Preserve celebrates Earth Day

MERRIMACK – Come early, stay late and have fun.

That’s Debra Huffman’s sales pitch for the second annual Earth Day celebration and cleanup day at the Horse Hill Nature Preserve, the 563-acre property of swamp, field and forest the town bought to prevent it from being developed.

The cleanup day is scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon April 24, though Huffman advises volunteers to show up a half-hour early.

Coffee and doughnuts will be served at 9:30 a.m. At the end of the short day, pizza will be provided for hungry volunteers to gobble up, said Huffman, who chaired the trails subcommittee of the Horse Hill Nature Preserve ad hoc committee.

Two areas will be targeted for the cleanup, the sandpit and Blodgett Hill. The day will also include guided walks to showcase different parts of the preserve.

Volunteers will be organized into teams. One group will visit the now infamous beaver dams. Huffman expects this to be a popular walk because of the attention the dams got recently when a nearby resident destroyed several on the property. He was fined for violating a state wildlife regulation.

Another group will walk to an area of White Pine Swamp noted as a rookery for great blue herons.

A third group will do a more rigorous walk on Blodgett Hill on the northwest part of the property.

As a real treat, some hardy souls can accompany Huffman on a rugged walk in the preserve’s northeast area, which she calls, “my favorite section.”

“It’s not an existing trail,” Huffman says. It shows the future and the potential of the property . . . . you have to be a hunter or a bush whacker to go there.”

That area has no trail and has not been logged. Unlike the dominant young growth in the rest of the property, the northeast section consists of an older pine forest. “I like that. You get the feel of walking through an older pine forest and by a gurgling stream.”

The key word for the day, Huffman emphasizes, is “fun.” There won’t be as much trash to pick up as there was last year, because volunteers have been keeping the property tidy since last year.

“This year our focus is to get people comfortable with the property so they feel they can go into the woods and not get lost,” she said. “The day will be fun – and it’s fun to hang out with us too. We’re fun people.”

In the meantime, the ad hoc committee now has the selectmen’s approval to work on one trail, which goes from Naticook Road through a 100-foot easement alongside the Wasserman Heights housing development now under construction and into the preserve, where the trail will tie into Old Kings Highway.

Huffman walked along the path of the future trail Thursday morning with a representative of the state Bureau of Trails. The trail is now in the design phase, and a final design will be presented to the Board of Selectmen before work begins.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or