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Beaver Brook Trail

Beaver Brook Association, Hollis, New Hampshire..

Beaver Brook Trail

Beaver Brook Trail in the first flush of springtime.

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Beaver Brook Trail

Beaver Brook Association, Hollis, New Hampshire.

The Beaver Brook Association is a non-profit organization created "to promote the understanding of interrelationships in the natural world and to encourage conservation of natural resources through education and land stewardship." Read more about them at www.BeaverBrook.org.

Of the many tracts of land this organization owns in and around Hollis, New Hampshire, I know only one small area. I assume it to be fairly representative, but if anything I describe conflicts with what you read on the organization's own Web site, well, they know better than I do.

The tract I know runs between New Hampshire Route 130 south to the Brown Lane Barn, along either side of Beaver Brook. There is a network of trails along Beaver Brook and up the hill were Brown Lane Barn stands.

There are no challenging peaks to scale, no spectacular waterfalls, no grand vistas. This is simply a place to get to know the natural world of southern New Hampshire, either by simple first-hand observation, or aided by the knowledgeable volunteers who conduct guided hikes and other educational activities. And as I try to convey everywhere on this Web site, there is grandeur in the seemingly simple natural world.

Ground cover plants

The Beaver Brook area has more thoroughly mixed groundcover than most places I know.

The simple grandeur of the Beaver Brook Association land consists primarily of two things: Woodland flowers and birds. The understory of these not-quite-pristine forests contains the greatest variety and the most thoroughly blended collection of woodland ground-cover plants of any place I know in New England. It is truly something to see, and in mid- to late spring, it is strewn with a variety of woodland flowers that almost defies description. Mind you, these are small, inconspicuous woodland flowers, so don't expect to see a riotous carpet of color, but if you look closely among the greenery, you will see more kinds of flowers in this one place than you are likely to see anywhere else in a New England forest. The same is true of the birds. Comprised of streams, marshes, swamps, hardwood forest, evergreen forest, abandoned orchards, and abandoned pastures, Beaver Brook contains just about every lowland environment in inland New England, and so it is home or feeding ground to just about every kind of bird to be seen anywhere in New Hampshire outside of the mountains.

All of the trails I know are thoroughly accessible to even the confirmed couch potato. Judging from the contour maps, I would say that even the longest, steepest trails on the Beaver Brook Association lands are only slightly challenging. For the most part, this is a great place for families with young children or with mobility problems to spend a day in the woods.

I discovered Beaver Brook a few years ago, when my son and daughter-in-law moved to a town west of Hollis. On the way to visit, I noticed these trail-head parking lots here and there along Route 130, so I decided to check them out. I quickly found one where I could bring my very young grandchildren for a little hike. We've gone out there two or three times a year ever since.

The myriad trails on Beaver Brook Association lands offer uncountable opportunities for "loop" hiking. I would recommend any hike that looks reasonable on the map, but do pay attention to those contour lines. Some, such as the Rocky Ridge Trail, the Maple Hill Ridge Trail, and the Porcupine Trail, might be a bit much for those with mobility problems. Be prepared to turn back, or to stick with an in-and-out hike on one trail, if the going gets too difficult.

All of the trails that I know first-hand are perfectly accessible in winter, although you would need snowshoes immediately after a significant snowfall. After a day or two, the trails will be compacted enough to be passable without snowshoes.

Frozen beaver pond

Though it is rarely crowded, Beaver Brook offers genuine solitude in the dead of winter.

There are no fees for access to Beaver Brook Association lands, but there are donation boxes at the trail heads. Special events, camping, cabin rentals, and snowshoe rentals all have fees, of course, which are all quite modest. See the Beaver Brook Association Web site for fees, schedules of events, and contact information for making reservations.

