Wild for the Trout near Mt. Kearsarge
A pristine wild trout stream and old-growth forest are among the natural resources protected by the Forest Society's purchase of a 233-acre forest near Mt. Kearsarge and adjacent to the Kearsarge Regional High School on North Road in Sutton.
The Forest Society has added the property to its now-1,293-acre Black Mountain Forest Reservation -- conserved since 2010 and located next to Mt. Kearsarge State Park and a collection of other conserved lands on Mt. Kearsarge and its sister peak Black Mountain. The area is considered a high priority for conservation by the towns of Sutton and Warner.
“Keeping this land intact and undeveloped preserves the beautiful view of unbroken forested hillsides that many people who live in this area have told us they value seeing when they’re driving south on I-89 in Sutton,” said Jane Difley, the Forest Society’s president/forester. “Both the scenery and the incredible natural resources on this land were important to the community, and we are grateful for the many donors who partnered with us to buy it.”
The cold mountain stream that cascades down the property’s hillside and into Stevens Brook supports one of the largest densities of populations of wild brook trout in the Warner River Watershed. Much of the grant funding that enabled the Forest Society to buy the land was awarded in order to protect the stream’s water quality, Difley said.
Those grants included a $150,000 Aquatic Resources Mitigation (ARM) grant from the state’s Dept. of Environmental Services (DES), a $10,000 habitat conservation grant from the state Fish and Game Dept., a $5,000 grant from the Basil Woods Jr. Chapter of Trout Unlimited and $5,200 from the Quabbin-to-Cardigan Initiative.
George Embley, the chair of the local Basil Woods Jr. Chapter of Trout Unlimited, said the project fits well with Trout Unlimited’s mission to preserve cold water fisheries.
“You surely want to protect the riparian zone along a stream, but to protect the whole section of forest around it is even better,” he said.
Local Trout Unlimited volunteers have spent five years and more than 1,500 hours of labor assessing the aquatic habitat and wild brook trout populations in the Warner River Watershed in partnership with the N.H. Fish and Game Dept.
N.H. Fish and Game fisheries biologist John Magee said the assessments show a healthy wild trout population in the Black Mountain Forest addition’s stream and healthy habitat that helped the trout there survive current drought conditions.
“If that habitat had been impacted by a housing development or roads, that population would likely have been wiped out,” he said. “The best way to conserve the wild brook population is to make sure the habitat remains healthy, and a great way to do that is land conservation.”
The property has frontage along North Road in Sutton. An old woods road, used as a running trail by Kearsarge Regional High School’s cross-country team, leads to several scenic high points of land surrounded by old-growth forest, unchanged by humans since before European settlement. Several large vernal pools are also among the natural resources protected by the Forest Society’s purchase.
The adjoining Black Mountain Forest hosts part of the Lincoln Trail to Mt. Kearsarge’s summit. The Forest Society has been partnering with students and staff from Kearsarge Regional High School to improve the trail. Students completed a bridge project last spring and a trail re-route this fall.
“The addition to the Black Mountain Forest provides more diverse natural resources conserved close to the high school, and we are looking forward to many more opportunities to work with the high school and help students connect to the land in their community,” Difley said.
The Forest Society raised $356,000 for the purchase, acquisition and stewardship costs of the addition. “There were 224 donors who helped us get this project done, and we thank each one as well as the grant providers who partnered with us to the benefit of the entire Kearsarge region,” Difley said.