UNION — Forester Charlie Moreno knows that a forest is more than the trees. Recently, he showcased Branch Hill Farm’s Salmon Falls Woodlands in Milton Mills, sharing a long-range historical perspective of how the forest, wildlife and land have changed over millennia.
The natural history tour, which attracted a multi-generational group of 24, was offered by Moose Mountains Regional Greenways and Branch Hill Farm and the Carl Siemon Family Charitable Trust.
Moreno placed markings along the trail to illustrate the timeframe of evolutionary processes at work. The group was carried aboard the Branch Hill Farm hay wagon to a peninsula between the Branch and Salmon Falls fivers, where evidence of former ice age geology was apparent in the form of a large glacial erratic at the edge of the Branch River.
Moreno encouraged participants to use their imaginations. “Think of glacier ice a mile thick above us. As it retreated, it dropped off this huge rock, a rock that was probably scraped off a ridgetop many miles away,” he said.
Moreno explained that, as the glaciers retreated, they left behind a supply of rocks, many of which are used in fieldstone walls. The climate gradually warmed and cooled, and some animal populations thrived while others became extinct. Eventually, humans arrived, established travel routes and seasonal encampments, used controlled fires to manage vegetation, and planted crops on river terraces.
Moreno also pointed out a flat, steplike feature about 20 feet above the river’s edge. The natural terraces along waterways were used by Native Americans for planting maize or squash, or as campsites during migratory travels between ocean and inland.
Moreno said, “It would be great to do an archaeological study in this area. I wouldn’t be surprised to find traces of Native American campsites or forest trails.”
Arriving settlers later found abundant resources, cleared the land, and started families. Aerial photos from the 1950s show the Branch Hill Farm peninsula clearcut, although now it is completely re-grown as a pine forest.
As the group walked back along the woods road, it stopped near the Salmon Falls River at the Applebee Cemetery and cellar hole, dating to the 1800s. Cynthia Wyatt, managing trustee of Branch Hill Farm and the Carl Siemon Family Charitable Trust, credited logger Larry Hersom with clearing the historic sites to be visible from the trail.
Walk participant Joann Coskie reflected, “The first few inches of history only took us back a few centuries. A hay wagon ride was necessary to journey back to the ice age.”
For more information about Moose Mountains Regional Greenways, visit www.mmrg.info. For more information about Branch Hill Farm and the Carl Siemon Family Charitable Trust, visit www.branchhillfarm.org.