Back in Time at Balch Hill
Ten thousand years ago, when glacial meltwaters flooded the Connecticut River Valley, Balch Hill was an island in Lake Hitchcock.
Look for clues to its more recent past as you head up the Grasse Road Trail along a stone wall. This wall and the wide wire fencing are relics of the Sheep Craze days of the early-mid 1800s, when 11,000 sheep pastured in Hanover, including here. Veteran trees along the boundary have grown around fragments of barbed wire that mark the transition to dairy farming after the Civil War. While most of Balch Hill was cleared for grazing in the 19th and early 20th centuries, many large, old trees remain, including a line of ancient sugar maples on the long-ago route of Half Mile Road. White pines reclaimed the abandoned farmland, but many fell on the northeast side during the 2007 Patriot’s Day windstorm.
Witnesses to Balch Hill’s history remain in its forest. The Maple Trail features several large sugar maples dating from the time of Hanover’s settlement. Nearby, a cattle watering pond created in the 20th century is now a nursery for frogs and salamanders.
A short way down the Hemlock Trail is another survivor of the centuries, an ancient red oak (above) measuring over 21 feet in circumference. A large limb lost its battle with gravity in 2011 and rests nearby as a reminder that only the rocks are forever. Please do not climb on these trees.