A Hidden Treasure in Barrington – The Stonehouse Forest
SELT Enters Agreement to Acquire 1,500 Acres!
By Ellen Snyder
Situated less than 5 miles from the busy junction of Routes 4 and 125 in coastal New Hampshire, 1,500 acres has remained undeveloped and wooded, sheltering bogs and fens, black gum swamps, beaver wetlands, and babbling brooks. This extraordinarily large tract of land in the Town of Barrington is the latest and largest land conservation project ever pursued by SELT.
Once planned as a private exotic game hunting reserve, the owners of this vast tract are now working with the Land Trust to conserve the property instead. A few miles of winding woods roads provide access into portions of the 1,500 acres; most is accessible only on foot or by snowshoe. The owners have kept it posted, gated, and closed to public access as they pursued their vision for a hunting reserve, building a handful of small huts and some rock walls, and creating small openings in the forest around old foundations. Mostly they’ve had a light touch on the land, adding features that will be well-suited to future public access as SELT works with them to conserve this hidden treasure.
“Because of interested landowners and the support of our members and partners, we are able to work on many great projects, including this one that abuts our 230-acre Stonehouse Pond Conservation Area,” says Duane Hyde, Land Conservation Director for SELT. “This property is particularly exciting due to its large size, imbedded natural features, and future opportunities for stewardship and public access.”
Most of this property lies within the Lamprey River watershed. Several small, headwater streams begin here, gathering water from wooded slopes and a network of wetlands, then flowing southeast off the property to Mendums Pond and and then to the Little River and eventually to the Lamprey, one of the major rivers that flow into Great Bay. These intact and unimpeded headwater streams are vital to downstream water quality—one of the many wonderful features of this unfragmented forested tract.
Two natural ponds lie in the northern reaches of the property. A spongy mat of sphagnum moss and dwarf heath shrub bog community of leatherleaf and stunted black spruce rings the 5-acre Round Pond. The bog transitions to a water willow – sphagnum fen then to open water. A diverse mix of wetland shrubs, sedges, and mosses also borders Little Round Pond. These are quiet, contemplative places, where you hear the rustle of leaves, a chickadee’s call, and wood ducks take flight. It feels like a remote northern forest. Only if you listen really hard can you hear the rumble of distant highways.
The only dams on the ponds and streams within the 1,500 acres are those made by beavers. Two large wetland complexes above and below Marsh Road, a Class VI dirt road bisecting the property, show signs of active beaver: freshly chewed trees, mud-packed dams, and extensive open water dotted with a few lodges. The flooded wetlands have abundant snags and floating logs, rich habitat for birds, turtles, and other aquatic life.
Several black gum basin swamps are imbedded deep within the southern section of the property. Dominated by centuries-old black gums, these isolated wetlands—hummocky and mossy–are hidden from the woodman’s axe and the beaver’s sharp incisors. Black gums grow very slowly in these secluded swamps. Their deeply furrowed bark is thick and tough; its trunk forming a wide, gnarled canopy as it stretches skyward.
“This is the largest area of undeveloped open space left in Barrington and, as shown by Fish and Game’s Wildlife Action Plan, it is some of the best remaining wildlife habitat in our town,” says John Wallace, Chair of the Barrington Conservation Commission. “The whole commission is really excited about this project, as it will vastly expand the conserved habitat and public access provided by the popular and important Stonehouse Pond area.”
Conserving the largest remaining forest blocks is one of the best ways to help plants and animals adapt to and maintain reliance against changes in weather patterns—such as more severe storms, summer droughts, heavy rain, shorter winters. The 1,500 acres is a natural stronghold, with myriad microclimates found within its unchanging physical features: rolling topography, rock outcrops, wetlands and stream corridors. With only a few small patches of invasive plants visible and negligible erosion, it is uniquely undisturbed by threats that plaque other open spaces in this region.
SELT is at the early stages of what will be a multi-year, concerted effort to raise the necessary $3.3 million to acquire, steward, and manage this amazing landscape.