rockin’ the rail trail, again

Labor Day saw us out on the Northern Rail Trail again, for a 5-mile round trip walk in very comfortable weather. This time we walked from the Danbury General Store to the Grafton General Store, and back (passing mile markers 117 and 118, I think). Next time, we’ll bring another car so we can cover more new miles, from Grafton through Canaan to Enfield.

As usual, there were a few bike riders, but no other walkers, or runners. Saw a horse trailer in the parking lot, and manure along the trail, but no actual horses.

Part of the walk was a bit scary, maybe three-quarters of a mile southeast of the Grafton store: someone was apparently shooting targets (?) on a property just next to the trail, so that the gunshots were very loud and sounded close. I was ducking as we walked, quickly, past. The gunshots would stop, then start again, seemingly even louder. Probably coincidence, but on the other side of the trail there was a case or two of empty beer cans (Busch, I think), which didn’t give me an overall good feeling about that section. We almost walked back on the road (Route 4) for that stretch, it was so nerve-wracking. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard a volley of gunshots near this rail trail. I don’t think it’s safe, so close to people biking, walking, running, and especially riding horses and walking dogs.

Otherwise, the walk was fine, with new things to discover, as always.


One of my favourites was this Smilax (catbrier) vine, probably Smilax herbacea (smooth carrionflower), though it could be S. rotundifilia (roundleaf greenbrier) — but I don’t see any thorns — which S. rotundifolia has and herbacea doesn’t, and S. herbacea is more common here per Go Botany.

Likely Smilax herbacea
Likely Smilax herbacea

I had to get a few plants identified in Facebook Plant ID forums, including white sweet-clover (Melilotus Albus), which grows about 3 feet tall and very spindly here, sometimes in the center of the path.

Another plant with small white flowers, but only about a foot tall is Polygonum Articulatum (coastal jointed knotweed). We are not coastal — oh, how I wish we were! —  but the map shows it in our area. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it before; it’s a bit of an insignificant plant taken one stem at a time. But look at the red and green stem, and see how lovely the tiny flowers are up close.

One that seemed familiar but that I couldn’t quite identify turns out to be, maybe , coastal plain Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium dubium) or possibly spotted Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium maculatum), which is more common but which the plant ID folks thought the leaves resembled less than those of E. dubium. Either way, it’s some kind of Joe Pye weed, which is why it looked so familiar. I saw only a couple of plants.

(My Joe Pye weed: joepyeweedbloomsrainbackborder6sept2016)

I think I finally got at least a genus identification for this yellow flower, which I’d seen on our previous rail trail walk, in Danbury, a week or two ago. I’m fairly certain it’s a Hieracium, and I believe it’s either Hieracium kalmii (Canada hawkweed), because the leaves have a few obvious teeth, and both the leaves and bottom section of stem are furry, or possibly H. umbellatum (northern or narrow-leaved hawkweed), which is what the plant folks thought but Go Botany claims it’s “widely distributed but very rare in New England, being represented by one or a few populations in New Hampshire and possibly Vermont,” and neither of the two counties where it’s been found in NH is Grafton county.


If you have an opinion, feel free to let me know!


The rest of the plants I could identify myself, which is satisfying after so many that confused me.

The first is sweet-fern (Comptonia peregrina), a fern I call stinking fern — I really dislike its odor. It’s fairly common in masses along the trail, along with other ferns, and it’s easily identified by its dark crinkly fronds and its supposedly turpentine-like smell. (With fronds like this, who needs anemones? Ha ha). It’s a nitrogen fixer, so it’s often found in disturbed wastelands, ready to return the soil to fertility, over time.


Next, pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), a plant I first noticed growing in a friend’s yard a few years ago, and now it’s appeared in mine this year. It’s got a sweet flower, with silver leaves. I noticed two little patches of it on this walk.


There were quite a few mullein (Verbascum thapsus) plants at the start of our walk, closer to Danbury. One (not one of these shown) was about a foot taller than my spouse, who is 6’2″. It’s another plant found in my garden as well.

It’s blackberry season in New Hampshire, and there were many brambles along the trail to munch on as we walked.


Looks like someone else enjoyed them, too! (Bear, I’m guessing. The scat was almost all berry — beary? — and quite large.)



Some shrubs and trees are turning red earlier than others, including this chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) and some sugar maples.

redchokecherryprunusvirginiananrtgrafton5sept2016 redmapleleavessunlightnrtgrafton5sept2016


I saw a few running club moss (Lycopodium clavatum) plants, including this one with a strobilus (fruiting body). Club mosses aren’t true mosses but they are very interesting plants, sometimes called ‘fern allies,’ as are horsetails (equisetum). More on club mosses here, from a Virginia perspective.



I saw a few mushrooms on this walk, including this pretty yellow amanita, identifiable by what looks like sea salt on its cap. This is probably an Amanita muscaria var. formosa, common in New Hampshire. Don’t eat it or let your pets eat it. (NH Mushroom Company article about amanitas.)


I liked this purple, bruised looking mushroom, too, though I don’t know what it is.



There weren’t many milkweed plants and almost none with pods, but this one, at a road crossing, overfloweth fluff and seeds.



We saw a garter snake last week but no snakes this week and the only frog we stumbled across bounced away before it could become famous on the web. I did spot this eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly caterpillar, though, which was fortunately moving toward the edge of the trail, at a fairly rapid rate. Doesn’t it resemble a tiny land manatee? The young ones (the first three instars) are this colour, while the older ones (fourth instar) are green with yellow eyespots (thanks, Wikipedia). It’s a baby land manatee. (Except, wait, “before pupating, the caterpillar will turn dark brown.” So it’s either young or old but not middle-aged.)



As I mentioned, we turned around this time at the Grafton Country store (Propane and Fresh Eggs), which was across the street from the rail trail kiosk (Hot Foods, Cold Beer). The sign noting major Grafton attractions made me laugh.

graftoncountrystoregaspropanefresheggsnrtgrafton5sept2016 kioskacrossfromgraftoncountrystorehotfoodscoldbeernrtgrafton5sept2016 placesofinterestingraftonnhnrtgrafton5sept2016


Unlike some of the rail trail, the material underfoot in this section varied quite widely, from tarmac, to hard-packed dirt, to grass and weeds, to pine needles, to sand.

ledgetrailnrtgrafton5sept2016 trailtwotracksnrtgrafton5sept2016 trailnrtgrafton5sept2016 sandytrailnrtgrafton5sept2016


I’ll end with a few sights alongside the trail.

turkey feather
turkey feather
old railroad ties, a common sight along the trail
old railroad ties, a common sight along the trail
lovely brook view
lovely brook view


Here’s the Northern Rail Trail map, published by the Friends of the Northern Rail Trail.

One Comment on “rockin’ the rail trail, again

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