Nellie's And Art's Trails

This circular walk will take you into the interior of Dogtown over some pretty rough, but mostly well-marked trails. There are two approaches to the walk. Check your Dogtown Common Trail Map at this point; don’t leave without it. One approach begins at the Summit Avenue entrance to the Town Forest Trail and proceeds around the southeast edge of Briar Swamp to Number 15 where you may begin the walk at the north end of Nellie’s Trail. This is the easiest approach since Town Forest Trail is gentle, and going round the swamp doesn’t involve much climbing. The second approach is from the Babson Museum entrance, then up Wine Branch and the Moraine Trail past Numbers 12 and 11 to Number 10 at the southern end of Art’s Trail. I have described the vegetation on both of these approaches in the Briar Swamp Circle walk and the Spring Walk Through Variable Habitats. I will describe this walk beginning at the north end of Nellie’s Trail in August.


You may want to dawdle on the Ultima Toneatti Memorial Boardwalk at the south end of Briar Swamp before beginning the walk. After your break, take the trail southwest from Number 15 (on oak tree) to Number 21 (on oak tree); the trail forks at 21. Take the north fork (to right as you proceed west) onto Nellies Trail. (What! You’ve forgotten your compass again.) In 2011, the route was well marked with orange spots on rocks and trees, almost overkill, no danger of losing it. The trail itself is a narrow worn path, appropriate to really being in a forest.


Figure 35. Oak woods at beginning of Nellie’s Trail. Note orange spots marking trail.


Proceed through level open oak woods growing over scattered boulders and sparse ground cover. It’s typical upland Dogtown second growth, a rather “so what” woods. Then down slightly into a moist draw that drains into the north end of Wine Brook Swamp. Here we pick up an understory of beech, witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) and good colonies of poison ivy. You will have noted that Aralia is perhaps the most ubiquitous Dogtown plant species, though black oak, red maple, Canada mayflower, and sweet pepper-bush also have major roles. Its success stems from the fact that it thrives on all kinds of woodland sites, from dry ridges to moist coves, from light shade to deep shade. After a while we hardly notice it, a background species spread everywhere across the forest floor.


Figure 36. Old growth white pine.


Thence steeply up through boulders past a landmark forked white pine which has undoubtedly ruled long over this upstart second growth. The trail then levels off into dense understory brush of highbush and lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum and V. angustifolium), black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata), arrow-wood (Viburnum dentatum), and withe-rod (Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides). Only the Viburnum’s have much fruit in 2011. Know that to the west about 100 meters is the Common Road. If you have seen enough, you can bushwhack through to it and stroll north to Number 16. The shrub community blends into a thick stand of beech saplings. Young black oak is also of sapling size here and we pass a small grove of black gum (Nyssa sylvatica) which is a minor component of most Dogtown forest. This thick young forest is only a couple of decades old or less, and perhaps it became established after a fire along the ridge. I note fire scars at the base of scattered older trees. Maybe we will return with increment borer, saw and shovel to quantify age and the presence of fire (charcoal in topsoil). Or maybe just check with the old-timers. There isn’t really a written forest history for the area.


Here the trail drops from ridgetop to a cove leading down toward Nellie’s Swamp. (Un-named on Map the swamp lies between Art’s and Nellie’s trails; I pronounce it Nellie’s Swamp.) At right of trail at head of cove is a small white pine stand with some downed trees. If you bushwhack 100 meters to the north-east here you will arrive at Peter’s Pulpit, my favorite Dogtown erratic. It’s big and square, and in 2011, its south side was decorated with an ancient blue Sanskrit aphorism the spiritual meaning of which I unfortunately was unable to decipher.


Figure 37. Peter’s Pulpit.


After admiring the boulder (No, don’t try to climb it!) retrace steps to Nellie’s boulder-laden trail which skirts a ridge to right and eventually the swamp to left (east). Lots of older, larger trees: beech, oak and maple.


Figure 38. Nellie’s Swamp – or Marsh


The trail almost touches the swamp’s southern edge, and one may wade into it here after passing through a border of winterberry (Ilex verticillata), buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), highbush blueberry and sweet pepper-bush. In August 2011, just before hurricane Irene, the swamp already had high water, and even with knee boots I found it hard to enter beyond shrub edge. This swamp contrasts with Briar Swamp and the maple swamps in that it is filled with grasses, sedges and the like, rather than much sphagnum moss and “acid-loving” (I know, plants don’t love.) species. Maybe marsh is a better term. I’ll revisit next year perhaps, with hip waders to closely visit its components. Today bull frogs herald our arrival and departure.


