Last Thursday was a near perfect late summer day, and 10:30am was a perfect time for a hike. 28 people showed up for the opening of the Pakachoag Hiking Trail which links the Pappas Recreation Complex and Auburn’s recently acquired open space, Southold Meadows. It starts near the Complex’s concession stand and ends near two picnic tables at the south end of the Meadows.
The Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc. provided a grant to survey, design and build the trail, and Auburn’s DPW was responsible for construction which included walking stones in areas that can be wet, brush clearing, and even a footbridge over a small seasonal brook. Some of the signage, in fact, was just completed that morning.
The Pakachoag Hiking Trail is not for the faint of heart. Measuring 4,624 feet (7/8 of a mile) in each direction, the walk down to the Meadows is fairly easy except for one steep hill. It’s the hike out that really presents the challenges. Although much of the return is a steady rise, the 187-foot elevation change is significant and averages to about a 4% grade according to Town Planner Matt Benoit. Gaining 4 feet in elevation for every 100 feet walked may not seem too difficult, but it has to be repeated 45 times.
The town’s website warns: “This trail is very challenging and contains steep terrain, potential tripping hazards, and wetland areas within a natural habitat. Hikers are strongly encouraged to wear appropriate foot attire and bring plenty of water.” That being said, this trail is appropriate for healthy adults, but children could easily struggle. Strollers and wagons are not permitted and dogs must be leashed.
Another challenge is the lack of handholds at any point. This part of Auburn is covered in poison ivy in both plant and vine forms, and while a hiker might be itching to grab a vine for support, he certainly would be itching afterward. “Hairy” vines are a sure sign of poison ivy, and there are a lot of them. Many of the trees along the route are shrouded by vines of many species with poison ivy and poison sumac likely among them. Poison-ivy.org is a great resource for understanding these plants.
For experienced hikers, none of these obstacles is really a problem, and reaching the Meadow is exhilarating. The mix of flora and fauna is incredible, and the field served as an outdoor classroom for grade 7 science teacher Mark Blazis for many years. Prior to his retirement, students researched, wrote and published guides about Massachusetts’ plants, animals, insects, etc. and two editions, Butterflies and Ferns, can be viewed on the town’s web site, auburnguide.com
Along the way, hikers can observe wildflowers, butterflies, birds, many insects and (did we mention?) poison ivy. They will also see bat boxes, a Boy Scout project, where it is hoped these flying, insect-devouring mammals will take up residence. About half the trail runs alongside the Worcester Flood Diversion Channel which is off limits and safely fenced in.
The Auburn Guide shows trail maps, rules and information on Poison Ivy, Lyme Disease and Mosquito Repellents. Being properly dressed and protected gives hikers a good chance of avoiding bites and the diseases carried by ticks and mosquitos.
The Pakachoag Hiking Trail is a welcomed new resource, and it’s great to be able to finally access Southold Meadows. The first third (up to the step-over log) is easy walking for most people, so go take a look.