Until recently, Cooper North Pasture Conservation Area, zoned industrial, was slated to become a large addition to the Lord Timothy Dexter Industrial Park. A large road was to be injected into the forest and bridges would have been built to jump over the marshes between high grounds.
Fortunately, through the aggressive action of the Citizens for Environmental Balance and the Open Space Committee and an initiative by the citizens of Newburyport; the real estate company offered the land to the city for purchase. Money from the Community Preservation Act (CPA) was used to bond the purchase of the land.
This land is not just for conservation and as a watershed, the open fields are actively used for agriculture such as haying. This is also a very active birding area and visitors in respect to the animals and farmers need to stay on the trails and not wonder indiscriminately through the field or the forest.
There are actually three entrances to the trails. One starts where the farmer enters in from Hale Street and is a bit soggy at different times of the years. There is just enough room to squeeze two cars parked off of Hale Street. There are future plans to install a parking area there safely away from the road traffic but in the meantime, this is all that is available. There is another entrance to the trail diagonally across from the W. E. Sweeney Farm entrance but it is difficult to use without parking and with little in the way of a shoulder for pedestrians to even get to it. Either entrance will take you to the main trail. The third trail is at the end of Crow Lane next to the landfill. There is plenty of parking there and requires a short stretch of the Crow Lane Trail until you intersect with the main path. The DPS often closes off this parking area due to illegal dumping so you may have to park near the entrance to the Compost facility. Right now, it is highly inadvisable to use this way in as New Ventures has piled large mounds onto the public way and it is a bit treacherous and slippery getting back to the dirt part of Crow Lane.
Going back to the small turnoff on Hale Street, directly across from the parking area is a small entrance to the forest. First entering the woods, this is where the majesty of this area becomes very apparent. There is a very large vernal pool just yards away. As funding provides, there are plans to install a boardwalk that will take hikers safety across without environmental impact. A hurricane-like storm in the last year has toppled a large amount of massive pine trees so I would estimate this ‘boardwalk’ isn’t going to happen. So instead, the trail weaves round about until it reaches a shallow end of the pool where a temporary boardwalk made of a few boards has been installed.
Once past this area, the trail comes to a crossroad: left to the future boardwalk, straight ahead for a westerly trek or right for a more northerly direction. I would recommend taking the north route.
It is important to note for the uninitiated, that what may seem a “dead” forest is actually alive with many birds, small ground mammals and very elusive animals. Walking and then being very still ever so often, and soon your ears may pick up the many movements as animals move about all around you. If you get the feeling that hundreds of eyes are watching you, it’s not your imagination.
The open fields are never far away and being “inside” the forest provides you a natural blind to spot deer, turkeys, field birds or other animals enjoying the grasses.
Taking the trail, one will eventually climb into a small hidden valley where you may surprise creatures with your sudden appearance. Crossing this valley, you will begin to climb steadily perhaps encountering a wild turkey along the way until you intersect with the Crow Lane Trail.
Ignoring this trail, turn left and follow the path until you cross a high plateau of open pasture. Filled with blackberries, this field is a favorite for many fowl. Once you cross this open space, you will be reaching the highest place on your trek near some colonial rock fences overlooking a wide expanse of forest.
From this point on, you begin to drop down steeply until you reach a stand of small trees where deer tend to linger. Walking along, you will soon reach the southwesterly end of the large vernal pool and keeping to the trail you will soon wind up at the crossroads again.
Of all the trails, the sense of primeval nature, the stillness of the forest and the occasional huge trees makes this trail one of the most enjoyable to visit. The density of the forest guarantees chance encounters with interesting creatures….if you’re quiet enough!
Trail information can be found at http://www.thecommonpasture.org/cnpp.htm with an additional listing of the many birds found in the forest and pasture.