With subsiding wind and fresh snow, it was time to get out and play in the winter landscape before it melted away. Looking to explore something a bit different, we headed to the Moncrieff Cochran Sanctuary at Phillips Academy in Andover. With more than 65 acres and several miles of rolling trails, grounds reminiscent of grand old estates that once graced New England were the setting for our snowshoeing adventure.
Donated to the school by alumnus Thomas Cochran in 1929 and named after his brother, the sanctuary hosts a simple network of primary and secondary trails, stone arch bridges, controlled waterways, and carefully selected plantings throughout. They all work together to create an elegant, sprawling piece of land; a safe haven for wildlife; and perfect family-sized hiking routes. Open to the public, yet nestled inside one of New England’s most elegant campuses, the sanctuary is a bit of a local secret.
Arriving at the trailhead in the heart of campus, we gathered our gear in bright sun and arrestingly cold air. Walking toward the old stone and wood “Walkers’ Gate,” our boys scurried ahead and puffed clouded breaths in the cold. Memorial Bell Tower chimed in the distance, adding warm tones to the sounds of our boots crunching in ice and squeaking through fresh, fluffy snow.
We stopped to put on our snowshoes ahead of deeper snow, fumbling with numb fingers, checking straps and clips, and adjusting kid-sized trekking poles. In surprisingly short order, we were off and shoeing.
The trail rose up a small berm and turned to follow a drumlin’s tail and natural ridgeline. Larches and oaks stood among decades-old rhododendrons. Skiers swished by as our boys ran ahead, leaving a white cloud of kicked-up powder in their wake. Being respectful to stay off the skiers’ trail, we made our way down to an old stone bridge that crossed an open stream and overlooked a large, frozen pond.