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How to Get There

Being a patchwork of tracts of land acquired over the last forty-some years, the Beaver Brook Association land has many points of access. The Beaver Brook trail head is on State Route 130 just a mile or so west of Hollis. There are several other trail heads along Route 130, Rocky Pond Road, and several small roads south and west of Hollis, and from West Hollis Road in Brookline. There is also a disjointed tract in Milford, New Hampshire.

The Beaver Brook Association main office is located in Maple Hill Farm on Ridge Road southwest of Hollis.

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Terrain and Ecosystems

The Beaver Brook Trail and Campground Trail are nearly perfectly level as they skirt Beaver Brook. Other trails on Beaver Brook Association lands climb up and down hills, but not very high or steep.

Much of the land, especially near the trail head, was planted as "tree farms" which now will never be harvested. There are stark rows of young white pines of uniform age, with a little bit of natural undergrowth taking hold. These areas are slowly returning to the diversity of second-growth forest, but I think it will not really attain that state until the farm trees begin to die off. The "tree farm" is rather poor in wildlife.

Overgrown road

An unused dirt road on its way to reverting to forest.

One of the most remarkable things about Beaver Brook is the rich and evenly distributed undergrowth. In most forests in southern New Hampshire with which I am familiar, the undergrowth consists of Canada mayflower just about everywhere, with a patch of partridge berry here, wood anemone there, violets somewhere else. In Beaver Brook, you can hardly find a patch of ten square feet (other than the wide trails) that is not covered by all of these, plus many other species. Really, if you have the slightest curiosity or interest in woodland plants, it's worth spending a whole day exploring this tiny forest.

Red Pine Trail

The beginning of the Red Pine Trail on Campsite Trail.

Some of the land appears to be virgin pine or balsam forest. This lush woodland is unlike any other that I know of. Even the old pine forests elsewhere in southern New Hampshire (such as Mine Falls Park) do not have quite the same old-growth feel of the forest along the Red Pine Trail and the Self-Guided Nature Trail northwest of the Brown Lane Barn. This forest is home to red squirrels, pileated woodpeckers, and similar denizens of old evergreen forest.

There are also large stretches of more typical southern New Hampshire second-growth forest. These areas tend to be mixed hardwood and evergreen, with the usual white birch, beech, sugar maple, silver maple, oak, pine, and hemlock. There are even a very few surviving elm trees. Here you see chipmunks, downy woodpeckers, nuthatches, and other hardwood forest birds.

This stretch of Beaver Brook is hardly a brook at all. The beavers have turned it into a pond with a wide marshy margin. Evidently, it has been a pond for many decades, perhaps a century or more, and it is home to all manner of marsh plants, birds, frogs, and even newts.

There are many "edge" environments along the way. The edges of the forest along the brook and marshes are home to a huge variety of birds and insects. The edges of the old meadows and orchards are also very rich habitat.

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Trail Description

Distances

For this description, I will cover one of my favorite long-ish loop hikes (about 3.3 miles total). It involves some backtracking, and some looping, as described in more detail after the table. All distances are approximate.

Trail Length (mi.) this hike
Beaver Brook Trail to Campsite Trail 0.5
Campsite Trail to Red Pine Trail 0.1
Red Pine Trail to Brown Lane Barn 0.3
Self-Guided Nature Trail to Beaver Brook Trail 1.0
Beaver Brook Trail to Bouchard Bridge 0.2
Bouchard Bridge to Eastman Meadow Trail 0.1
Eastman Meadow Trail to Elkins Road 0.2
Elkins Road to Beaver Brook Trail 0.4
Beaver Brook Trail to Parking Lot 0.5

NOTES:

  1. 1. The Bouchard Bridge per se is not a tenth of a mile long, but the trail between Beaver Brook Trail and Eastman Meadow Trail, which includes Bouchard Bridge, has no other name that I can find.

Start out at the trail head and go south on the Beaver Brook Trail. This is a wide, nearly level dirt road which is now closed to motor vehicles. It is open to trail bikes, so keep an eye out. Almost universally, bikers here travel at a moderate speed and warn hikers politely before they overtake you. The trail is also open to horses, so watch your step. Actually, horse flops are rare enough on these trails that the kids might actually find them interesting.

