West Branch Pine Barrens
West Branch Pine Barrens Preserve
Description: West Branch Pine Barrens is a 341 acre preserve in Madison that is among the nation's best examples of northern pitch pine - scrub oak woodland (also called pine barrens). This habitat is rare in New Hampshire. Most of the tree species here are adapted to fire, and controlled burns are conducted annually to maintain the habitat. Pitch pine (Pinus rigida) trees have serotinous cones that open only when exposed to extreme heat. This species also produces new branches in two interesting and unusual ways. First, it stump-sprouts after a tree has been cut down, often creating a thick whorl of new growth in a circle around the stump. Second, they produce new needle clumps directly on the trunk in a phenomenon called epicormic sprouting. This allows the tree to persist even after a fire has burned away all the other branches. Scrub oak (Quercus ilicifolia) shrubs and gray birch (Betula populifolia) trees of the pine barrens also stump-sprout, and you can see many examples of young stems clumped together throughout the Preserve.
The remarkably clear water of West Branch stream flows from Silver Lake to Ossipee Lake and runs along the southeastern side of the Preserve. Its clearness is due to its relative acidity, and is typical of streams that flow through the sandy soils of pine barrens.
This pine barrens ecosystem also contains 17 documented rare species of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies), as well as several species of declining songbirds. The habitat is uncommon in the state, with other smaller, remnant patches occurring in Concord and a few other locations in the Merrimack River Valley. The Ossipee Pine Barrens are by far the largest and least fragmented in New Hampshire.
Directions: From the junction of Rte. 16 and Rte. 41 in Ossipee, follow Rte. 41 north for approximately 2 miles, crossing into the Town of Madison. The entrance to the preserve will be on the right side of the road. Look for the TNC sign and gate. Turn right here. Park at a clearing about a tenth of a mile from Rte. 41. The trailhead is marked by small trail signs. The Pine Barrens loop trail through the preserve is roughly 1.5 miles long. The preserve map available on site also shows other nearby trail locations in the pine barrens.
Landowner: The Nature Conservancy of New Hampshire
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