Scars remain from last winter's ice storm

The Flat Rock Wildlife Sanctuary is a favorite place of mine, one that I haven’t been to in a while and so decided that today was as good a day as any. The sanctuary itself covers about 340 acres, but it is also bounded by an extensive watershed protection area and a conservation area. It’s not surprising that in addition to the wildlife you would expect to find – deer, fox, coyote – you might also find traces of Canada lynx, moose, and black bear. What makes that remarkable is that it’s all within walking distance of downtown Fitchburg, Mass.

There is a slight snow cover today, not enough for snowshoes or skis. The forest here took a big hit during last winter’s ice storm. The trails have been cleared, but the woods are still littered with fallen trees and limbs. I went in mid-afternoon, so I wasn’t expecting much bird or animal activity. There are a pair of barred owls that frequent the eastern end of the sanctuary. I sometimes amuse myself and practice my barred owl call. I’ve gotten a response, and once one of them came to a tree not too far from me. The curiosity must have gotten the better of him.

The main entrance is off Ashburnham Hill Road, but today I decided to come from the opposite side, from behind what used to be known as Burbank Hospital. It’s a curious trail, originally laid out as a road, carved into the side of a rocky hill, with elaborate stonework drains. The workmanship was good, because the road is still intact, and makes for easy travel. But who built it? And why? It leads to nowhere, and hasn’t for a long time.

A history of the city mentions a colonial-era plan to build a road to Canada. Could this have been it? It goes in a generally northerly direction. There are other interesting bits of history here … stone markers engraved with numbers along the remains of red-brick road. The ruins of a sluiceway. What’s left of small pumphouse. Even an old neglected cemetery. A few old cellar holes.

Every once in awhile I stop, trying to imagine what it was like, people going about their business up here. The only one here now is me, and the only traffic is a distant hum coming from down below somewhere.