How was I supposed to not go on the railroad tracks, at the end of this trail?
By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
Just this year, we lost two of the few remaining mysteries in America. Fenn’s Treasure, a chest of gold and jewels worth over a million dollars was hidden by Forrest Fenn somewhere in the Rocky Mountains over ten years ago. This year, someone figured out the clues in his book and found it, though Fenn still won't say exactly where. Ditto for the small chest unearthed in the North End this year, hidden in 1982 as part of Byron Preiss’ “The Secret” treasure hunt. But for the two people that found those treasures, there were hundreds of people that got lost in the woods, confused by vague language they thought they could figure out.
Still, when I read that there was an “unnamed trail” in Walpole that connected the Elm Street School and Johnson Middle School, I was excited. After all, with traffic apps killing “secret shortcuts” and social media killing any interesting hike, waterfall or beach that people wouldn’t have known about before the internet, how often do you get to go somewhere that is literally, off the beaten path?
But my treasure hunting and wilderness exploring dreams are now dashed. Why? I couldn’t find the unnamed trail, and I don’t feel all that bad about not finding it.
The PDF from the Walpole Trails Society that said where the trail was, read, “The As-Yet Unnamed Trail goes between Johnson Middle School and Elm St School. Follow the trail around the playing fields, then turn west and follow the trail markers. Do not walk on the railroad tracks. This trail offers wonderful views of Mine Brook, which teems with wildlife. The trail enters the network of nature trails behind the Elm St School, which emerges just behind the school. Hikers should not be on school property while school is in session. Trail markers on this trail are BLUE.”
Right off the bat, I got lost. “The trail around the playing fields” was way too vague for me, as I first found myself hiking up a hill that overlooked the field, then going too far past the playing fields and winding up at a pump house that didn’t seem to connect to anything. Dejected, I realized I would be better off going to Johnson Middle School and trying to do the trail backwards. So, I left the woods and drove to the middle school.
It didn’t go much better there. Yes, there are trails behind the school. But the “Elm School Street Nature Trail” is as tough to navigate as the trails behind Johnson Middle, with the added bonus of people getting very concerned about you being in the woods behind an elementary school, even if it’s closed. At one point back there, I found an exit sign. Why is there an exit sign in the middle of the woods? What are you exiting? I still don't know. Annoyed, I returned to the Middle School hoping someone would be playing tennis and ran down the guy mowing the lawn.
That makes sense, right? Looking to the locals for help? Isn’t that what a seasoned explorer or gentleman adventurer would do?
He managed to get me to the trail beginning, and I made it all the way to the railroad tracks. But then I had no idea where to go. Do not walk on the railroad tracks? Okay, then where do you want me to walk?
If I’m making my walk behind a middle school in Walpole sound a little bit too much like Ponce de Leon searching for the Fountain of Youth in the swamps of Florida, or Percy Fawcett searching for the lost city of Z in the Amazon jungle, I should tell you, I had a photograph to go off of. It was a Google Earth screenshot with a little jagged yellow line of where the trail should be. It didn’t help all that much, though. Obviously.
The railroad tracks were where I bailed and went home. I had been bitten by like my seventh mosquito at that point and didn’t want to get EEE looking for the trail. On Mount Everest, they use dead bodies as trail markers. I wasn’t committed enough to the cause to be that for Walpole's unnamed trail.
I wanted to walk the trail and come up with some interesting suggestions for what to name it. I failed at that, but Colombus never stepped foot in continental North America and was always credited as having found it, so maybe I didn’t fail, I was just following in his footprints. I didn't not find the trail, I discovered it.