How Salem's Smuggler's Rock Got Its Name

The intrepid explorer makes his way through the deep forest and approaches the rocky ledge. Wiping the sweat from his brow and taking a deep breath, the explorer begins the arduous climb to the top of the ledge. Just as he nears the pinnacle, a chill runs up his spine as he spots a skull lying on a pile of moss. All around the skull are gold coins, a treasure he will never tell the world about.

Someone has a pretty good sense of humor at the Salem Land Trust's 106-acre Smuggler's Rock Preserve. As I made my way along a path marked with yellow blazes near the top of the rock formation, a plastic skull sat along the trail surrounded by a dozen gold plastic coins. Although I've seen a number of animal skulls during my travels over the years, I was not expecting to see a human skull, so the sight gave me a little start. But it's a nice touch.

The name of the preserve was a bit of a mystery. There is no information on how the preserve got its name on the kiosk at the beginning of the trail, so visitors can let their imaginations run wild. Could it have been named after the pirates that sailed to the shores of Long Island Sound and traveled inland to bury their treasure? Or perhaps men sneaking in alcohol during prohibition? Visitors could come up with their own theories about how the preserve got its name.

Then I received an email from trust president Linda Schroeder.

"On the topography maps, you can find the highest area on the preserve marked as Smuggler's Cave," she wrote. "It was a cave at one time. The legend was that pirates hid their treasure there. Years ago -- no one remembers exactly when, perhaps in the 40s or 50s -- two local boys went up there in search of pirate treasure and got stuck in the cave.  As a result of this accident it was decide to close up the cave forever, so it was dynamited.

"Not wanting anyone to get hurt trying to find the non-existent cave," she added, "but wanting to preserve some of the old folklore, the Salem Land Trust decided to name it Smuggler's Rock, rather than Smuggler's Cave."

The main trail is marked with red blazes and loops around the property. A yellow-blazed trail takes visitors to the top of Smuggler's Rock with its seasonal views of the surrounding hillsides. A short orange-blazed trail loops around the property's lowlands.

The red-blazed trail takes visitors from the preserve entrance at the end of Salem Ridge Drive past a swamp along trails lined with wildflowers and ferns. The gently sloping trail passes a huge wolf tree and winds through deep forests. It's one of those places where visitors will only hear the sounds of the natural world; civilization seems miles away.

The newly blazed yellow trail is not difficult, but it will give you a bit of a workout with a scramble over some boulders and some interesting side trips. The top of Smuggler's Rock provides wonderful views – when all the leaves are off the trees. But the precipice does offer some nice views through the branches.

And since the preservie is so close to the 400-acre Walden Preserve, I highly recommend a trip to that Nature Conservancy parcel, which includes trails along the Wild & Scenic-designated Eightmile River. The number of butterflies, birds and dragonflies that make their way through the fields and forest is amazing and a must-see during the summer.

Smuggler's Rock is located at the end of Salem Ridge Road off Route 85. There is parking at the end of the cul-de-sac in July and August. Other times of the year, the cul-de-sac is a school bus turnaround so visitors must park on the road. Walden Preserve is located about a mile to the south off Route 85 at 119 Hagen Road.

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