In New Hampshire and beyond, the stewardship, maintenance and restoration of protected lands is vital to their long-term resilience. Healthy forests, farms and wetlands remove carbon from the atmosphere—key to the fight against climate change. At the same time, there’s value in preserving the magic of towering cedar forests at Manchester Cedar Swamp or the endless, rippling grasses at Lubberland Creek for new and future visitors.
Growing up in rural Wyoming, I was raised to value public lands and the people who take care of them. When I moved to New Hampshire to intern at TNC, I found myself wanting to tag along with staff to experience firsthand how we tackle challenges—ecological and otherwise—at different preserves. These outings seemed like a way for me to participate in stewardship and connect with New Hampshire’s lands and waters on which all life depends.
Join me on a journey to see three of TNC’s New Hampshire preserves. Together, we'll learn how local land stewards manage them to monitor for invasive species, ensure habitat connectivity and support recreation for all.
Preventing Invasive Species
Wall lettuce pulling party at Lime Pond Preserve
Scientifically speaking, invasive species—whether they’re plants or pests—are non-native organisms that cause harm to an ecosystem. People who study invasives consider “harm” to be anything from crowding out other life to spreading diseases that affect plant, animal or human health. Everyone knows an invasive species: They weren’t invited to the party but showed up anyway, and now they’re irritating the guests. In reality, invasive species can take control, threatening rare habitats and creating problems for nature and people. Land stewards carefully monitor and remove invasive species to ensure ecosystems survive into the future.
At The Nature Conservancy’s Lime Pond Preserve in Columbia, New Hampshire, land stewards are working to remove wall lettuce—an invasive plant that spreads like wildfire over forests and wetlands. As wall lettuce grows here, it uses resources that maidenhair ferns, wild onions, orchids and other unique flora need to survive. Without invasive species management, native plants could be lost, forever altering the ecosystem.
Keep scrolling to see what I experienced at Lime Pond.
Getting to Lime Pond Preserve
The morning is dark and stormy. Our pickup truck grinds over rural New Hampshire roads. Creedence Clearwater Revival blares from the radio: “I want to know, have you ever seen the rain?” Autumn Bennett, seasonal land steward and volunteer coordinator, looks over at me from the driver’s seat and grins. “Yeah, we’ve seen it,” she says. We’ve been driving north for nearly three hours to meet Mike Crawford, northern New Hampshire land steward and Autumn’s supervisor, for a "wall lettuce pulling party."
Wall Lettuce Pulling Party
Our “party” originally had six guests, including Autumn and me. But half the invitees couldn’t make it. As we put the truck in reverse for the third time—Google Maps isn’t always reliable—I’m wondering if I should have stayed home too. I’m not even sure what wall lettuce looks like. Autumn isn’t sure either. We do know it’s an invasive plant, and we’re supposed to get rid of it.
What Even Is Wall Lettuce?
Wall lettuce, it turns out, is a member of the aster family, with airy clumps of yellow flowers and toothed leaves. Mike points it out as we walk through dense mesic northern hardwood forest at Lime Pond Preserve. He was able to send us his location, and we’re here, following behind him and stepping carefully to avoid crushing rare species.
Once You See It
The site at Lime Pond is overrun with wall lettuce. The thin green plants spread over a forested hill and down into a northern white cedar swamp, choking out mosses and maidenhair ferns. “Once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it,” Autumn groans. I agree. We each have a pair of work gloves and some trash bags. We’ll stuff the bags with the lettuce of our labor. The three of us drop our backpacks and glove up.
Song of the Forest
There’s a rhythm to the work: bend, reach, grab, pull. Time passes slowly. Autumn hums along to something playing in her earbuds. She’s come prepared. With nothing to distract me, I pay attention to the forest. My song is the yellow warbler’s “witchety-witchety-wichety” one. I remove my gloves, tracing my fingertips over bumpy lichens climbing up oak trunks and soft ferns. Then, it’s back to pulling.
