Dahl Wildlife Sanctuary

Dahl Wildlife Sanctuary

56 Acres
1.5 Miles of Trails
Conway, NH

This small, but important, property was donated by Helen and Ruth Dahl in 1988. It is located along the Saco River of the Mt. Washington Valley and protects one of the finest, accessible examples of Silver Maple/Sugar Maple/White Ash floodplain forest in the state. Used as farmland throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, much of the property has matured into forestland, but NH Audubon maintains some open areas for less-common wildlife species, especially early successional or shrubland birds. A major restoration of the sanctuary including invasive species control, hydrological improvements to the wetlands, improved visitor services, and trail restoration was completed in 2011. The trail system provides access to all of the sanctuary’s varied habitats, including upland pine forest, early successional forest, field, floodplain forest, wetlands, riverine, and even a cobble barren plant community. Several rare plants are protected and actively managed on this sanctuary. Nest boxes are provided for several species of birds. The NRCS’s Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) holds a conservation easement on the sanctuary.

Visitors may notice shredded stumps and vegetation that remains from field management work in 2020, in which several acres of young forest were cut back to promote early successional (shrubland) habitat. As the area regrows, these spots will again be full of breeding warblers, buntings, and other birds that depend on this limited habitat feature. The Saco River in spring may flood into the lower portions of the sanctuary, boosting regeneration thanks to its deposits of nutrients. The Dahl Sanctuary is an excellent place to observe wildlife like birds, amphibians, and mammals, and it is open for public exploration on a year round basis.

Parking is limited to a small lot adjacent to the LL Bean from Route 16 South.

The Importance of Floodplains

Floodplain forests are increasingly difficult to come by in NH. They contain some of the highest-quality agricultural soil, and as a result many have been ditched or drained for farming. Further, development and dams have altered hydrology of these wetlands, resulting in poor regeneration of the floodplain plant species. Human disturbance can jeopardize these natural communities through the spread of invasive species and inappropriate recreation.

Floodplain forests are unique because of their periodic flooding. These regular disturbances, which deposit silt and sand along the banks of waterways, help create and maintain unique communities of plants that tolerate flooding and require nutrient-rich soils. Floodplain forests contribute many free ecological services to our society: they help filter pollutants to prevent them from entering streams, improve water quality, are critical in controlling erosion, and help buffer rivers against catastrophic flooding.

These increasingly rare plant communities support wildlife species that includes many species of mammals, blue-gray gnatcatcher, and red-shouldered hawk. At the Dahl Wildlife Sanctuary, we are taking steps to restore hydrology, remove invasive plant species, and limit recreation within sensitive areas.

Photos, from the top: Dahl Wildlife Sanctuary, by Phil Brown; view of the floodplain at Dahl, by Phil Brown.

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About Us

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.