Horse droppings in the trail

Watch your step! Many hiking trails are also used for horseback riding.


This trail passes through a mostly pine forest, and you will see glimpses of the Beaver Pond through the trees on your left. It goes right by the shore of the pond at one point, then comes back again as it crosses Beaver Brook. Here at the crossing, where you'll see an odd fence designed to prevent beavers from damming the culvert, there is a wide patch of fairly clear water. This is the best place I know to watch red-spotted newts in their natural environment.

Whirligig beetles on Beaver Pond

Open patch of water beside Beaver Brook Trail.

Just after you cross Beaver Brook, you come to a somewhat complex intersection. Take a sharp left turn to go northeast along the Campsite Trail. This is also wide and level, but closed to horses and bikes. The trail quickly enters a dense, deep pine forest which might be primordial old growth (or very old second growth). There is a great deal of poison ivy along this trail, so keep the kids on the trail.

After just 500 feet or so, take a right on Red Pine Trail. This trail is narrow, looking more like a proper hiking trail than a dirt road, and it climbs rather steeply up a wooded hill. Look for red pines (Pinus resinosa) among the white pines (P. strobus) near the top of the hill. The trail opens up into a meadow, actually more like a lawn, on a farm. No, you didn't take a wrong turn, you're still on Beaver Brook Association land. This is the Brown Lane Barn area. Continue across the lawn to the dirt road, then turn right on the dirt road to the trail at the northwest corner of the farm area.

NOTE: If the facility is open, stop in and visit. There are pamphlets for the Self-Guided Nature Trail, describing the plants and other features that are marked with numbered posts along the trail.

Here begins the Self-Guided Nature Trail. Follow it north from the farm area. It starts out as an unused dirt road, part of Brown Lane (shared with bikes and horses). In less than a tenth of a mile, turn left onto a little footpath, which is the Self-Guided Nature Trail proper. This part of the trail is again a hiking trail, closed to bikes and horses. Part of the trail passes through old orchards and fields which are managed in order to maximize habitat for birds and small wildlife. Nice, but not natural. After returning to the woods, the trail crosses some rather steep hillsides, passing some rather dramatic boulders, but it is very carefully laid out so that the trail itself is never steep or difficult. The steep hillsides are covered with rather old balsam and hemlock forests, with some pine. When you get to the bottom of the hill, you're back in some managed forest that is slowly reverting to a natural state. Here the trail intersects Beaver Brook Trail. The Self-Guided Nature Trail continues in a large loop back to the Brown Lane Barn, but for my hike, I turn left on Beaver Brook Trail.

A short way south on Beaver Brook Trail, you'll see the Maple Leaf Trail coming in from your left. A little farther on, the Leatherwood Trail intersects from the left. Here, if you continue straight ahead, the trail becomes Cow Lane and heads toward Maple Hill Farm. Instead, turn right to remain on Beaver Brook Trail. Very shortly, you'll see a small trail curving off to the right toward Bouchard Bridge. Follow this trail.

Wooden boardwalk through the woods

Before you see Bouchard Bridge itself, you come to this boardwalk.

Bouchard Bridge

Bouchard Bridge.


Bouchard Bridge itself is a well-constructed footbridge with handrails on both sides, but before you even see the bridge, you'll step up onto a narrow wooden boardwalk. Most of the time, the boardwalk seems unnecessary, but at certain times of the year, the area is flooded and muddy. The bridge crosses a marshy stretch of Beaver Brook. Hang out on the bridge to watch the red-winged blackbirds and other wetland creatures. Look down into the brook to watch the fish, crayfish, and newts.

Swampy brook

Looking north from Bouchard Bridge.

