A monthly column in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

New Field Guide Helps You Discover New Hampshire’s Natural Wonders

What are You Waiting for?
Go Out and Discover These Places.

When you’re looking to get out and enjoy the outdoors this summer, a new book by The Nature Conservancy can guide you to some new and cool destinations.

Discover and Explore New Hampshire’s Natural Wonders is a handy field guide to the Conservancy’s preserves and project areas throughout the state.

In the interest of full disclosure, I work for The Nature Conservancy and took some of the photos that appear in the book. It was an awesome pleasure and privilege to visit and photograph the dozens of places we’ve worked hard to protect, from Fourth Connecticut Lake in Pittsburg to Great Bay to Nubanusit Lake here in Hancock.

This book, which celebrates the Conservancy’s 50 years of conservation in New Hampshire, is a great way to share these places with you. Having been to many of these cool sites, I can say with confidence, you really should check some of them out. You’ll be glad you did.

When The Nature Conservancy completed its first project in New Hampshire in 1961, it was still a young organization, only 10 years since its founding. That project was in Hancock and Nelson, protecting the 400-acre “island” on Nubanusit Lake.

Since then, the Conservancy has helped protect more than 280,000 acres of ecologically significant habitat in New Hampshire, including 650 miles of river and stream frontage. Of that, the Conservancy owns or manages some 25,000 acres across the state, nearly all open to the public for hiking, fishing, boating and other recreational activities.

Evolving Strategies

While always guided by the best available science, The Nature Conservancy -- like all organizations -- has evolved over time, and its projects and strategies have reflected those changes.

Some of the Conservancy’s early projects focused on protecting rare species and natural communities in New Hampshire, like places that harbor the federally endangered small whorled pogonia in and around the Lakes Region. Another example is along the Connecticut River, where the Conservancy has worked with other organizations to protect and monitor small areas with rare plants, including one species that grows no place else on earth.

Over time, the Conservancy has learned that, for natural systems to maintain their ecological value into the future, it must conserve lands and waters at a larger scale, conserving whole and interconnected systems that will be resilient to climate change and other human impacts.. That has involved use of conservation easements on private lands, supporting sound management of protected lands, using innovative finance methods and supporting smart public policy.

Along the Connecticut River, for example, the Conservancy years ago focused on protecting a small and unusual habitat that supported globally rare plants. Now, we leverage our science and partnerships to conserve and restore thousands of floodplain forests or restore natural flow regimes to the river’s mainstem and tributaries. The result will be natural areas that are not only protected and resilient to change, but human communities that are safer and more economically viable.

Discover and Explore

Whether through land protection or other strategies, the Conservancy’s commitment to conserving lands and waters is the heart of its work, and its 50-year legacy in New Hampshire is a lasting testament -- offering places you can discover and explore.

The new handsomely designed field guide shows you where these places are, how to enjoy them and describes why we protected them.

A few local places include:
  • Loverens Mill Cedar Swamp in Antrim, where a nice trail system features a rare Atlantic white cedar swamp.
  • Louis Cabot Preserve in Hancock and Nelson, now owned by Keene State College, where you can paddle across crystal-clear Nubanusit Lake and enjoy a beautiful, evolving forest.
  • Sheldrick Forest Preserve in Wilton, where you can see towering old white pines and geological remnants from the Ice Age.
  • Wales Preserve in Sharon, where you can have a picnic along the Gridley River.
  • Joanne Bass Bross Preserve in Temple, where you can hike along the Wapack Trail and see great views of Mount Monadnock, North Pack and Pack Monadnock.

Use the book to check out some more distant places, too, like Fourth Connecticut Lake in Pittsburg. This is one of my favorite Nature Conservancy preserves. As you hike the trail to this little pond, your right foot is in Canada and your left foot in the states. If you quietly approach the pond, you might see a moose.

Explore the Ossipee PineBarrens, where you can see a rare fire-dependant ecosystem. Over the past decade, we’ve carefully restored fire here with annual prescribed burns that encourage the mix of pitch pine and scrub oak in different stages of growth that attract rare moths, Eastern towhees and other bird species.

Go check out Great Bay, where we’ve protected lands and worked with partners to establish a trail system between Durham and the bay. You can see osprey, a cool salt marsh and the estuary where we continue working to restore oysters and improve water quality.

Finally, the new book honors some key people who’ve helped make these conservation successes possible. It profiles a few local players, like Swift Corwin, who played a key role in protecting Sheldrick Forest, and Richard Bennink, whose vision helped protect Nubanusit’s island. These and many others are the folks who work behind the scenes, making it possible to protect great places for ours and future generations.

What are you waiting for? Get out and Discover and Explore New Hampshire’s Natural Wonders?

Eric Aldrich writes from his home in Hancock.