The work of the glaciers that covered New Hampshire during the last ice age is apparent all over the state, mostly in the form of exposed granite ledge and boulders ranging from the size of bowling balls to your house. One of the more subtle features left behind by the giant walls of ice are kettle bogs. There are a few still left in New Hampshire, but none more accessible than the Audubon Preserve in Amherst.
A kettle bog is named for its basic shape and they are delicate ecosystems that host plants that do not thrive in any other environment. They are formed during the glacial retreat when enormous chunks of ice separated from the main sheet and became stranded. As they melted they made large depressions in the earth that filled with the melt-water. Over the centuries, that water was added to by rain. Unlike other ponds, kettle bogs get water from no other source except precipitation and they have little or no outlets for runoff, creating a nutrient-poor environment. Eventually, bogs fill in with vegetation, most notably peat moss, that accumulates on its borders.
The Ponemah bog is thought to have been formed 12,000 years ago and its central pond has been reduced to 3 acres. The plants that have adapted to live in bogs are fascinating and beautiful. Most notable are the carnivorous plants such as pitcher plant, bladder wort and sundew. Because the soil has so little nutrients, the plants rely on insects and other small invertebrates to survive. Also present are bog rosemary, rhodora, tamarack pine, black spruce, bog cotton, leatherleaf, blueberry and grass pink orchid.
The preserve is beautiful in any season, even winter. There are often geese, ducks and heron in the pond and if you’re stealthy you can spend a morning with them as I have done once or twice. The trail begins in woodland but soon emerges into the bog proper and follows narrow boardwalks. Please be careful to not step off them, not only because the peat mat is deceptive in covering deep water, but also because it’s very fragile and takes decades to repair once torn. There are three viewing platforms on the pond and another off a side trail. They’re perfect spots for sitting quietly listening to the many songbirds that call the bog home including tufted titmice, chickadees and woodpeckers. There is an informational kiosk detailing the features of the preserve and a picnic table. Trail guides are often available or you can download one here.
How to get there –
Head for the town of Amherst, NH
From Route 3, Everett Turnpike take exits 10, 11, 7 or 8 to Route 101A west. Turn left onto 122N at the intersection and then take an immediate right onto Stearns Road. Drive 1.1 miles to Rhodora Drive on right and drive straight ahead to the parking lot.
More photos can be found here.
Happy trails and remember to carry out what you carry in (and pick up after those who don’t) and please leash your dogs! Also please respect local rules and regulations.