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A Natural Treasure Hunt: Hidden Ecosystems of the Upper Valley

Jun 16, 2020 04:38PM ● By Stephanie Pipas
As a member of the Upper Valley, you probably know how precious and beautiful the nature that surrounds us is. Separated from any major city, the ecosystems that we have cautiously built our homes between thrive. Lakes, mountains, ponds, forests, and fields are filled with flora and fauna as we go about our daily lives. But let’s go a level deeper- how much do we really know about the beauty that surrounds us? Because protecting nature and appreciating nature go hand in hand, here is a treasure hunt of ecosystems we pass by every day. Some of these are common (could even be in your backyard!), others are incredibly rare, but none of them are far from your home.

Take these as a weekly weekend trip, or find them as friendly family competition. Besides, what's a better activity than exploring outside in the woods when socializing is not an option?  Happy searching and remember to take nothing and leave nothing!

Your first adventure: The Connecticut River

Spanning 406 miles through 4 states, the Connecticut River is a host to stunning scenery and a plethora of wildlife. The best ways to access it are swimming (as the weather gets warmer this summer), kayaking, canoeing, or stand up paddle boarding. There are sixteen total boat launches in the Upper Valley.  A good place to put in a kayak, canoe or SUP of your own is near the Ledyard Canoe Club near the Dartmouth College Campus. Rentals are closed during this summer season due to COVID 19 at the boathouse itself, but there is still an accessible river entrance.  If you paddle under the bridge leading out of Hanover left from the boathouse, lookout for a beautiful patch of lily pads to your right. With the lily pads on the right, there is a smaller bridge to paddle under a few hundred feet ahead. Coming out from under the bridge paddle straight to find a gorgeous shaded waterfall. An important habitat to look out for in the Connecticut is floodplain forests, low areas of forests that routinely flood and provide a safe haven to juvenile fish during their vulnerable state. Those who would prefer to enjoy the river without getting in can find views along the paved Rail Trail behind the Miracle Mile Price Chopper parking lot. While along the Rail Trail, look out for the species Garlic Mustard, an invasive plant pervasive in New England. It is usually about knee-high, with green tendrils extending from the top, large ridged leaves and small white flowers. If you can identify it, go ahead and pull it up from the roots as much as possible. Bring it home with you and leave it in a black trash bag in the sun for a couple of days to make sure its seeds cannot spread before disposing of it in the sealed trash bag. For more information on other entrances to the Rail Trail see The Connecticut River watershed draws much wildlife, so while on the river look out for crawfish in shallow pools, ducks, Bald Eagles, White-Tailed deer, bobcats, and even black bears and moose (more common up north)!

Your Second Adventure: Farnum Hill Reserve

Farnum Hill is a gorgeous nature reserve host to a variety of ecosystems as well as wildlife.  Having three summits, it reaches elevations of 1,336 feet at its highest point and consists of 7 miles of trails (Farnum Hill Reserve). The forest ecosystem of the reserve was once pastured, and outdated field divisions are marked by stonewalls. Within the reserve, you will be surrounded by the native hardwoods, such as red oak, and softwoods such as white pine and hemlock. This reserve is an ideal adventure for bird watchers, as it is home to a myriad of small birds, as well as woodpeckers, owls, ruffed grouse, hawks, and barred owls (Farnum Hill Reserve), so do not be surprised if you flush one on your walk! There are a few entrances to the trail, those with parking just .9 miles south of U.S. 4 on the East side of Poverty Lane marked by a memorial plaque, 2 miles to the South of U.S. 4 on Rolling Ridge Road where it joins with Maple Hill Road, and lastly, there is one 2.4 miles to the South of Mechanic Street on the West side of Slayton Hill Road at the end of Marie’s Way (Farnum Hill Reserve).

Your Final Adventure: Fall Mountain

Located in Charlestown and Langdon New Hampshire (about thirty-five minutes from Lebanon), this 943-acre ecosystem is protected by the Nature Conservancy. There are four easily accessible miles of trails covering the area rated moderate, making it a perfect family day trip or solo half-day (Monkman, 2012). The trails are not marked, save for in winter by snowmobilers, but are easily identifiable by logging roads. From the State Forest parking area off of 12A in Langdon, traverse the logging road to eventually find both North Pond and Middle Pond (Monkman, 2012). Late spring and summer are the perfect time to take this adventure as you are likely to witness the migration of neotropical birds (Monkman 2012)! Other highlights of this forested area are the beaver habitats in the wetlands and the globally rare and federally endangered plant Northeastern bulrush. The Northeastern bulrush is found in 8 locations in the state, three of which are under the protected Fall Mountain acreage (Monkman, 2012). When wandering the preserve, also look out for other rare plant species that the unique wetland ecosystem plays host to such as the fern-leaved foxglove, American cancer root, and twining screwstem (Monkman, 2012). The best way to access Fall Mountain is through Langdon, N.H. from the intersection of NH123 and 12A in Alstead. Next, drive south on NH123, then right onto Cheshire Turnpike Road. Go 0.2 miles from the past the front of fall Mountain Regional High School, then turn left onto a dirt road with a sign that says Fall Mountain State Forest. The parking area will be near in a field off the road (Monkman, 2012).


Happy Adventuring!


Farnum Hill Reserve, City of Lebanon New Hampshire,

Monkman, Jerry. Discover and Explore New Hampshire's Natural Wonders: a Field Guide to the Nature Conservancy's Preserves and Conservation Project Areas. The Nature Conservancy, 2012.

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