Enthusiasm for easy walking on Forest Society trails in Rochester
The City of Rochester NH Recreation Department teamed up with the Forest Society to offer a hike along the trails at the 307-acre Champlin Forest Reservation. The weather was 100% perfect and the group of Rochester active seniors was very enthusiastic to explore the trails at Champlin Forest and to learn more about the forests and wildlife of the fields and forest from Forest Society education staff naturalists,Dave Anderson and Sarah Kern.The original 185 acre tract of the property was donated to the Forest Society in 2006 by Virgina Champlin in memory of her late husband Willam H. Champlin. Two former artificial impoundments - ponds behind failing dams - were drained and the dams breached in 2005 to create new wetland habitats along Clark Brook. Today, a forested wetland is located at the former site of the upper pond and an open wetland meadow of reeds and sedges is located at the former site of the larger lower pond.
In 2023, the Forest Society purchased an addition of 122 acres of former Champlin Family land including Gonic Hill from Easter Seals of NH. The enlarged Champlin Forest now comprises 307 acres
The unmowed field at the parking lot includes goldenrod and Queen Anne's lace flowers and ripening black raspberries along with all-too-common invasive plants: Glossy buckthorn, Autumn olive, Eurasian bittersweet, Asian barberry and multiflora rose. The full sun of the open, unmowed meadow at the parking lot provides habtat for flying insects and food for wildlife including songbirds, fox, coyote and deer. The trails in tall grass reveal deer beds and paths followed by wildlife.This property had once been the Haven Hill Dairy Farm prior to the construction of the Sky Haven airport opposite on Rte 108. The open pastures of the farm reverted to white pine sometime prior to 1940.
Today, the overstory is dominated by white pine and the understory is a more shade-tolerant forest of red maple, beech, sugar maple, black birch and red oak. Remnants of stonewalls near a dry, flat area cleared of stones had once been tilled for crops and was a timber harvest landing approximately 20 years ago based on the age of the youngest white pine. This area also has stone piles with angular markings of having had surficial granite quarrying at a small local scale.
Other habitat features at Champlin include hillside seeps draining to Clark Brook and its associated wetlands and vernal pools. The summer rains in 2023 have created lush growth of ferns even in late summer. The mature white pines have an abundant 2nd-year cone crop which will open in late autumn and early winter.
Near the lower pond we left the trail to visit a large "wolf pine" and a pile of stones with evidence of former surface quarrying marks. Sarah Kern and Dave Anderson pointed out flora and fauna - unique trees, coyote scat, a vernal pool.
The participants all helped to prove one talking point: spending time in forests makes us feel better. The initial uncertainty of heading into the woods for a group walk in an unfamiliar location was soon replaced by banter, laughter and shared jokes as we returned back toward the parking lot before noon.
Walking scenic, protected forested trail on a perfect, breezy, blue-sky summer morning is indeed an prescription to improve community mental health and individual wellness. This soon became obvious: just being together outdoors made us all feel better!