At the west end of the bridge, the trail intersects the Eastman Meadow Trail. Turn right to begin heading north, back toward the parking lot. This part of the trail climbs a gentle hill into a hardwood forest of oak, beech, and maple. Near the top of the hill, it joins Elkins Road. Turn right.

Elkins Road is another little dirt-road path open to bikes and horses, but not often used by either. It descends gently through the hardwood forest and returns to the Beaver Brook Trail.

Return to the parking lot along Beaver Brook Trail, retracing the path that was the first half-mile of your hike.

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Plants and Animals

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, by any means. This is just a list of the most common things you might see there, and some of the more interesting things you might see there.

Mammals

  • Beavers (Castor canadensis). That's what the place is named for, and there is plenty of sign of them. I've never seen the beavers themselves, oddly enough, but I'm sure they are present.
  • Chipmunks (Tamias striatus). They are very common in the hardwood forests.
  • Chipmunk

    A chipmumk with an acorn in his mouth.


  • Red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). They are more common among the evergreens, but also present in the hardwood areas.
  • Red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Tracks are common, but I've never seen the foxes themselves.
  • Eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus). Sometimes you see them in the orchards and meadows.
  • Whitetailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). They are shy and nocturnal, and not terribly common. You may see sign of them, especially around the orchards, but you will rarely see the deer themselves.

Birds

  • Woodpeckers. Pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) can be heard, but rarely seen, in the older forests. Hairy woodpeckers (Picoides villosus) are common everywhere. Sometimes I hear the red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus), but they do not appear to be common.
  • Red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis). You can almost bet on seeing them along the road on your drive to Hollis, and you may see them soaring above the trees on your hike.
  • Black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus). Your constant companions.
  • American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis tristis). Often heard, rarely seen, between the trail and Beaver Brook. There are also many other finches all around the marshes.
  • Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia). Also more often heard than seen, especially right where the Beaver Brook Trail crosses the brook. Numerous other sparrow species can be seen and heard.
  • Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). You're almost certain to see them from Bouchard Bridge, often at very close range, and you sometimes see them at other places where the trail comes close to the brook and marshes.

Other Creatures

  • Frogs. Green frogs (Rana clamitans melanota) are common, but hard to see. Look closely among the reeds and mud wherever you see water, and you'll likely see a green frog. Bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) are uncommon, but you may hear them once in a while. Spring peepers (Hyla crucifer crucifer) are something you always hear but almost never see.
  • Green frog in reedy water

    Green frog (Rana clamitans melanota) in the Beaver Pond.

    Red-spotted newt

    A red-spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens viridescens) resting on the bottom of the Beaver Pond.


  • Red-spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens viridescens). The same newts that you can find in fish stores or in a home aquarium live in their natural state here, and they are very abundant. They are most easily seen on the Beaver Brook Trail just before the intersection with the Campsite Trail. You can also see them from Bouchard Bridge, but not so many and not quite so easily.
  • Garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). Fairly common, but not so easy to find. Most easily seen on late-warming spring mornings, as they bask on or beside the wide trails.
  • Garter snake

    A garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) basking beside the trail.

    Water snake in grass

    A northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon) basking on the shore of the Beaver Brook.


  • Northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon). Also known as the "banded water snake," here near the northern extreme of their range they are often nearly solid dark brown. Look for them basking among the reeds near the margins of the marshes on a chilly spring day, but don't count on seeing them.

Trees

  • Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus). Dominant tree in the lower evergreen areas, especially along Beaver Brook Trail.
  • Red pine (Pinus resinosa). Common, but not dominant, along the upper reaches of the Red Pine Trail. Recognize them by their smaller cones and cleaner trunks as compared to the white pine.
  • Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). Dominant along the steep slopes along the Self-Guided Nature Trail. Common just about everywhere else, especially among the pine-dominated areas.
  • Balsam fir (Abies balsamea). Common along the steeps slopes along the Self-Guided Nature Trail.
  • American beech (Fagus grandifolia). Dominant in all the hardwood areas, and especially along Elkins Road.
  • Oaks (Quercus sp.). Common in all hardwood and mixed areas.
  • White birch (Betula papyrifera). Present just about everywhere, but not terribly common.

