The Origins of the Ballard Trail

by Lauren Pigeon (republished here, by permission of the Norwich Historical Society)

Our Town 
Expeditions and Explorations
on the trails, street and on the couch
During COVID-19
First published July 3, 2020 on Norwich Lists

Thinking about a 4th of July hike? Try the Ballard Trail. Bill Ballard, conservationist, Dartmouth biology professor, leader of nature expeditions, and avid lover of life created the Ballard Trail to protect his land from development.  He was born in 1906, graduated from Dartmouth College in 1928, and moved to Norwich in 1939.

Known later in life for his “lady-slipper walks”, Ballard loved to share his knowledge of nature with the rest of the community. After he retired from teaching at Dartmouth, he was known to lead groups of children, or anyone who was interested, on walks along the trails of Norwich showing them the bogs filled with salamander spawn or pointing out the ladyslippers he was protecting. He was deeply involved in the creation of the Dresden School district and played a role in the creation of the Montshire Museum, often leading tours of people around the woods in that area. 

Ballard with his lady’s slippers

Ballard first became interested in land conservation when he heard that Gile Mountain was to be sold to a NY investor. Ballard and other townspeople banded together and bought the land themselves, ensuring that the fire tower would be used for generations to come and the land would remain undeveloped. When the town purchased a few acres of land from him to build a water reservoir, Ballard became a little worried that they would want to develop more of his land. He got to work straight away and added a trail along the Charles Brown Brook.

Ballard took friends and neighbors along the trail in hopes that they would fall in love with the land just as he had. He wanted the people of Norwich to see that this land should be protected from further development and made into a public space. Shortly before his death in 1998, the final trail was cut. The Fire District owns the land, but the town owns the development rights.  To Ballard’s dismay, the trail was named after him. 

In recent years, organizations such as Upper Valley High School Trail Corps and the Hermit Woods Trailbuilders have constructed a bridge and a stone staircase to make the trail more accessible to the public.  Norwich Trails Committee now maintains the trail and 15 bridges across tributaries to the brook

HEAD OUT ON A HIKE!

To access this trail, use one of three parking areas- the Ballard Park, Parcel 5, or on the side of the road just before Tucker Hill. 

The Grand Canyon is a gorge that can be found in the upper part of the trail and was named, with tongue-in-cheek, by Bill Ballard. There’s a Valley Quest for the Grand Canyon which focuses on how to read a forest. Here’s the first stanza:

As you go on the Quest, I hope you will see
Forest disturbances, there are more than just three. Clues of blowdown, logging or fire you may find, Because our forests are changing all the time.


For more information visit : Trail Finder

See other Norwich Historical Society articles about our trails, here.

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