Peacham Bog

Conall and I recently explored a bit of nearby Groton State Forest. At more than 26,000 acres, this forest is the second largest contiguous land holding of the State of Vermont.

dog standing on small boulder alongside Peacham Bog Trail
Conall strikes a pose as we head up the trail.

The terrain is rolling, forested, and contains several bodies of water: Lake Groton (422 acres), Kettle Pond (109 acres), Martins Pond (82 acres), Turtlehead Pond or Marshfield Pond (69 acres), Noyes Pond (39 acres), Osmore Pond (48 acres), Peacham Pond (340 acres), and Ricker Pond (95 acres). Car- and house-sized boulders dot the landscape, glacial erratics jutting from the earth among the dense trees. Smaller boulders – rock gardens – comprise some stretches of trail, slick to navigate, something I’m learning is a common feature of Vermont mountain trails. Exposed bedrock on the mountain peaks is granite, the product of glacial activity over 10,000 years ago.

dog on boulders on Peacham Bog Trail
One of the stretches of trail strewn with small boulders that I’ve come to learn is common in Vermont.

It’s a stunning landscape. It’s impossible to wander here and not be humbled by the geologic history on display. The fall colors on show in the leaves of the deciduous trees and other foliage is icing on the cake.

Conall and I have run several times in this state forest, including along a rail trail that is part of the Cross Vermont Trail. This time, though, I wanted to visit a bog. I want to learn more about this particular feature of our new home.

We ran/hiked the trail to Peacham Bog, which, it turns out, is quite unique.

dog on Peacham Bog trail puncheon
We reach the bog.

It is Vermont’s largest raised bog.

What’s a raised bog?

I had to investigate, because honestly, bogs are a new thing for me so I had no clue. As are “ponds.” It’s one of many aspects of adjusting to my new home of Vermont that I’ve encountered. What in my birth state of Washington and my most recent home state of Idaho would be called lakes, in Vermont are often called ponds. They might be many acres in size, big enough for boating and recreation, often lined with cabins and homes. I’m used to a pond being a smallish body of water that often dries up in summer, hardly something one would want to live next to.

Nomenclature is a fascinating topic best reserved for another post.

But back to bogs, and more particularly, raised bogs.

The term raised bog this type of bog rises in height over time as a result of peat formation. They are like sponges of peat moss, full of water, that form a more or less dome shape in the landscape. …A living raised bog needs a moist, balanced climate in which to grow. The quantity of precipitation has to be greater than the water losses through discharge and evaporation. In addition, the precipitation must be evenly spread through the year.

Wikipedia

While I’m familiar with marshes – wetlands adjacent to moving water – from my years in western Washington, which has a climate similar to Vermont’s in terms of rain and moisture, bogs are less familiar to me. Bogs, I’m learning, are wetlands that receive their water just from precipitation, rather than a nearby stream or lake. They have hard-sealed clay bottoms that prevent their water from seeping out. For that reason, bogs are deeper than marshes.

Both bogs and marshes are wonderful, necessary habitat for wildlife. Certainly worth protecting and preserving.

Bogs (and marshes) are best seen from a slight and dry distance. Wet feet/legs are no fun on a run or hike, if you’re human. More importantly, such areas are fragile and should be left for wildlife to traverse. Peacham Bog Trail provides easy footing with puncheons through the most fragile areas – boardwalks that keep feet off the fragile plants.

The Peacham Bog Natural Area is 748 acres within Groton State Forest, and provides habitat for fourteen rare, threatened or endangered species. Roughly 300 acres is classified as Class I protected wetland, meaning, based on its functions and values, it’s determined to be exceptional or irreplaceable to Vermont’s natural heritage and deserving of the highest level of protection.

Good, that.

The natural area contains Dwarf Shrub Bog, Black Spruce Woodland Bog, Black Spruce Swamp, Poor Fen, Red Spruce-Cinnamon Fern Swamp, Spruce-Fir-Tamarack Swamp and Lowland Spruce-Fir Forest.