Necessary and Ongoing Work
By late afternoon, our trash bags are full. We choose not to look over the hill, where wall lettuce abounds. “That’s the reality of invasives management,” Mike says with a wry smile. “Next time, we might come back to do a prescribed burn.” A carefully planned fire could clear out the wall lettuce invasion. But we’re proud of our work as stewards of Lime Pond Preserve. It’s quiet, necessary, selfless.
Visit Lime Pond Preserve
At Lime Pond, you can find northern white cedar swamps with centuries-old trees, rich mesic northern hardwood forest with maidenhair fern and wild onions, beautiful wetlands with an amazing diversity of orchids, and the state’s only occurrence of the brown bog sedge, which is found along the shoreline of the pond. Plan your visit today.
Ensuring Habitat Connectivity
Monitoring fish paths at Lubberland Creek Preserve
American eels hatch near Bermuda in the Sargasso Sea before traveling a thousand miles to the freshwater rivers and lakes of the eastern United States, where they grow and live for many years. Once they reach maturity, they travel back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn. But in the Great Bay estuary of New Hampshire, narrow culverts prevent eels and other migratory fish from reaching freshwater systems. These waterfall-like barriers block fish from swimming upstream to the freshwater habitat essential to their life cycles.
In 2020, The Nature Conservancy worked with the Town of Newmarket to replace a culvert under Bay Road at Lubberland Creek Preserve. With rising sea levels, more intense storms and increased surface water runoff, the old 3-by-4-foot pipe couldn’t effectively pass water between the creek and the nearby salt marsh. The concrete box culvert we built instead allows water to flow with the tides and helps migratory fish and other species navigate safely. This is the second year post-construction that our land stewards have set fish traps to see if migratory fish use the culvert to travel upstream—a measure of what scientists call aquatic connectivity.
Here’s what happened when I helped staff monitor for fish at Lubberland Creek.
Gearing Up for the Workday
Autumn and I arrive at the Great Bay Office in the morning. We've been experiencing a heat wave recently, and it’s already sweltering hot. Still, we’d rather suffer in our long pants and sleeves than expose ourselves to thick shrubs and swarming mosquitos at Lubberland Creek. Joanne Glode, southern New Hampshire stewardship ecologist, waves us to the shed to gather supplies: rubber boots, work gloves, plastic buckets, saline monitor, measuring stick and data sheets. “Good morning!” she says cheerily. We smile, trying to match her enthusiasm.
A Sea of Grasses
“I set out the fish traps a few days ago,” Joanne says. “So all we have to do is go pull them up and see what we’ve caught.” She makes the work sound simple and, well, fun. We head out, carrying our buckets in one hand so we can swat at insects. I weave through the sea of grasses, carefully avoiding the hidden troughs dug by 18th-century saltmarsh farmers and others to try and manage the marsh. However, these practices caused more long-term harm than good. More recently, stewards have worked to restore the area so estuarine species can thrive.
Checking the Fish Traps
At the first site, Autumn and I take turns hauling up the wire fish traps, filling buckets with water to hold the fish and identifying species with the laminated identification key. After we record the data, we release the fish back into their habitat.
Jackpot! We Found an Eel
On the saltwater side of the culvert, we find mummichogs (a small estuarine fish that eats mosquitos) and crabs. One trap contains an American eel. We’re excited—this is one of the migratory fish we hoped to see. While the eel hasn’t yet made it to freshwater, Joanne says that’s okay. “The water is really low this year, so I’m surprised we’re seeing these fish at all.”
Celebrating Our Wins
At each site, we take the width and depth of the water and the salinity. As we move further from the marsh and cross through the culvert, the salinity decreases. Here, we find white perch—another migratory species. “This is great,” Joanne says. “They’ve been able to use the culvert to get toward fresh water.” Autumn and I nod, too hot and tired to say much. But I’m pleased by the tangible results. Nature can be fickle. In the world of environmental stewardship, it’s important to celebrate your wins.
