Last week, on my birthday, we decided to try a new hike, and ventured up Sugarloaf, a spectacular peak in the remote Nash Stream Forest of northern NH. In the decade since we’ve lived in the North County, we’ve traversed Nash Stream Forest on many occasions, usually to hike up North Percy Peak, a fabulous trek which ends up on a bald peak covered (in August) with sweet wild blueberries.
Sugarloaf lies deeper into the forest primeval, and while the elevation rise is roughly the same as North Percy, the hike itself is more grueling. There are no switchbacks on the trail–it’s pretty much straight up and very steep–the very sort of trail where it becomes difficult to just put one foot in front of the other. Still, the view at the top is immensely rewarding. After a pleasant rest and some lunch, we headed down, but the downward leg of the journey is deceptive. At first, I felt relieved that I wouldn’t be continuing at the hard work of a steep upward slog. But hiking down a steep downhill can exact a painful cost on the legs. By the end, my knees and thighs were shaky and weak, and for 2-3 days, my calves ached quite badly.
That’s all for par for the course, though. It was a beautiful day. The 40,000 acre Nash Stream Forest has seemingly endless potential for exploration and I highly recommend it, because the preserve is untouched by tourism and the infrastructure conceded to hikers and others is rough and minimal. Throughout most of the 20th century, it was owned and managed by local timber interests, primarily the Groveton Paper Company. Subsequently the land was sold to Diamond International, an international paper conglomerate. Throughout the 20th century, Nash Stream Forest was a major timber resource, with logging camps and log drives down Nash Stream to the Upper Ammonoosuc and then to the Connecticut River. (Around mid-century, the river log drives were eliminated by trucking).
In 1988, a crisis loomed when Diamond International put the entire Nash Stream Forest (about 70,000 acres) on the market. Developers looked on hungrily as the price was set at $100 per acre. The danger of private subdivision and development loomed on the horizon. Fortunately, a coalition of the State of New Hampshire, the federal government, and various state environmental groups worked together–rapidly–to buy much of the acreage and preserve it as a working landscape involving regulated timber usage, recreation, (hiking, snowmobiling, fishing, hunting) and protection of wildlife habitat. (A similar process took place all over the Northern Forest as Diamond International divested its holdings in four different states, including acreage in Essex County, Vermont, where I live.)
As you drive along Nash Stream Road, with the beautiful Nash Stream zig zagging from left to right, there’s a moonscape-like quality to the terrain that puzzled me at first. Boulders are strewn in unlikely places along the roadway and the sides of hills. The vegetation appears stunted and there are odd bare area. It wasn’t until I read up on the history of Nash Stream that I understood the reasons for this startling landscape. On May 20, 1969, the dam at Nash Bog was breached, creating what the Forest Service called a “500 year flood event.” The breach caused a 400 foot wide torrent downstream, which remains legendary in these parts. The flood gouged out the stream bed, destroyed the riparian forest on the stream banks, which had devastating consequences for the fish and wildlife of the region. The managing agency of the State of New Hampshire still considers the Nash Stream to be in recovery after the 1969 flood. Here’s a recent article describing the ongoing restoration of Nash Stream, if you’re interested!