Conall and I ran/hiked a route that was approximately six miles total. The Peacham Bog Trail is an open loop of 4.5 miles; to get to it, and to return to the trail head at the other end, one takes connector trails. All trails took us through diverse landscapes, with various degrees of technical footing and several types of trees and shrubs. We didn’t see any wildlife, other than occasional birds. The area is open to winter recreation – xc skiing and snowshoeing – so I’m eager to revisit this winter.

After about 2.5 miles of uphill, often technical trail (exposed rocks and roots), Conall and I arrived at Peacham Bog. Traversing puncheons, we arrived at the lookout with an interpretive sign describing the bog as “nature’s pickle barrel.” Apparently the acidic water of the bog acts as a natural preservative of whatever falls into the bog, including wildlife, pickling it for posterity.

Peacham Bog interpretive sign

I did notice how Peacham Bog, viewed from the trail lookout platform, appeared to bulge, rising slightly from all sides, like a contact lens on an eyeball.

Peacham Bog from trail viewing platform
The bog, seen from the viewing platform, rising slightly in the center.
dog posing on trail platform bench
Conall taking advantage of a bench to view the bog from the viewing platform.

As the sign notes, the bog’s floating mass is comprised in large part of sphagnum moss. I’m used to seeing sphagnum moss as a thick green plant in moist areas, so was surprised to see that apparently it, too, adds to autumn’s colorful display.

bright red sphagnum moss next to trail puncheon
Sphagnum moss turning bright red next to a puncheon (boardwalk) through the bog.

The bog produces peat from the plants that are able to thrive in its acidic environment. Peat has been used as a source of heat in many cultures, when wood isn’t available.

Arriving at the bog, I was surprised to see an abundance of stunted spruce and fir trees, not otherwise seen in this state forest. They reminded me of being at high elevations in Washington and Idaho states, where many evergreen tree species are stunted because of the harsh environment at altitude. Here, though, it’s not altitude but nutrients (or lack thereof) that stunt their growth.

small tamarack tree next to dog on puncheon on trail in bog
One of the larches – tamaracks – seen near the bog, with white cotton sedge providing highlights.

I was pleased to see some old flora friends growing near the trail in the bog: some stunted larch trees (called tamaracks in the northeast), with needles just starting to change to yellow before dropping for the winter, and the bright red leaves of a huckleberry shrub, both welcome surprises, sparking memories of both Idaho and Washington where I enjoyed the bright yellow of larches in fall and the dogs and I always welcomed the summer fruit of huckleberries on our trail runs.

bright red leaves of huckleberry shrub among other green plants
A huckleberry shrub with leaves in their autumn-red glory.

Peacham Bog supports beavers, otters and mink, as well as black bear, moose and white-tailed deer. I would have been delighted to see any of them, but no, it was a quiet morning.

I’m still learning about plants specific to Vermont and the Northeast. One I’ve noticed recently is called Hobblebush. In summer it blends in with all the other forest under-story, but in autumn its leaves turn a dark purple, catching my eye. It’s also known as Witch Hobble. The names derive from the fact that it’s fairly tall with drooping branches that quickly trip (hobble) anyone trying to pass through. A little research brings up: The fruit of the Hobblebush reportedly may be eaten raw or cooked and is said to taste somewhat like raisins or dates. Hobblebush has a number of medicinal uses. The Algonquin reportedly rubbed its mashed leaves on the head to treat migraines. Iroquois are said to have used a decoction of roots as a blood medicine. The plant was also used to treat chest and breathing problems.

purple-leaved hobblebush plant alongside trail in forest
Hobblebush leaves, a bright purple in autumn.

These explorations, with Conall by my side, bring me such joy. Everything I see either sparks memories of other beloved landscapes, or leave me eager to learn something new about the my newly-adopted environment.

It’s a big world, yet often – for me, at least – the greatest joy is discovering and learning about what’s right under my feet.

fallen leaves carpeting trail in green forest
So many leaves, obscuring the trail.
three bright orange mushrooms growing amid fallen leaves
Lots of bright, beautiful fungi in this moist environment.
trees in fall colors, dog on trail
A beautiful, colorful forest canopy overhead.

