Habitat Loop Trail Guide
Foundations of the Past
"Something there is that doesn't love a wall, That send the frozen-ground-swell under it, And spills the upper boulders in the sun; And makes gaps even two can pass abreast."
~ from Mending Wall by Robert Frost
As you walk through the woods, several types of stone features can be seen peeking out of the soil and dense underbrush. Stone walls, stone cellar holes, or just stone steps give hints that some type of human activity has taken place. There are places that were for holding animals, water, or milling equipment and through the years stones are rearranged, borrowed, and built upon as can be seen here. Based on a map from 1858 this foundation is in a location marked as belonging to Capt. A. Hamilton.
Fields For Wildlife
Openings provide a habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. The size, the type of plants growing, the height of the plants, and what is surrounding the opening will all influence who makes a home here. Wider spaces, five or more acres, are required to attract certain species such as bobolinks and meadowlarks, while smaller openings can provide space for field insects and field mice, thus becoming a foraging place for turkeys and foxes. This field, historically a small hay field, was reclaimed in 1987 and is maintained with late summer annual mowing.
These footprints of buildings give us a secret glimpse into the past. Try and use your imagination to picture what type of building may have been here. It may have been a homestead, a school, or even a maple sugar house, perhaps all of them over time. According to the first road map of Chesterfield dated 1858, this is the location of School No. 6.
At first appearance the evidence of human activity can be very obvious as with a stone wall or foundation, however sometimes it can be very subtle like this seemingly random array of rocks.
There is a bit of organization to this stone feature, indicating that a larger stone wall may have been here or these stones may be the result of what is known as "stone dumps". As farmers plowed or hayed their fields, they would come across stones that were brought to the surface from the freeze/thaw cycle and would take them away to areas leaving them in piles to be kept out of the way or perhaps to be used elsewhere at another time.
Hollows or cavities are important den and nest sites for over 100 New England wildlife species. Both living and dead trees can provide cavities, although living trees provide a stronger site that lasts longer, as well as being able to provide food for wildlife. The wildlife that uses the tree can range from a chickadee to a black bear, therefore the type of tree and size will determine who can use it. Once a cavity is vacated, other species may choose to take advantage, so if you find one, check back to see if someone new has moved in.
Picture The Past
Walking along this road provides a unique opportunity to try and imagine what this area would have looked like over 150 years ago. The trees would have been cleared, the road would have been well traveled by wagons being pulled by horses, and the fields may have been hayfields, cornfields, pasture, or orchards. Recognizing how land was used in the past can benefit future management. The apple trees in this field provide valuable fruit production for wildlife and other trees are kept from growing within this field to limit competition for sunlight. However, for the species that make their homes here, the trees along the edges have been left to provide important protective cover from weather and predators.
Certain species will give clues as to what type of habitat might be present. Plant species such as Sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis), Alder(Alnus incana) and Ash (Fraxinus americana) trees and grapevine (Vitis riparia) are a few that may be found in wet areas. Wetlands are one part of a larger system known as a watershed and not only provide a link between land and water, but also filter pollutants, capture carbon, slow floodwaters, and provide habitat for thousands of species of aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals.
Beaver (Castor canadensis) alter habitats so dramatically they are considered one of natures greatest engineers. Beavers create ponds to be safe from predators and to encourage the growth of their summertime food supply of aquatic plants like water lilies, pond- weed, and cattails. In the winter they shift to the bark of trees, which they collect and store in the fall. Beavers follow a particular pattern to using up the trees. The first is their favorite, the aspen, next is the oaks and ashes, followed by sugar maples. Apple, cherry, and black birch it still finds interesting, but yellow birch, speckled alder, beech, and red maples are of low interest and at the very least is the pines and hemlocks. Beavers will abandon the pond to find more suitable wood that can sustain them during the winter months.
