A slice of forever found in the wilderness 

Hikers cross over the Essex line into Manchester during a hike celebrating Manchester Essex Conservation Trust's 50th anniversary with a walk through the wilderness conservation area via the Old Manchester Essex Road.

"To the glory of God and for the benefit of man these woods are preserved forever — 1879"

Inscribed on a plaque along a cart path in Manchester, these words are an assurance of permanent conservation of the first parcels of land for what has become the Manchester Essex Wilderness Conservation Area.

Those words, when cemented in stone, are music to a nature lover's ears.

To read the promise and see the natural landscape paused in what feels like an ever-changing community is both refreshing and rejuvenating. 

Those who have the chance to visit the Wilderness Conservation Area's more than 21 miles of foot trails on 1,200 acres— owned and preserved by Manchester Essex Conservation Trust and Essex Country Greenbelt Association — may get to take a bite out of what forever tastes like. 

Just across from Agassiz Rock on the other side of Southern Avenue, the Conservation Area starts at a wide carriage path — Old Manchester Essex Road —that lends itself well to strollers and wheelchairs — as long as you don't mind a bit of a bumpy ride. 

The first efforts to preserve the area took place in 1878 when 24-year-old Manchester resident Alice North Town convinced T. Jefferson Coolidge and Henry Lee to act as trustees in purchasing parcels of the land that is now known as Manchester’s Woodland Park Trust and Essex’s Coolidge Trust, according to Manchester Essex Conservation Trust.

Over the years, both trusts continued to acquire parcels — all of which was deemed conservation land.

As the larger path twists around the wetlands, the woodlands are filled with treasures that would make any explorer ooh and ahh. 

These landmarks were first introduced to me by the Manchester Essex Conservation Trust’s online interactive map. You can visit it at https://www.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=3703f516160648a895ee4114cd3f4984#

Cedar Swamp Boardwalk

This boardwalk — only a hop, skip and a jump from the parking lot — takes travelers through a naturalist’s dream over 21 miles of trails over Cedar Swamp Pond and past Heron Pond. 

Paid for the MECT, the boardwalk was installed in 1997 and now allows pedestrians to immerse themselves in a different kind of ecosystem. My favorite time to stroll down the boardwalk is during rain storms.  

Millstone Hill

Want to get higher? This hill will take you 216 feet above sea level to a granite slab. 

Granite Town Line Marker

As you either stumble or gracefully prance through the forest, a granite post dated 1906 separates Manchester from Essex with etchings of an “E” and “M” to distinguish which direction the two communities lie. 

Bishop’s Grave

Years ago, 1770 to be exact, a man by the name of Mr. Bishop was traveling home after visiting his neighbor when he lost his way in the woods at night. The next morning, a search party was sent out but he could not be found.

According to MECT, his body was found the next spring in these woods and — per order of the town Selectmen — was buried where he was found. A headstone, cracked and worn by the years, marks the spot. 

With so many trails to explore, these are just a few of the hidden gems scattered across this conservation area.

Send photos of your local adventures to staff writer Taylor Ann Bradford. While carrier pigeon is her preferred mode of communication, she can be reached at 978-675-2705 or tbradford@gloucestertimes.com.

ABOUT WILDERNESS CONSERVATION AREA

Trailhead(s) and parking: Plenty of parking can be found off of Southern Avenue in Essex, roughly 0.1 miles north of Route 128; as well as spots on Pine Street/Upper Pipeline Road, next to the off ramp of Exit 16 south, in Manchester;  and on Old Manchester Essex Road, and Andrews, Pond and Apple Street in Essex.

Activities: Walking, mountain biking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, bird watching, horseback riding.

Distance: Over 35 miles and more than 3,400 acres of woodlands

Difficulty: Easy

A note from the Manchester Essex Conservation Trust: "We at Manchester Essex Conservation Trust are thrilled to have so many people enjoying our trails and conservation properties, and we want to continue to keep them open to the public. If you find a parking area full,  please find another area of our trail system to explore, rather than parking on privately-owned parcels or delicate conservation habitats. Please respect our neighbors — of both the human and wild kinds!"

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