Ready for Next Year
We trudge back to the office under the mid-day sun, sweat dripping down our necks. I help lay out the traps and spray them with the hose to prevent rust. Like the stewardship team, they’ll be ready for next year’s catch.
Visit Lubberland Creek Preserve
At Lubberland Creek, hikers will enjoy ponds, wetlands, salt marsh, mud flats, vernal pools and a variety of critters including songbirds, fisher, deer, salamanders, beaver, wood duck and more. Keep your eyes peeled for the great blue heron rookery! Plan your visit today.
Supporting Accessible Outdoor Recreation
Celebrating community partnership at Manchester Cedar Swamp Preserve
On Earth Day 2022, The Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire opened a fully-accessible trail at Manchester Cedar Swamp Preserve in Manchester. The All Persons Trail is a 1.2-mile accessible path that provides visitors access to unique geologic features in the preserve, including mossy glacial boulders and vernal pools nestled amongst oak forests. For three years, we worked with different community groups, Indigenous partners and experienced trail builders to plan and construct a trail that welcomes everyone. After learning about the process and writing about the project at TNC, I wanted to visit the All Persons Trail with a few staff members who made it happen and experience the magic of Manchester Cedar Swamp.
Take a peek into my summer day at the trail.
In Person at All Persons Trail
As I park at the All Persons Trail, I’m eager to get out of the car. While working for TNC, I’ve learned much about this preserve and project. Words and images are compelling, but I’m ready to experience this place in person. Three members of the team—Sheila Vargas, Megan Latour and Joanne Glode—are preparing for our walk in the woods, spraying insect repellent and adjusting their TNC T-shirts. “I guess we came at a less popular time,” Megan says. “The parking lot is usually full.”
Attention to Detail
Our crew is here to share the trail with Crystal Diaz de Villegas, the acting state director for New Hampshire. She’s come from Florida and, like me, has never been to a cedar swamp before. It’s hot and humid, and haze settles around us as we step out onto the trail. “The rocks that form the base of the trail were all cut by hand,” Megan explains. As I look down, I appreciate the attention to detail that went into the design—the wide path, even gravel and gentle, rolling terrain.
Eating Wild Blueberries So Close to Downtown
Above us, sunlight gleams through the leaves of towering oak trees. Birds call out to each other from the tallest branches—their songs soar over the hum of summer insects. Flanking the path, there’s a dense understory of shrubs and ferns, and near the boardwalk loop, wild blueberry bushes grow with abandon. We stop to pick blueberries, reaching up on tiptoe to find ripe ones. They burst open in our mouths, tangy and sweet. “These taste like summer,” I say. Megan agrees. “It’s amazing that we’re so close to downtown and eating wild blueberries."
A Fairy-tale View of an Atlantic White Cedar Swamp
The lookout platform is my favorite spot we visit on the trail. From the deck, I peer out at the grove of giant rhododendron emerging from the mist. We’ve missed their blooms, but the view of the white cedar swamp is still something out of a fairy tale. I tilt my head up toward the sky, enjoying the forest air. An elderly couple sitting on a wooden bench behind me seems to have the same idea. We soak in the sunshine together.
Keeping the Trail Accessible for Us All
This warm July afternoon is so peaceful that I almost don’t want to leave. But I know if I return in autumn, the oak trees at Manchester Cedar Swamp Preserve will be brilliant shades of gold, orange and red. Volunteers will take time to collect fallen leaves and branches from the trail to ensure it’s accessible for wheeled devices. Each season, the beauty of nature at Manchester Cedar Swamp Preserve remains because of—and for—us all.
Visit Manchester Cedar Swamp Preserve
Hiking, snowshoeing and bird watching are fun activities at Manchester Cedar Swamp Preserve. The All Persons Trail is suitable for all abilities and includes interactive, immersive experiences for all visitors. A free audio tour is available in both English and Spanish. Plan your visit today.