Why Mast Rd. is a must-walk

As we are more than halfway through our seed collecting internship, I have once again revised my list of favorites among the sites in which we collect, and Mast Rd Natural Area in Epping, NH has consistently been near the top.

Mast Rd Natural Area is turning into quite a friendly space for the weekend hiker. It is a forested site containing a few wetland areas and a meadow and is currently undergoing restoration to make it more accessible to pedestrians. When we first visited the site, the felled trunks and the tire marks revealed that Mast Rd Natural Area used to be an ATV trail system. The construction has been apparent with each visit and the trails are starting to take shape; gravel has been lain and bridges have been constructed over less than solid land.

Both the weekend hiker and the seasoned field worker will find plenty of fascinating sights here. That is part of the beauty of Mast Rd Natural Area. Though New Hampshire rises to mountain elevations further inland, this natural area is rather flat, providing for an easy walk that will allow hikers to focus on what they see along the trail instead of whether they will reach the end.

As seed collectors, we love this site. We have made thirteen collections here to date, which speaks to the range of diversity among the habitats that support a variety of native plant populations. The Carex species are well represented, with different ones growing in different areas, depending on soil wetness. We have collected Sparganium americanum and Eleocharis obtusa, which generally grow in standing water. We have also collected species that are typically found in bogs with acidic and moist, spongy soil, like Rhynchospora capitellata and Triadenum virginicum. We will probably collect a grass growing in a drier part of Mast Rd Natural Area next month, Schizachyrium scoparium. Also, we never made an official collection of Vaccinium angustifolium or Vaccinium corymbosum, but we taste-tested these highbush and lowbush blueberries to our heart’s content and mostly agreed that the highbush is more delicious. You too can pick wild blueberries at Mast Rd Natural Area in the summer months.

Bog habitat at Mast Rd. PC: E. Tokarz

Every time we have been to Mast Rd Natural Area, we have also noted a spectacular nature sighting. Once we saw a grasshopper molt its exoskeleton. It unfurled a large abdomen as it waddled away from its skin, its back legs still glued together. We gaped in wonder at the shell it left behind, which looked to be less than half its new size. Another time, we nearly stepped on a quail. It sat unfazed by our near step as we reached for some Scirpus, seeming to be more curious than concerned. We all agree there is always more to explore and to notice than we have time for, and that we can best appreciate this natural area on foot.

The exoskeleton of the grasshopper at Mast Rd. Natural Area, NH. PC: E. Tokarz

P.S. This site has a bonus. It is only ten minutes away from the Lindt chocolate factory outlet store. You’ve never seen so many truffles in your life!

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