Shrubs

  • Hobblebush (Viburnum alnifolium). Common along the Beaver Brook Trail between the Campsite Trail and Bouchard Bridge. Most plants growing right along the wide, sunny trail take their upright tree-like form, but some of the more typical straggling form can be seen a little way off the trail. I was surprised to find it here. This is the lowest elevation and the lowest latitude at which I see it.
  • Laurel in bloom

    A great laurel blooming beside the trail at the north end of Bouchard Bridge.


  • Great laurel (Rhododendron maximum). A veritable jungle between the Beaver Brook Trail and Beaver Brook, and quite common everywhere else. Some areas are a riot of pinkish-white blossoms and glossy green leaves throughout the month of June.

Wildflowers

  • Goldenthread (Coptis groenlandica). Subtle greenery all year long (even in winter), and one of the first flowers to poke out of the snow in early May.
  • Wood anemone (Anemone quinquifolia). Another early May bloomer, somewhat denser and more easily visible than goldenthread.
  • Pink lady's slipper orchid (Cypripedium acaule). Occasional along the Beaver Brook Trail between the trail head and the Campsite Trail. Blooms in mid- to late May.
  • Fringed polygala (Polygala panicifolia). This extraordinary flower is quite common, especially along the Beaver Brook Trail between the trail head and the Campsite Trail. Blooms in mid- to late May.
  • Fringed polygala

    Fringed polygala (Polygala panicifolia) looks like an orchid, but it is actually a type of milkwort, somewhat related to the pea family.

    Mixed spring flowers

    Starflower (Trientalis borealis) and fringed polygala (Polygala panicifolia).


  • Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense). Carpets the ground just about everywhere. Blooms in mid- to late May, fruits in late July to mid-August. The rest of the spring and summer, it's just pale green upholstery.
  • Violets, including dog violet (Viola conpersa), sister violet (V. sororia), and common blue violet (V. papilionacea). Most bloom around the latter half of May, but the sister violet can be found blooming right through September. There is also a small stand of unusual violets that I can not definitely identify by species along the Beaver Brook Trail in a swampy area between the Self-Guided Nature Trail and Bouchard Bridge.
  • Tall blue violets

    I don't quite know the species of these tall violets (Viola sp.) growing on the swampy
    margin of Beaver Brook.

    Bluets

    Small cluster of blue bluets. Most bluets in New Hampshire are white.


  • Bluets (Houstonia caerulea). This is the only plant I can think of that is common in New Hampshire but uncommon in Beaver Brook. I found only one small cluster along Elkins Road. Also unusual, while virtually all bluets in New Hampshire are the white alpine variety (H. caerulea var. Faxonorum), these on Elkins Road are pale blue, like the nominate variety, or perhaps a hybrid.
  • Starflower (Trientalis borealis). Very common, blooming in mid- to late May.
  • Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis). Common in mixed hardwood and evergreen areas, blooming in late May through June, fruiting in mid- to late August.
  • Summer flowers, including oxeye daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), and many others are mostly present in open areas, such as the orchards and pastures around Brown Lane Barn, and the fringes of the Beaver Pond.

Other Plants

  • Partridge berry (Mitchella repens). Very abundant everywhere, forming a shiny evergreen decoration. Flowers in mid- to late June. Red berries are present all year long.
  • Partridge berry

    Partridge berry (Mitchella repens) creeping over a boulder beside a tiny stream.

    Poison ivy

    An old poison ivy vine (Toxicodendron radicans) nearly strangling a tree.


  • Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). Common everywhere, especially in the pine forests between Brown Lane Barn and Beaver Brook, including the old white pine forest along Campground Trail.
  • Cattail (Typha latifolia). Common in just about all swampy and marshy areas.
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