Some of the summer greenery at Cornell Woodland in North Marshfield.

One of the things I like best about the transition from spring to summer is watching the world outside turn green. With trees this is a subtle change. Perhaps the oaks leaf out before the elms, or the leaves on the sunny side of the street appear a few days before those in the shade. Each tree and shrub is on its own intricate schedule. However in the marshes, the shift is much more dramatic. It seems to happen all at once.

Marsh grass turns green in June but doesn’t stay that way for long. By the end of August it becomes brilliant gold, fading to brown and gray as the cold of autumn sets in. Like the perfectly temperate days we get sometimes in late May and early June, the greening of the marshes is a fleeting thing. Mid-spring, I find myself anticipating its arrival. I’m always surprised at how soon it’s gone.

One of my favorite places to experience the green of early summer is Corn Hill Woodland in North Marshfield. The winding trails of this 123-acre town-owned conservation parcel are narrow and somewhat overgrown, so that — at this time of year, anyway — nearly everywhere you look, you see green. Ferns and blueberry bushes crowd the edges of the trails while groves of beech filter the light from above. Boardwalks lead you across swamps and past vine-covered trees. It’s jungle-like. Emerging from the woods, you step out onto the salt marsh. Fields of green stretch out in all directions, as far as the eye can see.

There are two entrances to Corn Hill Woodland, one off Union Street, the other on Corn Hill Lane. If you’re heading toward the North River on Union Street, you’ll find the parking lot on the left, past the intersection with Highland Street, but long before you come to Hunter Drive. It is marked with a wooden Marshfield Conservation post. On Corn Hill Lane, the trailhead is on the right, about two thirds of the way down the road.

A great way to explore Corn Hill Woodland is to start out from the Union Street parking lot. A narrow, sometimes wet trail crosses a old stone wall, and leads eventually into a beech grove. Watch for pink lady slipper flowers along the way.

The path comes to a fork, at which you can turn right onto the Beech Trail or turn left to head in the direction of Corn Hill Lane. Turn right and soon you will come to another fork, where you can choose to continue on Beech or try the Swamp Trail.

There are a number of trails at Corn Hill Woodland, and all sorts of ways to explore this fascinatingly diverse property. Take the Swamp Trail for now. It will lead you along two well-maintained boardwalks and bring you out to a clearing and the site of an old well. Here you can pick up the Main Trail. Bear right. The trail soon forks again; this is the intersection with the River Trail. Go left, heading downhill. Additional boardwalks will help you cross small patches of wetlands as well as a swiftly flowing forest stream.

Another fork in the trail, to the left, leads downhill, and will bring you out to the salt marsh. While you can walk out onto the marsh, it is best to stay close to shore and let your eyes wander for you. The slightest misstep could land you thigh-deep in thick mud. In addition, there are quite a number of species who make their home in the marsh grass and would rather not be disturbed. Depending on the height of the grass, you may also be able to see the North River in the distance.

When you’ve had your fill of the marsh, retrace your steps back to the River Trail and turn left. The River Trail brings you around a corner, and up a small hill. Looking down from the crest of the hill you will see a gigantic pine before you, three trunks growing together to form one mammoth tree. Continuing from there, you’ll cross the stream again and arrive back at the clearing with the well.

To complete your visit, take the path marked “Main Trail to Corn Hill Lane.” After a short walk, you’ll see a faint trail and a large puddle on the left. Look up to see if you’ve found the other end of the Beech Trail (last I looked, the old wooden sign was still in place). This will lead you back through the beech grove. One final left turn onto Union Trail takes you back to the parking lot.

by Kezia Bacon, Correspondent
July 2000

Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168.