The large, mossy boulders near the swamp offer good resting places, and I break out my luncheon Vi’ennas and soda crackers, the trail food of real foresters and woodsmen. This is also a good place to spend some time listening. Then up steeply through boulders to a ridgetop forest of black oak and red maple. Blueberries, huckleberry, bracken fern, patches of hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula), all scattered sparsely in the understory. Easy walking over level, grassy trail. A quarter mile of this and you’re at Number 9, painted on a rock beside Nellie’s Trail near its intersection with the old road from Dogtown Square. After visiting the Square and a few of the Babson rocks and old cellar holes, retrace your steps down the road (east). It melds into the Moraine Trail. Look for Number 10, barely noticeable on an oak tree north of the trail and on a nearby stone. Here begins Art’s trail north. Caution: The area around Dogtown Square is riddled with unmarked trails which can lead you astray.


Figure 39. Stone marking south end of Art’s Trail and surrounded by wintergreen and Canada mayflower.


Art’s Trail begins as a gentle path (well-marked in 2011) through grasses and blueberries, past pitch pine (Pinus rigida) and white pine and old black oak “wolf trees”. In case you’ve forgotten, wolf trees are spreading, open-grown trees that were here before the new forest and are perhaps its parents. The young oak and maple forest has a sparse understory very similar to vegetation just described for the south end of Nellie’s Trail (west of here). But if you observe closely, you will find three of the local Viburnums, arrow-wood (V. dentatum), maple-leafed (V. acerifolium) and withe-rod (V. nudum var. cassinoides) on this flat plateau. Here you will not be able to escape observing patches of hair-cap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) scattered throughout these woods; it’s found everywhere in North America. There are also small colonies of the lichens Cladina sp. and Cladonia sp., gray against moss green or leaf litter. And of course such a group would not be complete without at least one of the clubmosses, in this case ground-pine (Lycopodium obscurum).


Thence slightly up through boulders on a path with fading orange markers and dense overgrowth of shrubs; in 2011, no brushing out of trail. Go over remnants of a stone wall, Nellie’s Swamp to the northeast, close enough to hear bullfrogs again. Down slightly through a rocky swale filled with sweet pepper-bush, sassafras and moosewood (Acer pensylvanicum), all under large beech and oak. Up again through dense boulder field and beech. Be careful with direction. Path is not well-trodden or well-marked through this rocky debris. Watch closely for markers. At summit pause for a drink of Fiji Water (What! You only have Gloucester tap water.) and August sunlight filtering through the canopy.


Figure 40. Mossy-rocked “trail” near midpoint of Art’s Trail.


From this slightly higher point the trail drops down toward the edge of Wine Brook Swamp.On the way we pass through communities of mesic plants such as false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosa), Indian cucumber-root (Medeola virginiana), witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), and cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea). A red maple is down over the trail, which then passes through a small grove of white pine, one stem down across trail - has been for a long time. Note the large patch of blue-bead lily east of trail. As the trail approaches the healthy red maple swamp there is a sharp bend to right marked (in 2011) with an arrow on a beech. At swamp edge there is the usual luxurious vegetation of healthy red maple swamps, especially lots of spice-bush (Lindera benzoin). Among the clumps of cinnamon fern one will find jack-in-the-pulpit (in August fruiting), merry-bells (Uvularia sessilifolia), blue-bead lily, true Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) and good populations of poison ivy. A wet excursion into the swamp should reveal many others. As I may have noted on other walks, this swamp in central Dogtown gives easy flow of water through its wetlands down to Wine Brook. This movement of water and better soil aeration allows vigorous growth of plants which don’t tolerate the acid conditions found in Briar Swamp, for example.


Figure 41. Edge of Wine Brook Swamp near Art’s Trail


After exploring the swamp edge, move up carefully along dimly marked trail through mossy boulders. Past groundcover colonies of wintergreen and the senescent leaves of Canada mayflower under their fruiting stems. Then further up through rock to a thick stand of beech saplings over an almost plantless forest floor. It is good to see young beech, especially since the “beech bark disease” has become prevalent throughout most of beech’s range. It begins with the intrusion of the white, wooly, parthenogenic (all females, no males needed) beech scale (Cryptoccus fagisuga) which generates a bark wound on mature trees. These wounds are then infected with a Nectria fungus which gradually does the tree in, weakening the stem to the point of snapping off. In Dogtown, fires have resulted in fire scars at the base of beech trees, further weakening them. As you return to the Rockport trailhead via the Town Forest Trail note the many older beech mangled by fire and disease.


Art’s Trail then wanders through the small mesic swale we encountered on Nellie’s Trail, climbs a bit to level oak forest and joins Nellie’s Trail at Number 21 on an oak tree. From here you simply retrace your way to Rockport around the east side of Briar Swamp.