hawksnest Pond if you use the trail, plus Hawksnest Road and Round Cove Road.   But there's one problem with this route--it requires a trespass on private property when you cross the isthmus between Black and Hawksnest Ponds.  And this isthmus, home of the Plymouth gentian, is very sensitive ecologically.  Perhaps that's why instead a trail was proposed along the south side of Oliver Pond--so you could walk all around at least one of the ponds.

But the question remains and will come up again--is there any need for new trails?   Perhaps the question should be rephrased: "Are new trails a priority now?"

Given the serious problems at Hawksnest that I've listed elsewhere, I don't think trail construction is a priority now.  We need to get the existing system of trails marked and under control, which means:
  • Eliminating ORVs
  • Designating which are for horses and which are foot travel only
  • Limiting beach access (maybe closing some trails) when water levels are low, to protect the shoreline
While ORV abuse is still a problem, building more trails just creates more places to abuse. And key to any discussion of trails is: "How can we protect the fragile shoreline vegetation?"  This is essential to protecting water quality. 

For example, the long trail that now leads from Round Cove Road to the beach, starting about midway between the four corners and the parking lot, should probably be closed.  There are several reasons:
  • This trail heads straight downhill--overuse will surely lead to a gully forming that will channel runoff into the pond. 
  • More use of this area will also lead to out-of-control parking.  People who use the beach there will park there.
  • When water levels are low, having several trails to the beach invites horses and ORVs to go along the beach from this trail to the other--a route that damages the shoreline.

This trail, from Round Cove Rd to the shore of Hawksnest, should be closed to protect the shoreline. Note the ORV or bicycle track leading to it.

When the time comes to build more trails, we should be very thoughtful about any that would provide access to the beach, the most fragile part of Hawksnest. 

Here's another priority I would rate higher than building new trails--saving Hawksnest Road from development.  The rustic Hawksnest Road (Seth Whitfield Rd) is designated as a county road.  Hence at any time it could be widened or paved--and it goes right through the heart of the park.   Already the south end is being widened.   We can always create new trails in Hawksnest Park some time in the future.  But once Hawksnest Road is ruined, a great and historic place for walking is destroyed.
Hawksnest Road, great for hiking, is threatened.

And, what about promoting Hawksnest trails in a regional trail guide?  That's like offering a drink to an alcoholic.  First get the existing trails and visitation under control.  Then you can promote them.

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