A new season is finally here in the Merrimack Valley, and we celebrated the spring equinox this weekend with sunny skies and 60-degree temperatures. Perhaps because this winter has felt incredibly long, or because vaccinations numbers are rising, I feel strongly that this spring will bring a sense of relief to everyone. But to really feel this, we need to embrace it. Open your windows, let the natural light warm your skin and the springtime air breathe life back into your home and your spirit. This week, we’re encouraging you to appreciate nature by getting outside and getting moving.
One doesn’t need to be an expert hiker to enjoy the benefits of being outdoors. Simply going outside and getting a walk in — especially after months of frigid, unpredictable weather— is extremely beneficial to your health. According to Business Insider, scientific research says that spending time outdoors improves short-term memory, reduces inflammation, eliminates fatigue, lowers your blood pressure, improves your ability to focus, and much more. Furthermore, this infographic from SelectHealth adds that getting outdoors improves your ability to absorb vitamin D and strengthens your immune system.
Both of the articles mention that spending time in nature reduces stress and anxiety, which are facts that I can personally attest to. Especially during quarantine last year, walking on local trails was one of the best ways to ease my often frantic mind. In fact, this past weekend, my dog and I stepped outside, inhaled the fresh air and took our first walk weeks. The relief that this brought me after a very long week of midterm exams was immense.
If the past few months — if not the past year — have caught up with you and the brain fog is settling in, check out this advice on how to clear your head. Moreover, if you’re looking to start this spring season off right, American Health & Wellness offers five healthful tips for spring: spend time in nature (obviously), lighten up your plate, garden for exercise, drink more water and sleep more.
Merrimack Valley Trail Guide
Now that you are ready to lace up your sneakers and head outside, here are some recommendations for walking trails in the Merrimack Valley.
Winnikinni Castle (Haverhill, Mass.): This is my dog and I’s favorite place to walk. Not only does Winnikinni offer tennis courts, a playground, a picnic area and beautiful views of Kenoza Lake and Winnikinni Castle, there are numerous walking trails of varying lengths that are perfect for family members of all ages. More information on Winnikinni can be found here.
Harold Parker State Forest (North Andover, Mass.): Harold Parker offers multiple trails that one can walk along, as well as a pond for those looking to relax and go fishing. There are wider paths for those looking for an easier walk or more thickly wooded ones for the more adventurous hikers. Because this park is rather large, parking can be a bit confusing, so click here for more detailed information on navigating Harold Parker.
The Rail Trail: The rail trail is the perfect place for both a distance run, a bike ride, or a family friendly walk. One of my favorite things about the rail trail is you can literally walk between towns. Entering via Railroad street in Methuen provides two options, walking into Lawrence and passing local mill buildings, or walking into Salem, N.H, parallel to Route 28. You can also enter the rail trail further up north in Salem across from Walmart on Route 28, or in Windham where you can park in the Windham Depot parking lot. For more info on the rail trails, click here for Windham and here for Methuen.
Plaistow Town Forest (Plaistow, N.H.): This was a great, wooded walking path that I discovered this winter, and am excited to venture into this spring. It was quiet and peaceful, with some unique walking paths and a wooden lookout to stop and observe some views. For more information on the forest, click here.
One can find more local trails suggestions by visiting here. And if you are interested in more nature outings, check out the Trustees website for walking trails and fun outdoor events that the whole family can enjoy.
For more adventurous hikers looking for something new, our spring intern Justin Kauppi discusses climbing Mt. Watatic, which lies between Ashburnham and Ashby in central Mass. Kauppi offers advice for those looking to make the climb.
“Less than 60 miles west of Lowell lies a small mountain called Mt. Watatic. The mountain lies between Ashburnham and Ashby, and, at only 1,832 feet, Watatic is an easy undertaking for those less inclined to hike its taller neighbors like Mt. Wachusett (2,005’) or Mt. Monadnock (3,165’). The Boston skyline can even be seen on clear days for an unforgettable view.
With a parking lot at the entrance of its main trail as well as roadside parking on a nearby street, the hike to the top is free and easily accessible. If you’re looking to embrace the spring weather, hiking Mt. Watatic is a great way to enjoy nature and get in some exercise while maintaining social distancing.
Even on a frigid day in March, my mother and I threw on our beanies and gloves and embarked one of Watatic’s clearly marked trails to the summit. The trails were still covered with a layer of packed down snow that, in some places, were quite icy. Although my mother and I completed our trek without suffering any falls, I recommend wearing proper ice spikes on your boots if you plan on making your way to the top. However, they are not necessary.
With careful footing and a few quick stops to enjoy the scenery along the way, we made it to the summit in 38 minutes while following the blue trail. At the top, we decided to embark down the mountain’s saddle to the south summit where the best views can be taken in. There, we sat and stared at miles of mountains and forests that run all the way to Boston. On our descent, we decided to trek down the popular Wapack trail to conclude a great morning on the mountain.
To learn more about Mt. Watatic, visit here. And if you’re looking for things to do in the area when you’re done hiking, you’ll find nice ideas here. Just remember to call businesses ahead of time for updates on COVID restrictions.”
Nature Heals. You may think that to feel the healing powers of nature, you need to get out every day. However, according to this article from Healthline, spending just two hours a week in nature provides a number of health benefits that go beyond physical activity.
No Shoes, No Problem. Do you enjoy the feeling of grass on your feet? Are you more inclined to go barefoot in the summer? Then this article is for you. “Is it safe to workout barefoot?” describes the strengthening benefits of going barefoot along with the risks.
Immune Boost. Whether you’re vaccinated or not, supporting your immune system is imperative to living a healthy live. U.S. News describes the 8 best ways to boost your immune system (but don’t forget to get outdoors.)