As you walk through a forested area have you ever noticed if the trees are all the same? Are they different sizes or heights? What does the ground look like? Is it covered by anything? How much sunlight is shining through? All these questions help determine the layers of a forest. Each layer has developed to fit a niche and the more layers that are present means that there can be more of a variety of species living within the spaces.
Forest Floor- Leaf litter, home to insects, bacteria, fungi
Herb layer- Seedlings, woody debris, grasses, non-woody plants
Shrub layer- Saplings, small woody plants
Under-story- Smaller immature trees or are shade tolerant
Canopy- Where all mature trees crowns come together
Notice how the land slopes here. As water makes its way across the land it soaks into the ground until it cannot penetrate the rock beneath. It will then flow along until it reaches the ground surface creating a gravity spring. These springs can be perennial, lasting all year or may be intermittent, flowing only when there is enough rainfall or snow-melt.
All of the surface water bodies in Pisgah State Park are part of the Ashuelot River Basin, and it is located at the top of the watershed, which then drains into the Connecticut River Basin. It is very important to maintain the connectivity of streams and brooks. These connections allow wildlife such as salamanders, mink, and beavers the ability to navigate to their home and foraging sites.
Keeping water connections also provides flood control, improves
water quality and ensures the availability of this precious resource vital to all life.
Have you ever noticed these large rocks and wondered how they got to these places? Over 12,000 years ago as the glacier from the last ice age retreated and melted, it dropped boulders on hills, ridges, and in valleys all over New England. Trails of these rocks are called "boulder trains" and in this part of the state, one called the Mt. Ascutney boulder train, runs through most of the southwestern corner, increasing your chance of finding some.
What can you see, hear smell?
A beautiful opening to experience the many wonders offered by nature. Beavers (Castor canadensis) have made a dam here, one of several sequential dams that ensure their preferred habitat, which also creates one of the most productive ecosystems found in nature. All types of species thrive here lush ferns, insects, amphibians, different trees, and birds. All benefit from the work of the industrious Beaver.
Fight For Survival
The seeds of trees make the best of their surroundings. A little bit of soil, sunlight, and water and the fight is on. For years they survive, but if the roots are too shallow their own weight will eventually be their downfall. With every passing year it is able to survive, seeds are dropped ensuring the establishment of the next generation, which will be ready once the canopy is opened.
The Role of Fungi
Mushrooms are the fruiting body, and perhaps the most recognizable, of organisms from the fungi kingdom. Fungi are a critical part of the forest's health and are essential to all life, they break down dead and dying organic matter. Through this process soil is created, wood is recycled, and new spaces are available for homes and food for other species.
Every once and while along the sides of roads or trails these holes or pits can be seen. These sites have been used to "borrow" material such as the soil, gravel, or clay, for the construction of something else, perhaps for an embankment or the road itself. Occasionally they may fill with water providing a unique opportunity for wildlife as a place to quench their thirst or act as a vernal pool.
A standing tree that has died is called a snag. Snags are valuable sources of food and nest sites to many forest dwellers. Woodpeckers enlarge holes to find food and to nest, once vacated squirrels, owls, and raccoons will utilize the space. Loosened bark can provide roosting sites for bats and as it falls can become cover for salamanders.
Changed Forest Community
What can you tell by looking at the size of these trees? An area that seems to contain trees about the same size in diameter may be the result of a disturbance. The disturbance could be from a storm, maybe the soil conditions changed, or perhaps from selective logging. Logging opens up the canopy to allow for sun loving plants and trees to flourish. Disturbances allow for different species to grow, increasing biodiversity and improving the overall health of the forest.
Hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) grow in a variety of soil conditions from acidic to moderate and moist to dry making them a generalist species. Hemlocks are slow growing and shade tolerant allowing them to become a dominant fixture in forest succession. With today's threat from the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (Adelges tsugae), an invasive sap sucking insect that was first detected in the park in 2010, this ecosystem would suffer a tremendous loss because hemlocks provide vital cover from wind, precipitation, predators and higher temperatures.
