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Fern Glenn Conservation Area (Winchendon)

Fern Glenn takes its name from the lush growth of more than ten species of ferns that give the forest understory and wetland a soft, feathery feel in the summer. Clubmosses including groundcedar, running pine, shining firmoss, and Hickey’s tree clubmoss run everywhere along the ground, looking from above like a miniature forest within a forest. Plant enthusiasts will find much to marvel at here, particularly along the fringes of the spruce-tamarack swamp where rose pogonia orchids bloom profusely in July.

Ownership: 
Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust
Gift From: 
Nathan J. Olson (1995)
Directions: 

From Route 140 in Winchendon, turn west onto Teel Road. 1/4 mile from this turn, see an inconspicuous dirt drive on the left between two houses. Turn south on this gravel road and proceed another quarter mile to the large clearing and parking area.

The trail in this 130-acre conservation area skirts gorgeous examples of two rare, contrasting natural community types: an extensive boreal swamp that dominates the eastern half of the property, and a woodland on steep talus slopes with huge old sugar maples, ash trees, and red oaks. Fern Glenn takes its name from the lush growth of more than ten species of ferns that give the forest understory and wetland a soft, feathery feel in the summer. Clubmosses including groundcedar, running pine, shining firmoss, and Hickey’s tree clubmoss run everywhere along the ground, looking from above like a miniature forest within a forest. Plant enthusiasts will find much to marvel at here, particularly along the fringes of the spruce-tamarack swamp where rose pogonia orchids bloom profusely in July.

From the parking area, follow the blue-blazed trail uphill. The trail will hug the stone walls that delineate the western and southern bounds of the property, leading you steadily to the top of Nineteenth Hill. Toward the summit, you will notice large outcrops of granitic gneiss, studded with veins of quartz. Centuries of glacial action and the forces of water and ice have plucked these squarish stones from the hill and deposited them in a steep jumble, called a talus slope, on the eastern flank of Nineteenth hill. Talus slopes create their own microclimate, capturing cold air in the interstices between the tumbled rocks. Cold-loving northern plants scramble over these slopes. Water seeping among the rocks supports the growth of ferns and the enormous trees here. Look for woodfrogs, which frequent the vernal pools tucked into the hillside. Being the color of dead leaves, they are well-camouflaged; only their distinctive raccoon-like face mask gives them away. Listen for gangs of nuthatches playing on the branches above you.

The trail will meander smoothly down the hill, where you can look up at the dramatic talus and admire the towering trees. Turning north and walking along the broad gravel logging road with the swamp to the east, you can return to the parking area. But if you don’t mind getting your feet wet, take some time to wander down the road toward the entrance, and divert to the east to the edge of the swamp. With the tall tamarack and black spruce overlooking a soft carpet of sphagnum moss beset with three-leaved false Solomon’s seal and the grass-pink orchid, you could be in Maine or Canada. Moose find this area a popular refuge, and their prints and sign are ubiquitous.

Fern Glenn abuts the Town of Winchendon’s 490-acre Nineteenth Hill Conservation Area, which contains the headwaters of Bailey Brook and is also open to the public for hiking, hunting, and fishing. The Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game has conservation restrictions on both Fern Glenn and Nineteenth Hill which are part of one of the biggest interior forest blocks in Massachusetts.

Fern Glenn is open to the public for non-motorized outdoor recreation including hiking, bird watching, nature study, and hunting.

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