The great thing about hiking in our area is that there is such a variety of places you can go within thirty minutes of Fall River, and since none of them are exceptionally hilly, and most of them do not cover more than a few miles, they are the kinds of places you can to back to on a regular basis, to make a part of your routine – not just a once-in-a lifetime thing, like hiking New Hampshire’s Mount Washington (which, truthfully, I have never done). However, there are certain qualities I look for in a regular “summer” place to hike.
I like wide-open spaces, especially ones near the water, for the sake of whatever whiff of breeze may be available, and because with a breeze you have fewer insects to contend with. I like these same sites to have a shady area available as well, for those days when the sun is too hot. (Yes, there are more insects in the forest, but one should always wear insect repellant during tick season in any case.) And I love to walk in a rural place where one can smell newly-mown hay, catch a flash of yellow as a goldfinch flits by, enjoy the iridescence of a swooping swallow or hovering dragonfly, delight in the dance of butterflies of all kinds.
So I will tell you about my new favorite rural place to walk that has all these elements: Slocum’s River Reserve, a property jointly managed by the Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust (DNRT) and the Trustees of Reservations. It covers 47 acres on historic farmland in South Dartmouth near the intersection of Dartmouth’s Horseneck and Barney’s Joy Road, and offers up to 2 miles of woodland walking trails, with additional “edge of the field” trails (my favorite) that are granted as an easement by the private landowners who cooperate with the Trustees and the DNRT to allow hikers to enjoy the wonderful open space of their field/meadow, and a fabulous view of Slocum’s River. (For those who desire a longer hike, just across Horseneck Road from the reserve there is an additional 3.6-mile loop that encircles the Dartmoor Farm Wildlife Management Area, part of the State Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.)
There is a small parking lot at the entrance to the reserve, and as you walk in, you can usually pick up a map at the trailhead kiosk. The trail leading into the reserve borders a nursery on one side, and when I went recently I enjoyed the sight of a field full of daisies on that side, while on the other, an old-fashioned New England stone wall separated me from tall swaying grasses (on one visit), and newly-mown hay (on the subsequent visit). I also enjoyed seeing a fat groundhog hustling away at the sight of me to hide in his stonewall retreat! You will probably also be struck at the number of tree swallows making their long full swoops as they chase after insects. The reserve has many “bluebird” boxes, which as far as I could tell, are largely inhabited by tree swallows (both species enjoy the same kind of housing) – but these birds are just as charming as bluebirds, and since they eat mostly flying insects such as gnats, mosquitoes, and flies (precisely the creatures we don’t want to encounter on our walks), their presence is a blessing. Dogs are allowed at the reserve, but in the interest of not disturbing its wildlife, they are required to be kept on-leash (and don’t forget to bring your own plastic bags to pick up after Fido!).