A collection of plants that prefer similar conditions such as soil type, moisture, and sunlight are called plant communities. By learning which type of trees are dominant it can help identify the community that is present. Here there is a mixture of Red Oak (Quercus rubra) and Beech (Fagus grandifolia) and as you look around you can see White Pine (Pinus strobus), Red Maples (Acer rubrum), and Black Birch (Betula lenta). These trees will mix in on abandoned agricultural land giving a clue as to how this land might have been used in the past.
Stonewalls can be a common site as you make your way across many New England landscapes and they can provide clues to how the land was used through time. While walking along this section of the road, try to imagine these stonewalls in wide open fields.
There would be no trees here and the walls have corners, separating the fields and livestock from each other as well as from the road. Stone fencing replaced split rail fencing in the early 1800's, until barbed wire was invented in the 1870's. During this time Merino sheep were introduced to New England, prompting a surge in the clearing of land, the consolidating of smaller farms, and stonewall building to provide pasture for the very lucrative product of wool.
The Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) is the largest northeastern conifer, its bark is rough, deeply furrowed and its evergreen needles are 5 to a bundle. Typically they grow with a single straight trunk, making them, at one time, the most valuable tree in the Northeast, and during Colonial times became known as King Pines. This pine tree has more than one trunk, a curious feature that can provide a hint at what this landscape looked like in the past. Multiple trunks occur on conifer trees only when something damages the single, upright branch or leader shoot, found at the top of the tree. Animals could have browsed it or perhaps it had been attacked by the white pine weevil (Pissodes strobi). This small insect will only affect white pines that have been exposed to direct sunlight. The presence of the stone wall and the "weeviled" pine tree indicate this area was once wide open and filled with sunshine.
Trees aren't just a part of the landscape they can actually tell stories about the landscape. Trees can tell you how wet, dry, or acidic the soil is, what type of climate can be found within their ranges, and one very interesting story is if a significant wind storm, such as a hurricane or Nor'easter has been through an area. The telltale sign is seen on hardwood trees that have this peculiar elbow shape. This tree was knocked down, yet survived and reached up for the sky becoming a silent witness to these destructive storms.
Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum) is a shade tolerant, slow growing, understory tree that has smooth, striped, green bark, with large, three lobed, triangular shaped leaves, which may be how it received one of its common names,"Goose-foot Maple". Another common name, "Moosewood", is referring to how Moose (Alces alces), along with many other different types of wildlife, including several bird species, chipmunks, squirrels, porcupines, and white-tailed deer benefit from having the striped maple within the forest structure.
A Closer Look
The stonewall remains that can be seen here may draw your attention, however by looking closer there may be something even more interesting. Dark stained leaves within shallow depressions found on the forest floor often indicate that water was present for a length of time and depending on the time of year, be full of water, creating what is known as a vernal pool. Vernal pools are a unique habitat that support the lives of many birds, mammals, and insects, and are especially critical for salamanders and frogs, which use these fish free refuges for breeding.
Several different types of plants are growing here, which may seem at first glance to be most beneficial to creating biodiversity, however, with a closer look it can be determined that there are several species, such as the Japanese Barberry(Berberis thunbergii) and Glossy Buckthorn(Rhamnus frangula) growing here that are classified as invasive species. Invasive species are any species not native to a particular area that have the potential to aggressively take over light, nutrients, water, and space from native species.
Thank you for visiting
the Habitat Loop Trail
at Pisgah State Park.
Protecting, improving, and sharing our natural spaces is critical to ensuring that both present and future generations will have the ability to explore, learn, and better understand our connection to the natural world.
If you are interested in more information about habitats, improving land for the value of wildlife, or volunteer opportunities please visit some of these websites.
UNH Cooperative Extension-
NH Division of Forest and Lands -https://www.nh.gov/nhdfl
Friends of Pisgah-