What makes this place special?
Hurlbert Swamp looks and feels its age. Estimated to be 10,000 years old, this high-elevation swamp is unusual due to the predominance of northern white cedar, a boreal species that is at the southeastern limit of its range in northern New Hampshire. Large, mature cedars are common in central areas of the swamp, creating a wild and timeless mood that complements the biodiversity found here. The preserve features a boardwalk that allows access into the heart of the cedar swamp throughout the year, providing the opportunity to see abundant wildlife such as moose, snowshoe hare, boreal woodpecker species, bay-breasted warblers, and yellow-bellied flycatchers.
The northern white cedar–balsam fir swamp is an excellent example of an isolated boreal swamp not associated with a larger pond or lake. In addition to cedar and fir, it harbors a mix of tamarack and red and black spruce, as well as an array of beautiful ferns, mosses and liverworts. Preserve visitors can also discover a grassy clearing, alder wooded fen, peat bog, lowland spruce-fir forest, and black spruce swamp. This concentrated diversity of habitats supports a variety of wildflowers with common species like bunchberry, creeping snowberry, goldthread, and three-leaved false Solomon’s seal, along with rarer plants like chestnut sedge, green-bracted orchis, and yellow lady’s slipper.
How was this land protected?
Hurlbert Swamp was first noted for its unusual habitat in the early 1970s during a New England Natural Areas inventory conducted by noted naturalist and longstanding NH Audubon Executive Director Tudor Richards. In 1977, Dr. Ian Worley, a botany professor from the University of Vermont also recognized its importance and noted its rare orchids and birds, putting the swamp on the radar of conservationists. In 1976, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests purchased a small portion of the swamp. In 1988, after several years of negotiation with the Diamond International timber company, The Nature Conservancy was able to purchase 260 acres containing the heart of the cedar swamp, TNC then purchased an additional 52 acres from the Young family in 1989.
Though old stumps hint at past logging in the area, trees in the center of the swamp reach 60 feet in height and 2 feet in diameter - suggesting that parts of the forest may be old-growth. Leaning trees, blowdowns, and a well-developed pit-and-mound (also known as “hummock-hollow”) topography offer additional small-scale habitat niches available to plants and animals.