Keene / Surry Mountain Dam 18.4 miles. Easy. Total elevation gain, 355 feet. An old local favorite with some interesting bits of singletrack woven into it. Along the river and across the golf course. A pleasant afternoon hike.
Start this ride in the parking lot on the north side of West St. opposite the Colony Mill condominiums. (This is the parking lot for Mascoma Bank and the infamous Elm City Bagels.). Park along the west end, right next to Ashuelot River Park. If you need a bit of a zipper, you can grab an iced coffee from Starbucks and enjoy it on the granite bench overlooking the Ashuelot Falls. Or by skipping Starbucks, enter the park via the elegant metal walkway. Before being lovingly transformed into a park (thanks to the local foundations who wish to develop urban infrastructures respectful of citizens), it was an abandoned gas station for more than a decade. Head north on the trail through the park. It’s great to see these downtown trails more and more used by walkers, families on bikes, toddlers with training wheels, inline skates, long distance triathletes with logo. Go through gravel walkways and exit onto the path northbound on the east side of the Ashuelot River.
Poof, you are in an urban and river wilderness. Yes, you can still hear sirens in the distance, and you’re a stone’s throw from the neighborhoods, but the river murmurs placidly on your left, the old marshy ox ponds on your right, the beavers are slapping, the red-winged blackbirds cheerio- kalai-dee, while you are silent. After about a kilometer you will come across a paved cycle path. The next part of this is hard to follow. One option is to take a right onto the asphalt cycle path, go up to Court St. and take a left. For some intriguing connectivity, go straight to the other side, into a patch of wood, then descend to lift your bike over a low road barrier on an ambulance access road to the hospital . Continuing north you will find a bit more path through the woods and then exit into the parking lots at Cheshire Medical Center. Wind your way through the car parks behind the hospital (Kingsbury Cancer Center, gastroenterology, orthopedics – we appreciate the diversity of the scenery) and make your way to what used to be Court St. before the hospital but is now Old Walpole Rd.
This next kilometer is the least pleasant of the ride. There is a lot of traffic and only a small paved shoulder strip to ride on. Alternatively, there is a bumpy sidewalk. Smile and endure it. Once you turn onto East Surry Rd., It becomes perfectly smooth. Stop here to explore this ancient 18th and 19th century cemetery and see if you can find the charming owl memorial stone on one of the graves. Continue on East Surry Rd. A few small climbs with some nice old Colonials on the left. (Think of the doctors’ residences in the hospital). Also note the parking area on your right to access Goose Pond, (the best nearby swimming option for this ride.)
You will ridge up a small hill and then descend back down the Brentwood Golf Course for the next few miles. We always envy golf cart trails and wish golf courses had a more versatile orientation. Nevertheless, it is beautiful on the pastoral level. Right before you get to a bridge over the river, you have a choice.
For a short but difficult climb and a view of the world, continue straight on a forest road, steep sections, for about half a mile to the Surry Mountain Dam, turn left on the road through the dam and imagine the pool behind the dam filled. and stretching for miles north to save Keene from flooding, as happened so often in the 1920s and 1930s. Then there’s a big cobblestone down to connect to the original loop. . Make sure the door at the bottom of the swoop is open. Local tradition has it that a biker made this move at dusk and did not notice that the low door was closed. Very messy. Do I have to say more?
Cross the bridge, climb a small hill past a beautiful dark old colonial and turn left onto Surry Dam Rd. In about a quarter of a mile this road merges with Old Walpole Rd / Rt. 12A and it’s a pleasant flat getaway three miles, in the prairies but in the suburbs, in Keene. At the 7-Eleven roundabout, go halfway on Maple Ave., cross quickly and turn left into Tanglewood Trailer Homes Park. When it comes to trailer parks, this is really the crème de la crème. Here, you feel a real neighborhood friendliness, children cycling in the streets, skipping rope and hopscotch, neighbors toasting together, groups of children playing basketball. Slowly drift along Oriole Avenue and keep your eyes peeled after approximately 750 feet for a slender walkway connecting this neighborhood to Jonathan Daniels Preschool. Easy to miss. If you’re going to Nuthatch Lane, you’ve gone too far. (Even though I’ve done it a dozen times, I still ride my bike sometimes.) Now the connectivity begins – I think of that next two or three miles as an urban cross country game. It took years of trial and error to craft this sequence.
You slide out of Tanglewood onto a trail along the recreation grounds behind Jonathan Daniels, then left onto a tarmac road past the offices of Supervisory Union 29, then left through the parking lot at Keene Middle School.
A ten-year debate on, on the one hand, renovating the downtown middle school and keeping children downtown, contributing to a feeling of life on Main Street in relation to the construction of a whole new-out-in-the-burbs-by-The-Swamp Middle School resulted in this. I was to keep the school downtown, but everyone loves this new building. One of the perks of this location: Discover the beautifully designed new Tenant Swamp Walk behind the Middle School. (Interpretive backpacks available at Middle School offices, developed by graduate students from Antioch, New England and professors from KMS.)
On the other side of the parking lot, walk up the sidewalk along Maple Avenue and go through the underpass under Rt. 12. Immediately on the other side, just past the ramp to Rt. 12 south, look for the piece single track crossing the parking lot of the First Baptist Church. Walk behind the church and look for another piece of well trodden single track across the meadow. Turn around in the woods, pass a bit of a fence, and wind up on a simpler trail along the back edge of Monadnock View Cemetery. When you get to the cemetery lanes, keep left at intersections and eventually you will exit onto Park Ave.
Take a right then a left onto Olivo Rd. Now a real suburb. Left on Sweeney Rd., Left on Kendall Rd., Right on Wakefield St. which ends in a small slit through the fence, barely wide enough for the handlebars, onto the fields of Keene High School. At the edge of the field, in the parking lot and on Arch St. Ouf! Most of the twists and turns are almost done. On Arch St. turn right and prepare to take a quick left onto Bradford Rd.
Take a moment to appreciate Sawyer Tavern, a gracious old colonial built in 1803. This beautifully restored historic vignette is completely surrounded by the high school, soccer field, parking lots. A few years ago it was on the market starting at around $ 400,000. The price has dropped to around $ 165,000. Flight! I still regret not having bought it. Think about what you could sell right now.
Head along Bradford Rd., A nice mix of old and new and when you come to Keene Country Club golf course on your right look for the bend on the railroad trail on your left. From there it’s a nice cruise, slightly downhill, with a few road crossings, then over the Gateway to Keene Bridge.
This bridge is an excellent example of progressive urban infrastructure design. Before this bridge, you had to cross about six lanes of high-speed traffic. Very dangerous for bikers and drivers. With the bridge complete, community use of the bike path to and beyond Stonewall Farm has increased tenfold. If you build it, they’ll be more likely to cycle, run, walk, and rollerblade, leading to a healthier community. Glad to be a part of this healthy lifestyles relaunch.
Walk down the bridge, pass Antioch New England, cross Pearl St. then Ashuelot. Turn left on Island St. (Why Island? – story for another day), and you are back at Ashuelot River Park.
To get a digital map of this route, go to: