The rice nature reserve at Wilbraham, a natural choice for a summer hike

WILBRAHAM – The property that is now home to the 141-acre Rice Nature Reserve and its hiking trails has produced bushels and bushels of fruit for three generations of the Rice family.

Put this on your summer hiking calendar because this hike is a fishery.

The reserve was acquired through the cooperative efforts of landowner Jessie L. Rice, the Town of Wilbraham, the Minnechaug Land Trust and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The Rice Nature Reserve includes 3.4 miles of well-maintained trails. And no spoiler alert is needed here: the main trail includes a walk through a peach orchard. It was, after all, a fruit farm for 100 years.

Rice is remembered by locals as an old Yankee when he passed away at the age of 91 in 2019. During his life in the service of the city he was a select man, a commissioner. cemetery, a veterans officer, and – in a post as close to New England as apple pie – a closing viewer.

The memory of Jesse Rice still lives on in the Rice Nature Reserve. There is a granite bench sitting at one of the highest points in the orchard that commemorates Jesse Rice and his wife, Winifred, who died in 2004. Jesse wanted his wife’s name to be inscribed on the memorial bench first – and it is so. The message on the stone is a quote from the French writer Antonie de Saint Exupéry. It reads: “Love is not about looking at each other, but looking together outward in the same direction. Few hikers can resist sitting on the bench and gazing at a spectacular view of the Connecticut River valley. At the other end of the orchard is another granite bench, this one commemorating the Rice’s son, Wayne Rice. Its inscription is a quote from John Muir, “In every walk with nature, one receives more than one seeks. “

The trail is located at the end of Highmoor Drive in Wilbraham. The difficulty of the hike is listed as moderate by the All Trails hiking app. The start of the trail is not really crisp. It’s uphill for the first quarter mile. The climb is not too strenuous. But if it has been raining recently – and again, no spoiler alert is needed here either, it will likely have rained recently every time you go – you’ll see mud, maybe a lot. But there are boards covering some wet spots, so don’t let that rain on your parade. There are also a few rocky areas at the start. Hiking shoes and a walking stick are recommended.

The trail becomes drier and less rocky. The trail is well marked with signs. Once you reach the orchard, more of a meadow, you can rest on the granite bench that commemorates Jesse Rice and his wife. To continue to Sunrise Peak, go down to the left of the bench, enter the woods and continue straight. After a quarter of a mile you will see the sign for Sunrise Peak. Once there, you will have a magnificent view of Monson, Hampden and beyond.

The return is mostly downhill. You will pass the other granite bench at the lower end of the orchard.

In remembrance of the Rice family, take a peach or apple with you for the hike.

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