SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Lifestyle

November 15, 2012

Over the river and through the Big Woods

Sunday's annual hike at wildlife sanctuary designed for all ages

TOPSFIELD — Families who would like to go over the river and through the woods this holiday can do it, literally, during Sunday’s Big Woods Hike at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary.

“We do it every year the Sunday before Thanksgiving,” said Sue Baeslack, education and volunteer coordinator at the sanctuary. “Adults and families can do it together.”

The hike, now in its 17th year, has become a popular alternative to sitting on the couch and watching too much football on TV.

Seven walks, each lasting two hours, will depart between noon and 1:30 p.m. to explore some unique corners of this Audubon Society property in Topsfield.

“It gives people a different perspective on the sanctuary,” Baeslack said. “It goes beyond the area that a casual visitor would see.”

In particular, hikers will follow a trail that takes them to Averill’s Island, a section of the property that isn’t technically an island but seems like one, given the way it juts out into the Ipswich River.

Perhaps because of its isolation, the island has avoided the farming and development that has altered the landscape almost everywhere else in the state.

“It’s second-growth, but it has some red and white pine trees that date back to the early 1800s,” said Scott Santino, sanctuary naturalist. “As far as second-growth forest goes, this could be one of the oldest in eastern Massachusetts.”

The spot also offers great views where visitors can imagine what Topsfield looked and sounded like a long, long time ago.

“To the east of the island is the Ipswich River. There are some nice vistas we can enjoy,” Santino said. “To the west is a wet meadow, which is a beaver-enhanced wet meadow, another example of the benefits of beaver in Massachusetts.”

Wetlands offer habitat to a wide range of creatures, from microscopic mud-dwellers to white-tailed deer, and there’s a chance hikers could catch a glimpse of something wild.

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