It was an outstanding day to be in the woods. The birch and beech trees glowed yellow and tan. The forest floor was carpeted with maple and oak leaves. The smell of dead leaves moldering on the ground filled the air with the typical fragrance of autumn. Mushrooms of various hues were shooting through the decomposing detritus. The forest over-story was disappearing, exposing views that would normally be hidden during the summer.
Autumn is my favorite time for a walk in the woods: no bugs, stunning views, cool temperatures, and no sweat, plus the brilliant display of color as the trees shed their summer coats.
With the end of summer comes fall chores: raking leaves, mulching the garden, removing screen doors and windows, storing garden tools, stacking firewood. The list goes on and on. Yet I need to make time to immerse myself in the natural beauty of the forest during autumn; to relieve myself from the tasks at hand.
Last week, I had the opportunity to take a break from homeland chores by hiking to Green Mountain (2,762 feet) in the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest. Reuben and I were joined by Beth, who is an AMC hike leader and instructor. What better partner could I have when bushwhacking through the wilderness with only a GPS, map, and compass, to find the obscure summit of Green Mountain.
We met Beth at the usual meetup location, the Route I-93, Exit 23, Park and Ride. From there, we drove to Thornton on Route 3 and then turned off Route 3, onto to Mirror Lake Road, which led us to the entrance of the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest. We continued our drive on the Hubbard Brook Road after stopping at the main office to learn more about the work that’s done here. After a short drive on the gravel road, we pulled off to the side and parked the truck to begin our walk in this beautiful forested landscape. We located Green Mountain on our GPS and took out our maps and compass to set the course.
The Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest is a USDA Forest Service research station of 7,800 acres in Thornton. It was established in 1955 as a major center for forest hydrologic research in New England. In 1963, the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study was designated for Long-Term Ecological Research and is better known as the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study (HBES). It is a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Forest Service, the National Science Foundation, and several other research institutions throughout the country. The first documentation in North America of the long-term effects of acid rain on vegetation and water quality were done here. The collaborative, multidisciplinary research efforts include long-term studies of air, water, soils, plants, and animals. The research being done in this experimental forest will also help in the understanding of climate change and its effects on the forest. Similar USDA-Forest Service experimental forests are located throughout the country, including the Bartlett Experimental Forest in New Hampshire. Northern hardwood forest management in New England is based largely on research done at the Bartlett Experimental Forest. Regeneration methods and early-stand management have been influenced by studies at the Bartlett site, as have recommendations for managing habitat for wildlife.
As we proceeded through the woods, we noticed iron rods sticking out of the ground, metal tags on trees, small flags of varying colors, and red and blue tape wrapped around trees. Beth and I knew that these things had something to do with forest research, but what was being investigated?
We came to a clearing and noticed a very large and intricate experimental station. A plastic box lay in shambles on the ground. Its contents were spread around the area: a car battery, computer, wires, straps, and other paraphernalia associated with this research station. It looked very similar to the work of bears who often break into containers looking for food. I took a picture of the mess and, when I got home, I wrote an email to HBEF headquarters. A day later, I received this reply from Ian Halm: “Hi Gordon, thanks for the info and the photos. That is part of a network of sensors in our forest that tracks migratory birds. It was scheduled to be dismantled next week but it looks like a bear beat us to it. I also found two groundwater monitoring wells on Saturday that had been recently damaged by the bear.”
Researchers at Hubbard Brook have been tracking bird populations for 50-plus years. The journal Science recently published a new study indicating that bird populations in North America have decreased by 30 percent, or 3 billion since 1970. Another recent study from Audubon found that “two-thirds of North American birds are at an increased risk of extinction from global temperature rise. That is 389 species of birds.”
Hubbard Brook is playing an important role in this research and has reported that “bird abundance is down from its peak in the early 1970s but the drop occurred largely due to changes in bird species composition associated with forest aging. Since the low point in the mid-1990s, some species have decreased and others have increased or stayed the same, with the overall number of birds actually rising slightly in recent years. The Hubbard Brook team will continue to monitor these changes.”
After our inspection of the destroyed migratory bird tracking sensors, we continued our climb, following a well-marked trail to another research station that was fully intact; no bear attacks were seen. From this station, we had stunning views of Mount Kineo and the Three Ponds area in Rumney.
Continuing on our trek to Green Mountain, following our compass bearing, we reached the ridge that would lead us to our goal. After checking our GPS for a readout of the elevation and checking coordinates, we realized we were near the summit. After several minutes of searching, we found the summit canister. We signed the log (Reuben his paw print) making our climb official, and then headed back down the mountain, walking through more mysterious forest experiments.
I did learn from writing to one researcher that the interesting-looking pipes, gadgets, containers, and wires we found are part of a broader study on forest nitrogen cycling, conducted by Dr. Christine Goodale, Ph.D., of Cornell University.
If you are looking for a pleasurable hike, Hubbard Brook provides many opportunities. The extensive road system can easily be walked or ridden on a mountain or gravel bike. Marked trails lead to captivating views and forest laboratory sites. Staff from both the USDA-Forest Service and the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation are pleased to offer tours of the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest to members of the public and middle- and high-school classes from May through October, by appointment. For more information about Hubbard Brook, refer to the HBEF website, https://hubbardbrook.org. If you do choose to hike in the Hubbard Brook forest, be careful when near any areas with flagging or obvious equipment. There are some plots and areas with equipment on the ground that shouldn’t be walked on.
Directions: Take I-93 to exit 30. At the bottom of the exit ramp, turn right onto Route 3 South. Travel 1.1 miles to Mirror Lake Road on the right. You will see a small brown sign for Hubbard Brook. Proceed up Mirror Lake Road to the end of the paved road. The USFS building is the reddish-brown building on the hill. Parking is behind the building at the top of the hill.
Remember, it’s hunting season now. Whenever you venture into the woods, no matter where you are, be sure you wear hunter orange. Don’t forget that your canine companion should also be wearing a hunter orange jacket or vest.
For more information, comments, or questions, contact Gordon at Forestpd@metrocast.net.