By Ben West; published in May 2023 edition of The Southeast Breeze, the Newsletter of the Southeastern Massachusetts Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club
For months I have heard about the Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve’s new 20-Mile Loop Trail, and the efforts to raise awareness of Fall River’s thousands of acres of pristine forests and miles of trails. As it happens, I’ve been training for a three-day, 60-mile backpacking trip this spring, so I decided it was time to make a day of this “new” loop. What a great decision!
This “new” 20-mile loop trail is a lot more than just a long hike. Most of the loop was made by connecting select trails from an extensive, existing trail network, ranging from quiet pine needle-carpeted paths to winding, rocky trails, to old stone-wall-lined cart paths, and even a rare and beautiful cedar swamp. In 2022, City Forester Mike Labossiere and several volunteers from the AMC made many improvements to the route, including routine trail clearing and maintenance, the building of several new wooden bridges, and the addition of clear and consistent blue blazes marking the new trail. As more people discover this gem, more people will come to appreciate all that the quieter half of Fall River has to offer!
Initially I was going to do the 20-mile loop as a solo hike, but after chatting with Bill Belben, we decided to post it as an AMC hike. Mother Nature had other plans, though, passing a Nor’easter through New England the day before and forcing us to postpone the hike for a week.
I still had my mind set on doing the loop that day, so I did it solo once the rain ended by late morning. It turned out to be a beautiful, mostly sunny day with comfortable temperatures. I expected the trails to have significant ponding after the heavy rains, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much of the trail was not underwater.
There were a dozen or so places with deep puddles, but they were generally easy to circumvent, with two exceptions. The first difficult area required me to bushwack through thorns for 20 feet (with care, and with apologies to “Leave No Trace”). The second area, about eight miles in, was so thoroughly inundated that my choices were to go back or go through. Ultimately, I removed my boots, socks, and gaiters, rolled up my pants, and moved through about 100 yards of water, in places knee-deep. It was not too difficult, although I pulled two thorns from my toe that night. (Lesson learned—always carry lightweight water shoes!) Seven hours and 20 minutes after starting, I was off to play in my weekly volleyball league. But enough about me…
My second opportunity to hike the Loop came the following week when the postponed AMC hike was completed. We had six hikers and much drier conditions. For some, it was the longest hike they had taken, while others had done this type of mileage many times before. An hour or so before we finished, a refreshing rain started to fall. At the end, some of us were exhausted, while others seemed to be as energetic at the end as they were at the start—albeit a bit wetter. But none of that mattered. We all completed the hike at the same time, feeling great for being among the first to complete the new loop. This time, however, I was glad to go home and sleep!
Both the solo and group hikes were great days, with great trails. I am very glad I drove from Connecticut to spend the day on these winding trails, and I look forward to returning soon to explore more of the 50+ miles of trails the Bioreserve has to offer.
To see upcoming hikes within the Fall River Bioreserve, click here. Check back periodically, as more are sure to come soon. Whether you are looking to complete the 20-mile loop in a day, a week, or a year, it is a hike well worth taking. And of course, there are countless other hiking options within the forest, ranging from under an hour to a full day or more.
One closing note: In November 2022, The Herald News wrote an article titled, “A new 20-mile trail aims to put Fall River’s Bioreserve ‘on the map’ for hikers”. From what I experienced over the past two hikes, it’s on the map!
Upper Cape Technical School students are making new signs for Four Ponds and Leary property conservation areas with a grant approved by the SEM Executive Committee last month. Photos by Robin McIntyre