Zealand Pond, NH: Prettiest Easy Hike
Zealand Pond is at a height of land, which is not where a pond is usually found. Hikers find the trail to it by turning off U.S. Route 302 at Zealand Campground, about two miles east of the town of Twin Mountain, and driving another two miles south into Bethlehem to park at the end of a gravel road. The trail ascends briefly on an easy grade, then follows the nearly level route of one of the lumbering railroads that laced the region at the end of the 19th century. Today it provides an easy hike that’s recommended by both history and beauty.
The lumbering was done by James E. “Ave” Henry, who leased more than 156 square miles of wilderness in this region to provide wood for the carpenters of our rapidly growing country. Henry could sell only the long, straight trunks of the evergreens that his crews brought out of the wilderness on standard railroad lines. Everything else, what the choppers called “lops and tops,” was left in immense piles, which were inevitably ignited by a lightning strike or a careless match.
The hiking trail follows the route of one of those old railroads for two miles and traverses territory that has been the home of beavers for as long as living memory can reach. Their good works have created two wide waterways, joined by a narrow isthmus, crossed by the trail, and known together as Zealand Pond. These enchanting woods and waters are in the heart of the devastation left by Henry’s men. The hiking trail follows the track of one of the lumbering railroads laid out for him by Levi “Pork Barrel” Dumas, a fellow with a keen eye for route and gradient, whose legacy includes this delightful waterside walk.
Partway along my hike last week, my eye found a straight line in the twigs beside the trail. Nature almost never makes a straight line, so some other hand must have left this relic. I brushed away the dry overburden and found a spike six inches long, with a head dented by the sledgehammer blows of Henry’s men as they pushed the railroad through to bring out the spoils of their work.
I was in the heart of the devastation they’d wreaked, but today it teaches lessons in the persistence of nature. The forest is thick and green again, and my only reminder of Henry’s fiery catastrophe is that rusty old railroad spike.
Twin Mountain Chamber of Commerce
Lodging, dining, hiking, recreation, and seasonal activities. 800-245-8946; twinmountain.org
Route 302. 603-869-2626 (Ammonoosuc Ranger Station); newhampshire.com/outdoors/white-mtn-forest.aspx
Bethlehem New Hampshire Chamber of Commerce
Lodging, dining, hiking, recreation, and seasonal activities. 888-845-1957; bethlehemwhitemtns.com
Appalachian Mountain Club Zealand Falls Hut
603-466-2721 (Pinkham Notch Visitor Center), 603-466-2727 (reservations); outdoors.org/lodging/huts/huts-zealand.cfm