The 73-acre Bear Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary, located on the north side of Bear Mountain, is a relatively rugged forested property with some fairly steep slopes. The trail gains 600 feet in elevation from its start on West Shore Road (elevation 640 feet) to the highest point on the Sanctuary (elevation 1,240 feet), where there are views of Newfound Lake through the treetops. Although the Sanctuary is generally closed-canopy mixed forest, the effects from the changes in altitude can be seen in tree species composition as one walks up the trail: for example, there is a noticeable increase in Red Spruce and Balsam Fir at higher elevations. The Sanctuary was donated to Audubon in 1999 by Jon McKee and Joan Belden, both summer residents of Hebron. The property had been purchased 30 years earlier by McKee and his business partner, Rod Belden, for the purpose of creating a modest five-home development. Sensitive to the increase in development in the Newfound Lake area, McKee and Belden decided to forego their plans in favor of protecting the property as open space. They chose to donate the property to NH Audubon because the organization protects other land in the area.
The uphill slope noticeably flattens, and the forest becomes dominated by Red Maple and Red Oak. Understory plants, such as Hobblebush, become more abundant in the decreased shade. Scarlet Tanagers, Broadwinged Hawks, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and thrushes are among the dozens of bird species that inhabit this area between May and August.
The creek is again crossed and the slope generally remains gentle as the trail crosses the snowmobile trail. From here, the slope becomes steeper, crossing the creek a third time. Beech becomes more abundant, and, as elevation is gained, so do Red Spruce and Balsam Fir. The slope again moderates as the trail progresses through shady woods full of large hemlock to the trail loop junction. Black-throated Green, Pine, and Blackburnian Warbler, and Dark-eyed Junco nest in the conifers atop this rise. Listen for Winter Wrens on the steeper hillside along the trail.
Veering left (east) at the junction, the last uphill section of trail leads to glimpses of Newfound Lake, with the best view about 580 feet from the junction. Evidence of Moose browse is common, as is the tree damage from weather, such as blowdowns. The openings in the canopy from blowdowns allow more understory plants, such as Serviceberry, Blackberry, and Hedge Bindweed, to grow.
The trail turns right (west) at the Sanctuary’s southern boundary, from where one can see Mt. Cardigan about 5.5 miles to the southwest. The trail is basically all downhill from here. These wetlands support amphibians such as Wood Frog and American Toad, and the Canada Warbler.
At the Sanctuary’s southwest corner, the trail passes by a small, rather open, mossy wetland area of Cinnamon Fern, sedges, and grasses, which feeds the creek crossed earlier. The trail returns to the loop junction down a gentle slope with Sugar Maple, Striped Maple, and some Christmas Ferns. At the loop junction bear left to return downhill to West Shore Road.
The New Hampshire Audubon offers multiple opportunities for those interested in joining us as a member or donating for one of our various causes.
Founded in 1914, NH Audubon’s mission is to protect New Hampshire’s natural environment for wildlife and for people. It is an independent statewide membership organization with four nature centers throughout the state. Expert educators give programs to children, families, and adults at centers and in schools. Staff biologists and volunteers conduct bird conservation efforts such as the Peregrine Falcon restoration. NH Audubon protects thousands of acres of wildlife habitat and is a voice for sound public policy on environmental issues. For information on NH Audubon, including membership, volunteering, programs, sanctuaries, and publications, call 224-9909, or visit www.nhaudubon.org.