While quite large by itself with over 800 acres, the Russell Abbott State Forest abuts other conservation properties making for a lot of natural habitat for New Hampshire wildlife. Part of the Mason Rail Trail goes through it and is popular with cyclists and snowmobilers. The Russell Abbott has miles and miles of well-marked trails, but there is no map at the time of this writing. That shouldn’t deter you from visiting. At the main parking area on Pratt Pond Road, trails lead off in both directions around the pond. The forest is mixed hardwood and hides some seriously craggy granite ledges (some you’ll have to climb, but they’re not too difficult). In between those ledges are some secret ponds, marshes and brooks. There are thick swaths of mountain laurel and witch hazel and in the fall, clusters of sugar maple color the canopy with intense yellows and oranges.
Also on site are the remains of an extensive potato starch mill operation. Potato starch was used commercially in the manufacture of cotton and in a more homey fashion to thicken puddings. The mill was built in 1818 by Ezra and Samuel Abbott who were born in nearby Wilton. It was the second such mill for Ezra Abbott, but the first to use the power of water. Great planning, scheming and secrecy went into the invention and fabrication of the machinery, and when they perfected the process the brothers added a 30 x 60 foot structure to an existing, but disused mill. Local farmers provided between 6,000 and 26,000 bushels of potatoes annually with an average yield of 40 tons of starch. In 1828 the mill burned and was rebuilt only to burn again in 1839 and need yet another rebuild. When Ezra retired he left the business to his son and nephew who ran it until 1850 when potato blight destroyed local crops. The mill continued operation, this time for wooden products such as barrel staves.
How to get there –
Head for the town of Mason, NH
From Route 13 turn onto N. Mason Road then left onto Old County Road and an almost immediate right onto Starch Mill Road. Follow until Pratt Pond road on your left. From Route 31 turn onto Adams Hill Road, continue and turn right onto Pratt Pond road. The parking area is large and there is a sign set back from the road. Be careful in wet seasons as Pratt Road is dirt and can get quite muddy.
More photos can be found here.
Happy trails and remember to carry out what you carry in (and pick up after those who don’t) and please leash your dogs! Also please respect local rules and regulations.