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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.