A River Runs Through It...

August 4, 2012

The best way to protect and conserve clean, clear lakes in New Hampshire is to protect their forested headwaters. Forests sponge-up rainwater, filter storm runoff and gradually feed groundwater into small streams and larger rivers. An intact forested headwaters is an excellent proxy for quick assessment of the health of cold water trout and salmon fisheries.

The forest to water quality connection is a key reason why the Forest Society is working with the Hazelton family to purchase a conservation easement on 270 acres of their scenic and historic 300-acre family farm on Braley in Hebron. Overlooking the northern tip of Newfound Lake, the Hazelton’s tree farm includes more than half a mile of direct frontage on the sandy, winding lower reaches of the Cockermouth River near Sculptured Rocks in adjacent Groton. The property also contains a mile and a half of spectacular frontage on Wise Brook, an icy cold tributary of the Cockermouth River and a home to brook trout.

Mountain brooks shaded by dense forests, particularly spruce and hemlock ravine communities retain colder water temperatures that support higher levels of dissolved oxygen to sustain the cold water fishery found in deep water lakes in summer. Trout and landlocked salmon move into shallower water in autumn to spawn and also occasionally in spring seeking rainbow smelt. The presence of brook trout and the macro-invertebrate bugs in the shady riffles and pools of mountain brooks are a good proxy for high water quality and excellent ecosystem health. These fish rely on cold water for survival and do not tolerate water temperatures in excess of 74 degrees.

During a recent summer field trip to the Hazelton property, we checked in-stream water temperatures in late June in the lower Cockermouth River. Even in full sun along a shallow gravel bar, the thermometer read 62 degrees. Moving up the forested Wise Brook watershed, in-stream temperatures dropped to 56 degrees and then 54 degrees in pools beneath cascades. An old stone-lined well adjacent to another perennial feeder stream called “Spring Brook” recorded a June water temperature of 49 degrees. Landowner, Paul Hazelton describes how from his boyhood he had never observed tiny Spring Brook go dry, even in drought.

The property the Forest Society is raising funds to protect by purchasing the conservation easement includes extraordinary scenic resources including 35 acres of mowed hay fields. The exemplary wildlife habitat on the tract is evident in the State Wildlife Action Plan which ranks 98% of the land as the highest ranked wildlife habitat in the State. The property has both prime farmland and farm soils of local importance. The property is a registered Tree Farm and is being sustainably managed for wood products and wildlife habitat under the guidance of a professional, licensed forester.

Located at the foot of Tenney Mountain and Mount Crosby beneath Bald Knob, the forested slopes of the Hazelton Tree Farm can be seen from Newfound Lake. Newfound Lake is renowned as the deepest lake in NH with some of the highest clean water quality indices in the entire country – a sapphire-blue, deep, cold water lake unrivaled in close proximity to more populous regions of the Northeast.

The property also overlies a stratified drift aquifer, the glacial outwash sand that stores and filters huge amounts of groundwater. Thus protection of the overlying property will help to forever protect the water quality of Newfound Lake.

Considering the glacial timeframe spanning hundreds of thousands of years and the modern, rapid pace of change, it’s very unlikely that our NH successors will fault us for protecting future sources of clean drinking water. I’m pretty sure that future generations of brook trout and landlocked Atlantic salmon would agree.