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Nature rules during ACT's summer hikes

Views from Bronson Hill include Mt. Lafayette and Cannon Mountain. The shack in the foreground was built on the hill in 1941 with wood blown down during the Hurricane of 1938. (Photo by Darin Wipperman) (click for larger version)
July 27, 2016
SUGAR HILL — With so many preserved parcels, the Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust has several outside educational laboratories. For a hike last Wednesday, the organization hosted 12 people for stroll along Bronson Hill, considered one of the most iconic viewscapes in Sugar Hill, a small town known for offering eye candy to locals and visitors.

The hearty band headed up Bronson Hill from the end of Dike Road. ACT has worked with residents across the region to create conservation easements that protect land from development.

Trees were the afternoon's focus. Liz Wyman, ACT's Director of Education and Outreach, and Linda Moore, an ACT volunteer, led the way.

Facts about different kinds of tree species were discussed. Wyman would ask the group to name the type of tree by using hints about leaves and bark.

Trees serve many purposes for humans. Wyman pointed out a tidbit about the leaves of striped maple, which are "also known as nature's toilet paper."

Mountain, red, and sugar maples were also seen on the walk.

Wyman demonstrated a big difference between balsam fir and spruce trees. The former has flat needles that are "friendly," she noted, because the ends are not sharp.

Conversely, spruce are "spiky" (and therefore less friendly) due to the sharpness of each needle.

When arriving at a yellow birch, Wyman passed around a small branch so hikers could enjoy the wintergreen aroma. She referred to the treasured regional species as "one of my scratch and sniff trees."

Trees of various sizes dominate much of Bronson Hill, but the woody wonders are a relatively recent addition. Much of Sugar Hill was used as sheep pasture in previous centuries.

Moore noted how white pine became "one of the first trees that reseeded these old pastures," after the "sheep boom" ended.

During colonial times, Wyman added, white pines were treasured by the British as masts for tall ships. The species can grow to towering proportions.

Standing by a large white ash closer to the summit, Moore noted the species, under threat from the emerald ash borer, "takes impact well." Thus, the wood is used in axe handles, canoe paddles, and baseball bats.

The humble fern, dwarfed by even small trees, was also discussed during last week's hike. The knowledgable hiking group included those who could distinguish different fern species.

Hikers were also able to see what Wyman referred to as "relics of human civilization." The group looked over the foundation of a long-gone Bronson Hill residence.

"It was a beautiful, sprawling farmhouse," Moore added.

Trees have taken over this area, as well, blocking the former mountain views the homeowners could enjoy.

But there are plenty of views higher up. Before heading back to the trailhead, the group spent time in and around a shack built in 1941 that stands on Bronson Hill. Mt. Lafayette and Cannon Mountain dominate the view to the east.

A poem entitled "Hill" is displayed in the shack. The last line might serve as inspiration for those making the trek: "God give me hills to climb, and strength for climbing."

For more information about ACT's summer hikes and other programs, go to: www.aconservationtrust.org.

Martin Lord Osman
Northern Lights
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