A footbridge in Kingston’s Hathaway Preserve.

A few weeks ago, after the first big snowstorm, but before the blizzard, my husband invited me to explore the Hathaway Preserve, a 77-acre conservation area he’d recently discovered off Route 106 in Kingston. It was a Sunday afternoon, on the warm side, and the snow from two days earlier was still fresh and sparkling white.

Turning off 106 across from Bog Hollow Farm, we followed a dirt road over a hill and into the conservation area, thankful that had four wheel drive, as the unplowed road might not have been passable otherwise. There were no other cars in the parking lot, but two sets of footprints in the snow indicated that others had hiked in.

A large sign with a map and other information about the property stood at one end of the parking area. Heading over to read it, we heard a whining sound, growing louder by the second. At first I thought it was a chain saw, but before long we saw a snowmobile come over the hill. There were tracks in the snow showing where the snowmobile had traveled before, so we stepped out of the way and waited for it to pass. I wondered aloud whether or not this was a permitted use of the property (it usually isn’t with conservation lands), and then we set off on our walk.

The snow was deep, but the two sets of footprints made it easier for us to move through it. Skis or snowshoes would have made our hike easier, but it felt so good to be out in the fresh air, it didn’t matter to us that we had to work harder.

The map had shown a loop trail with a few narrow paths off of it that led to the Jones River and one of its tributaries, Spring Brook. We started down the loop, with the intention of following one of the narrow paths to the river. The woods were peaceful. The snow covering the ground and the trees seemed to muffle all sounds. It felt good to get away from the noise associated with day to day life.

Before long, however, we heard the whining sound again. At first I thought the snowmobile was making another pass along the trail it had traveled before, but as the sound grew louder, I realized that it coming up behind us. We stepped off the path, and waited. Within seconds, the snowmobile passed us, never slowing down, never even acknowledging our presence on the trail. A man was driving it, with a child riding behind him.

We continued our walk, and soon reached the trailhead for the path that we thought led toward the river. There were footprints in the snow, but no snowmobile tracks, so we decided to follow it.

The path led us through the woods to a boardwalk type bridge that crossed Spring Brook. Further on there was another bridge crossing some wetlands. But instead of reaching the river, we came up upon a fence and private property.

So we returned to the loop trail, intent on finding the path to the river. We didn’t find it, though. Probably, it was obscured by snow. The loop trail was marked well with blue blazes, but it was hard to determine exactly where the other trails were.

We encountered the snowmobiler two more times before emerging from the woods — not once did he slow down. The loop trail continued out of the woods and up and down some hills under the high-tension lines. At the top of the first hill was a sign prohibiting the use of snowmobiles and any other motorized vehicles in the conservation area. While we were standing there under the sign, our pal zoomed past again.

I was already annoyed, but I kept my feelings in check because I wasn’t sure whether or not it was okay for the snowmobile to be there. Once I knew that snowmobiling wasn’t allowed, I grew angry. These were walking trails, and not only did the man on the snowmobile seem to have no respect for our rights as walkers, he was endangering us by not slowing down as he passed.

My anger subsided into anxiety. The hills we were climbing and descending were steep and slippery due to the snow. I was afraid that on one of his passes the snowmobiler would zoom right into us – because he wouldn’t see us until it was too late. At least we could hear him coming. I picked up my pace wanting to get back to flat ground so I could see the snowmobile coming. What had started out as a peaceful walk ended up being a rather tense one.

I look forward to returning to the Hathaway Preserve. I’m interested to see what it looks like when not covered with snow. Perhaps we’ll be able to find the path to the Jones River that eluded us on our first visit. Without snow on the ground, we won’t have to worry about stepping out of the way of a snowmobile every ten minutes.

But I’d like to be able to walk or ski there when the snow is on the ground as well. I hope that the Kingston Conservation Commission will be able to take steps to eliminate the snowmobile traffic in the parcel.

by Kezia Bacon Bernstein, Correspondent
February 2003

Kezia Bacon Bernstein’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.