Post-run, driving home, I stopped to take this photo of a quintessential, rural Vermont scene from a typical dirt road: expansive rolling tree-covered hills showing autumn colors heading toward peak season, mountains in the distance, and in the foreground, black-and-white-splotched dairy cattle grazing casually in a pasture, haying machinery in an adjacent field. No matter where I go in this state, the scenery always takes my breath.

rural Vermont scenery of fields, trees, distant mountains and dirt road

19 thoughts on “Peacham Bog”

  1. “May be unstable and slippery.” Amazingly, my neighbors posted that same sign in front of my house, what are the odds? This is a great post and you didn’t get bogged down in the details. OK, I’m done with that nonsense. I really like the names “Peachy Bog,” “Poor Fen,” and such. They sound so New England-y and atmospheric. Bogs are unfamiliar to me although the Irish side of me descended from folks working the peat bogs in the olde sod. In Summer the mosquitos are probably large enough to pick up Conall and carry him the New Hampshire. Conall looks very at home and comfy on your jaunt – the noble Malamute in the primordial bog. You definitely need to return to the bogs on Halloween and look for headless horsepersons.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha! If I remember correctly, you’ve been tweaking the nose of at least one neighbor, so any signs they put in front of your house are probably well-deserved one-upmanship. So, what’s your next move?

      I admit, I’m glad it’s autumn and I don’t have to deal with black flies or mosquitos. Or heat. Conall’s glad, too. Doesn’t he look at home in the forest? Helps me imagine what it might have looked like when wolves were free to roam here.

      Nope, not gonna search for headless people, horses, or horsepersons. Or ghosts or ghouls, on Halloween or any other time. Bad enough there are carnivorous plants out there. One misstep….

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great photos on this post, Becky! I liked Conall surveying his new domain from the bench and the close up of colorful huckleberry plants. I wonder if there are any carnivorous plants like sundew there. So much to explore…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Siobhan!

      There are carnivorous plants there, Sundew being one, another sort-of carnivorous one that looks really fascinating, the Purple Pitcher. Now that I know about them, I’ll be on the lookout during future visits.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Puncheon was new to me, too! I’d always heard them referred to as boardwalks.

      As for tamarack, it’s been interesting to learn that’s a mostly eastern U.S. term for what in the western U. S. are usually called larches. Certainly in Washington state, where I grew up, we referred to them as larches. In Idaho, I heard them referred to as both. So confusing!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh! That’s interesting, Andy. A sad reason/background for the name – WWI trenches were horrendous for all who endured them – but “duckboards” makes sense from that perspective. Thanks for mentioning it!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s hard for me to look at a photo like your boulder strewn trail and not first thing ‘hmmm, I wonder if I could ride that?’ I’m glad your finding forested places to run. Do you know how hunting season works in Vermont yet? Finishing up a ride yesterday, Eli reminded me that it’s just around the corner here and even several Sundays each winter are scheduled for hunting. Already seeing red about it. I once read a Vermont blog post that made it seem like hunters rule the roost there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m learning that Vermont trails are gnarly! I’d rather be on foot than on bike on most of them, but hey, go for it!

      I’ve become a student of Vermont hunting seasons/regulations. While I’m no fan, they are at least shorter than what I dealt with in Idaho, so there’s that. Interestingly, there’s been an uproar recently about hound hunting of bears which, I hope, will result if finally ending that barbaric practice in Vermont, along with trapping. Like in Idaho, hunters/trappers have an influence that far outweighs their actual numbers, thanks in large part to state fish and game boards stacked in their favor. I think that’s about to change, but there will be lots of whining and complaining along the way. Otherwise, I plan to stay home on “youth deer hunting” weekend coming up next weekend, and then for most of November which is deer season here. I hate it all, but…much better than in Idaho where wolves (and thus dogs who resemble wolves) were also “fair game.”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, I had such a wonderful time learning and viewing all these different flora. To learn about bogs was fascinating!! I savored every sentence!! Thank you!!

    Liked by 1 person

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