We’re hard at work to restore the views from Balch Hill, the only unforested summit in Hanover that is open to the public. In the process, we’re also restoring an historic landscape with its stone walls, orchard, and summit meadow. Forester Ben Hudson is currently working with us to diversify and improve habitat here with support from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. His photo appears at top. (and yes, Baker Tower is back!)
We initiated this new wave of viewshed restoration activity last winter, focusing on the aspect of Mt. Ascutney to the south and Baker Library tower and downtown Hanover to the southwest. This hearty group gathered Dec. 15 to help remove recent years’ growth. Our Balch Hill Stewardship Committee, neighbors, and Hanover Rotary Club members pitched in. Brush piles will be burned by our managers as conditions allow. (Please note: no fires are permitted on Balch Hill other than those planned and conducted by the Hanover Conservancy.)
For over 50 years, the Balch Hill Natural Area has been a favorite of Hanover residents for its great views, picnicking, walking, and bird watching. Eight trails provide easy to moderate routes to the 937-foot summit. Its diverse communities include an abandoned pasture at the summit and forests of pine, hardwoods, and hemlock on the slopes.
Grafton County Champion Oaks
The largest red oak trees in all of Grafton County can be found at Balch Hill. The champion, near the Link Trail, is easily 200 years old and has a circumference of 196 inches, a height of 114 feet, and an average crown spread of 80 feet. Look for a hand-crafted marker along the trail. The second largest in the county is on the Hemlock Trail. The “Venus de Milo” of oaks would have qualified as #1 before her two large limbs fell.
Views – The summit of Balch Hill offers wind-swept views of the Green Mountains of Vermont to the west, including Killington (elevation 4241’), 29 miles as the hawk flies. Seven miles to the northwest is Gile Mountain in Norwich (1873’). White pines and other trees invading abandoned pastures have obscured views of downtown Hanover, the Connecticut River Valley, and Moose Mountain, but Mount Ascutney (3144’), 21 miles to the south, can still be seen. The Hanover Conservancy plans further wildlife habitat improvement projects that will restore wider views.
Our first land protection project, the Balch Hill Natural Area began with 10 acres acquired in 1970 to protect the summit from development. The Natural Area now includes 20 acres owned by the Hanover Conservancy, including the summit, and 46 acres owned by the Town of Hanover. Dartmouth College owns 18 acres on the east side. The Upper Valley Land Trust holds a conservation easement on 10 acres. The Conservancy’s Balch Hill Stewardship Committee manages the Balch Hill Natural Area in partnership with the Town and College.
Balch Hill’s eight trails provide access to the summit from every direction. Check the trail map carefully before leaving to be sure you return to your starting point.
TRAILS AND USES
Balch Hill and its trails are open for foot travel at all seasons. Mountain biking is permitted only on the Dot Strong Trail. Please leave wildflowers in place. No fires or camping. Trapping and hunting are not permitted (except archery by special permit only, Nov. 1-Dec. 15, 2013). Dogs enjoy Balch Hill as much as we do! Please pick up after your pet and remove the waste. Dogs must be under the direct control of their owners and not chase wildlife. Populations of deer and dog ticks have risen in our area in the last decade, and Balch Hill is no exception. Check for unwanted passengers after your visit whenever the ground is clear of snow. Please leave no trace of your visit.
How to get there – Parking is available at Hemlock Road for access to the Hemlock Trail. For access to the Grasse Road Trail, park at the intersection of Grasse Road and Trescott Road, where a trailhead kiosk was provided by the Hanover Lions Club in the fall of 2011.
Balch Hill Stewardship Fund – Thanks to generous friends and Balch Hill neighbors, we have established a dedicated fund to care for Balch Hill into the future. This is especially welcome news, since annual maintenance costs at this property are significant, and Balch Hill was protected years before land trusts like ours realized the need to plan for the costs of caring for such properties into the future. Donations to the Fund are warmly welcomed.
Our annual Kite Day on breezy and beautiful Balch Hill is a favorite with families. Check our calendar of outdoor trips for the next date.
Balch Hill Quest – Explore this preserve with a delightful hike uphill to grand old trees and the expansive view, through the Balch Hill Quest. One of a series of treasure hunts created by the Valley Quest program of Vital Communities, this quest takes about an hour.