Visiting New Hampshire's Biodiversity


Franconia Notch: Old Forest



Description: Old forests that have not been logged are rare throughout North America. They are characterized by large, old trees, lots of standing dead and downed wood, and other rich biological legacies not found in heavily managed forests. There are patches of such uncut old forest in and around Franconia Notch. Although the history of cutting throughout the notch is not precisely known, we do know that there are remnants of old forest such as the northern hardwood - spruce - fir forest along the bike path between Lafayette Campground and The Basin. This area is a good example of what a mature northern hardwood forest looks like, and it is an excellent place to view a mix of old and young forest. Some of the trees here exceed 250 years of age.

This forest has been impacted by several hurricanes and frequent winter storms. With such fierce weather, the notch is a harsh environment to grow in, and the architecture of the older trees reflects it. Hardwood species such as yellow birch, beech, and sugar maple typically have a dense scraggle of contorted branches at the top of thick, straight trunks that are anchored by large root structures. The irregular canopy of this forest is a result of many years of limbs being snapped and broken off by strong winds, heavy ice, and deep snow. Softwoods like red spruce readily shed ice and snow, and older specimens can frequently be seen emerging above the hardwood canopy.

Of course, old forests consist of much more than just old trees. In fact, the old trees are fairly widely scattered and mixed in with younger trees and saplings of various ages growing in the openings created when older trees died. Dead trees remain as standing snags and blowdowns, and this decaying wood provides both future organic soil for more plants and trees, and important habitat for a wide diversity of animals, microorganisms, flowering plants, and fungi. In addition, many lichen and moss species cover surfaces in these forests.


Directions: Franconia Notch is a dramatic mountain pass located in the heart of the popular White Mountain region. It contains the headwaters of the Pemigewasset River, the massive Cannon Cliffs (the largest cliff in northeastern U.S.), a great diversity of forests and alpine tundra, and several other spectacular natural features. The notch is traversed by a unique parkway that extends for 8 miles between the high peaks of the Kinsman and Franconia mountain ranges, from the scenic Flume Gorge in the south end to Echo Lake at the north end. The notch is almost entirely located within Franconia Notch State Park.  

Franconia Notch Parkway (a part of I-93) runs through the notch, and a paved bike path parallels the parkway. There are parking lots at several locations along the parkway.


Landowner: State of New Hampshire - Division of Parks and Recreation

Site Guide

Images (hold mouse over image for caption)

Old forest in Franconia Notch, from below (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau) Bike path in Franconia Notch (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau) 'Widowmaker' tree above bike path, in winter (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)

Old forest in Franconia Notch, from above (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau) Old Betula alleghaniensis (yellow birch) tree (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau) Bike path in October (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)

Hobblebush and painted trillium in flower in May (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau) Viburnum lantanoides (hobblebush) in bloom (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau) Cyclist along the Franconia Notch bike path (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)

Bike path through old forest in Franconia Notch (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau) Franconia Notch bike path in winter (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)

Bridge along the Franconia Notch bike path (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)

Site Guide


links:
NH Department of Parks & Recreation's web page for Franconia Notch State Park 

US National Park Service's National Natural Landmark web page for Franconia Notch

back to Visit NH's Biodiversity page