By John Need

Milton Town Forest Access Trail
Milton Town Forest Access Trail

Like most day-hikes, this one starts in a parking lot. Located on the winding Westford Road, just east of Milton, it’s easy to miss the small, brown “P” sign that marks the park entrance.

The trail begins at a feral Christmas tree farm, a small grove of densely packed pines, planted in straight rows.  It looks unnatural, like a bad hair plug job. The Town Forest Access Trail is paved with finely crushed stone.  This wheelchair accessible path is flat, wide, and dry.  Dubbed “The Trail to Nowhere”, it runs for a half-mile trail and ends at Milton Marsh.  There are plans to build an observation platform, but for now, the trail just ends.

Merino Ram
Merino Ram

Just before the gravel ends, the observant hiker will notice a small sign with the words “Town Forest”.  Down this muddy trail is where we’re headed.  Several expertly placed steppingstones take us across a creek.  We follow the orange blazes up a short hill, where an old stove lies rusting in the leaves, a reminder that these woods were once farms.  Seven foundations have been found in the forest.

Two hundred years ago, in a futile effort to protect its wool industry, Spain banned the export of merino sheep.  These sheep, with their soft wool with fine fibers were highly coveted.  Fortunately for Vermonters, William Jarvis, United States’ Consul to Portugal, managed to smuggle 4,000 merinos across the Atlantic to the United States.  This sparked an economic frenzy known as “merino mania”. Woolen mills popped up like microbreweries across the state.  Farmers, including those who lived these woods, cleared large tracts to pasture the sheep and keep the mills humming.  Like all good times, merino mania would not last.  Wool demand weakened by the late 1800’s, forcing many mills to shut. The jobs are gone but the mills still stand in towns like Johnson, Winooski, and Woodstock.

Beaver Lodge, Milton Pond
Beaver Lodge, Milton Pond

We follow the old Marquette Farm Road up a hill to Four Corners, where the orange, blue, green, and yellow trails converge. We follow the green-blazed, Pond View Loop to the southern shore of Milton Pond.  Tucked between two low ridges, it is home to otters, beavers, salamanders, newts, yellow perch, pike, and painted turtles.  It’s early March, and this part of the pond is still frozen. Beaver lodges poke through the ice. Geese have yet to arrive. Everything is quiet.

North end of Milton Pond
North end of Milton Pond

Created from a beaver pond in 1923, this 33-acre pool provided drinking water to the Town of Milton for 70 years.  The pond and surrounding land were owned by the Milton Water Corporation, who sold it to the Champlain Water District, who sold it to the town, in 1969. In 1992, the town officially created the Milton Town Forest.  In 2006, an additional 135 acres were bought from the Bove property, part of which lies in the town of Westford. 

The Pond View Loop takes us back to Four Corners. From here we take the blue-blazed Pond Circuit Trail along the west bank of the pond.  We wind around boulders, beneath the bare branches of a hardwood forest: oak, maple, beech, and birch. We cross the spillway and stop for a photo-op on a long rocky finger jutting into the pond.  Here is where trail and pond part ways. It’s sugaring season, and we are now on private land.  Above out heads, plastic tubes weave a blue web, moving maple sap through the forest. We follow the blazes along a brook to a red connector trail, which takes us to the yellow Ridge Line Trail.

Hemlocks on the Ridge Trail
Hemlocks on the Ridge Trail
Mount Mansfield cloaked in clouds
Mount Mansfield cloaked in clouds

This trail passes through a meadow.  It’s late afternoon and the setting sun illuminates the still-brown grass.  Every blade and twig, reflects brilliant reds and yellows.   The Ridge Line Trail leaves the meadow and heads south up the ridge.  As we climb, views of Mount Mansfield peek out from behind the trees.  The trail descends through a thick green hemlock grove and climbs again to an overlook.  We are presented with a panorama of Mount Mansfield, covered in clouds and snow.

It’s a short descent back to Four Corners, where we take the orange trail back to the car, a bit tired, a bit muddied, and very happy.

Length: 4.1 miles
Elevation: 509 feet