The Warner Trail, or the trail that time is forgetting…
Pete and I decided to give this trail a go, having found a fairly well detailed trail guide online along with some passable maps. 30miles from Cumberland, Rhode Island (Diamond Hill State Park), to Sharon, MA, traversing between state parks, reservoirs, private lands, and down streets to connect sections.
We decided to start in RI and work our way North to Sharon, MA. The plan was to complete the 30 miles over the course of a weekend, doing about 17mi Saturday and finishing the next 13 Sunday, we would camp in one of the state parks along the way.
We started by meeting at the Northern terminus, near Sharon Memorial Park, to leave one car and head down to Cumberland in the other. We arrived in Cumberland and Diamond Hill State Park's parking lot around 10:30am and were ready to hit the trail shortly after.
Here began the adventure that would plague us the rest of the weekend. The guide book has a section on trail markings, and while it warns of possible marker problems, we felt that we'd be able to follow the trail well enough with little backtracking. For the most part, this was true, but not at the beginning…
The guide book is written for those traversing from the North to the South, and as such can at times be a bit unclear when working the opposite direction, never was this much of an issue except for the start of the trail. It took us about 30 minutes to find the start, including locating some possible locations and upon trial finding them in err. Partly this was due to the setup of a haunted house for the previous weekend that was only this day being torn down. This obfuscated the trail markers in that area. Once we did find the trail though, off we were! or so we thought… We managed to follow the beginning of the trail fine, with only minor inconvenience from some flooding of part of the trail, easily avoided. But as we made our way further along the trail markings began to be further spread apart. We finally made it to a point where they just ended, with no indication as to a turn (a specific marking according to the trail guide). We spent the next hour or so hunting for the markings, finally finding one by random chance, and following the path to what is now the backyard of a home.
So much for the trail markings!
We pulled out the guide to see if there was any indication as to why this may be, and not finding any we decided the comment about a large water tank was a clue, and we did what we would normally not, we pulled out Google Maps on the smart phone to see if we could see it from it's terrain view. Lo-and-behold, we see not only the water tank, but we also see that Google has kindly marked the Diamond Hill Trail within the park! Of curious observation to us we see that this trail happens to follow most of what we were following, up until a trail divergence point that we passed (amongst others) because no marks indicated we were to turn.
We made our way back to this point, and began to follow this trial, using Google as our guide to avoid taking any wrong turns. At one point we actually come across a part of the park we had been at before in trying to find the start. Frustration set in, this part of the hike was a giant loop, something that normally would not provide much thought, but by this point (a good hour and a half of time wasted) was rather annoying. We made our way on, finding the next pieces of the trail to a road crossing via Google.
Once we hit this road, we put away Google and began to follow the guide again. Here we learned our first real lesson as to the trail markings, one that benefited us the rest of the weekend. The trail intersections with roads are not obviously marked! We hunted around for 10 minutes before backtracking down the road about 150ft were we saw a now obvious trail and after walking along it for a short distance saw the ubiquitous triangular Warner Trail marking.
Trail Marks Are Your Friend
At this point a note on the trail markings should be said. There are two main markings, the triangular marking with a hiker and the text Warner Trail; and a roughly 2" disc nailed to a tree, sometimes white, sometimes metallic. This disc is the more common marking along trails, with the triangle being used more often to indicate the beginning of trail sections. The triangle can be turned to indicate a turn, or two discs, one above the other, is used, with the top disc also showing direction with a slight offset, which was quite often used, but not always.
Over the course of the hike we became very good at finding this markings, even though some had been mostly "swallowed" by the tree.
On Our Way Now!
We now began to make our way around the Diamond Hill Reservoir, finding the markings easily, and the appropriate turn markers and all. This section, was quite nice and peaceful, excellent views of the reservoir, some nice stream crossings, and the challenge of getting Lupus to cross a river on a very skinny log, luckily there were two next to each other to make it easy on us humans. Once across this stream we had to walk up a road to what is normally the Wentworth swamp, but since neither the guide nor trail map shows this section we opted to walk up Burnt Swamp Road, what the guide calls the alternate "flood" route around it. Given how the hike ended up, this may have been our best decision yet.
From here we pass through Red Brush Hill, up the back "emergency exit" for the Wrentham Premium Outlet Mall, around the grounds past their retaining pond, along some old train tracks, crossing the Mall entrance road, over more of the tracks, under I-495, and finally to Wampum Corner, the intersection of MA 121 and MA 1-A.
From here the trail makes it's way through Wrentham State Forest and around the Trout Pond area back into the Sate Forest. We spent the night in the first part of this passage in the Western part of the State Forest deciding to stop hiking at 8pm and start looking for a spot where Pete could set up his tent.
The next day we were to meet up with a friend at High Rock parking lot, 17 miles into the trail. We had no idea how far we were from this point but we hoped to make it by 10am, waking up by 7 and hitting the trail by 8. We were way off, but sometimes it's the thought that counts...
We made our way North to go around Trout Pond.
We passed through some backyards and front yards along the trails path.
We used the stream off the Pond to refill our water supply.
From here we worked our way around Knuckup Hill,
which was apparently once an oooold ski slope
and is now part of the Trout Pond Recreation area.
We then passed through a short section near a senior center, down the road a bit and along a passage between two residences back into the Wrentham State Park.
This next section is a zig-zag through a rather nice area hit pretty hard by the storms a few weeks back, with lots of downed trees and branches making following the path quite difficult at times,
both because the trail was not so evident, and many of the markings were on fallen trees, or just too far apart to be easily found. The detailed guide came in quite useful at times pointing out the larger rocks and streams and stone walls as landmarks along the way. It was a nice fall hike though, with some excellent foliage, a marsh crossing,
We eventually made it through this section, but after about 4 hours of hiking it began to dawn on us that we'd barely made it a 1/3 of the way along the trail and would not be completing this trail in anywhere near the time we expected. As we made it to the next road crossing we decided to cut our hike short, call in the cavalry, and set plans to rejoin this adventure sometime next summer. With longer days, a better understanding of the trails eccentricities, and a better understanding of how not to waste a few hours following ghost trails, we hope to complete this unique hike. We also plan to contact the Friends of Warner Trail group about upgrading the markings as we make our way through, to make the trail easier for future hikers to follow and avoid our frustrations.
Until Next Year!
some more photos...