Guide to the Cultural and Natural History of the Four Soldiers Path

Compiled, written, and edited by Dave Thurlow,
Clare Long, and Doug Mayer



. . . it is evident how our strengths as a people emerge from the quality of our relationships with the land, including our sense of care, well being, neighborliness, trustworthiness and health. – Peter Forbes, The Great Remembering

This small booklet provides a cursory introduction to the lands surrounding the Four Soldiers Path. Through these pages, we hope you will discover new insights and appreciation for the flora, fauna, and cultural history of the Randolph Community Forest and the adjacent lands of the White Mountain National Forest Pond of Safety tract.

Randolph’s Community Forest serves many in a variety of ways. First and foremost, it has always been a home for moose, spruce, fir, black bear, white birch, chickadees — even the beloved Simulium venustum, spring and early summer’s ubiquitous, tormenting black fly.

This ground has in more recent times served our human needs for resources, recreation, and spiritual renewal. Upon these lands and waters, native Abenaki have fished, Revolutionary War soldiers have secreted themselves away, loggers have sledded out sawlogs, and seasoned trampers have spent long days walking, snowshoeing, and skiing.

As you wend your way along the Four Soldiers Path, the Randolph Mountain Club asks that you please keep in mind the commonly held Leave No Trace principles. Most relevant to the Community Forest are the need to plan ahead and prepare for your trip, to leave any artifacts that you might uncover, and to respect wildlife and be considerate of other visitors.

It is the nature of paths to come and go. Some day, perhaps, the forest will reclaim the Four Soldiers Path. For the moment, however, we have a fine new route upon which to explore this land and, now, this guide to go with it.We hope path and guide will serve to strengthen our relationship with this land, enrich our own lives, and help us to be thoughtful stewards.

Doug Mayer
RMC Trails Chair


This interpretive guide would not have happened without the support of the State of New Hampshire’s Bureau of Trails, whose Recreation Trails Program provided a generous grant to fund this project.

The members of the Randolph Mountain Club, upon whom the club relies to carry out its mission, provided matching funds. Our friends at the Randolph Foundation provided assistance in arranging for the Four Soldiers Path project funding.

We would also like to acknowledge our project partners at the U.S. Forest Service Androscoggin District office of the White Mountain National Forest for their contribution and support.

Thanks to the Fields Pond Foundation for their generous support to build the Four Soldiers and Underhill Paths, and to RMC’s Fall 2002 trail crew of Matt Cittadini, Laura Conchelos, Aaron Parcak, and Dan Rubchinuk for making it happen.

Special recognition goes to Carl Demrow for his trail design and layout.

Trailhead guidebook boxes constructed by Larry Jenkins.

Heartfelt thanks to the many volunteers who donated their time and expertise to this project including Dyk Eusden, Dave Govatski, Bob Hatch, Judy Hudson, Doug Mayer, Jim and Meg Meiklejohn, Pat Nasta, John Scarinza, Gail Scott, Jack Stewart, Lisa Troy, Edith Tucker, and Katy Wolff.

Illustrations – cover, pp. iii, 9, 11, 12, 18, 23, 24 by Tim Sappington; pp. 7, 32 by Ginger Beringer; p. iv by Frances Topping.

Finally, thanks go to the land managers whose task it is to care for these lands: Randolph’s Community Forest Commission and the White Mountain National Forest.

© 2004 Randolph Mountain Club, all rights reserved.

Printed in Berlin, NH, by Smith and Town.

The Legend of the Four Soldiers

The Name “Four Soldiers” comes from the days of the American Revolution. It is said that four Continental Army soldiers,William Danforth, Benjamin Hicks, Lazarus Holmes, and Capt. James Ryder, were captured by the British and then released under the condition that they would fight against them no more.

For fear of being arrested if they refused combat upon return, the four soldiers escaped and fled home to the North Country, finding their way to the remote pond, where they lived in safety for more than three years, until the war ended. At the war’s end, the four soldiers were exonerated of their charges of desertion and welcomed back to civilization.

From one generation to the next this legend is passed along. Randolph Paths, Randolph Old and New, other mountain guidebooks, and writings about Randolph and Coos County include versions of this tale of the Four Soldiers at Pond of Safety.



Good Neighbors
A Balancing Act
Forest Management Practices
New Hampshire Forest History
Local Logging History
Native Peoples
Building the Four Soldiers Path


Randolph’s Geologic Foundation
Water: The Lifeblood of the Forest
The Ice Storm of 1998
The Forest Floor
The Physical Landscape
Pasture Evidence
Forest Succession
Common Birds Along the Path
Other Travelers Along the Path
Bears and Beech Trees

Good Neighbors

. . . these lands are managed for traditional recreational uses within a working forest.

The opportunities offered by this land—the chance to ramble through the woods, alone with your thoughts, or to tramp up a wooded hillside with friends and renew your spirit before open mountain views, to paddle across the pond encircled by fiery fall foliage, or perhaps to ply your trade in the working forest— are built on the dedication and hard work of many partners.

When these thousands of acres of privately owned land came up for sale in the 1990s, neighbors came together, united in a common vision of conservation for the land. The collaboration began with just the landowners and residents of Randolph and Jefferson, but the conservation idea quickly caught on with the leadership of the Randolph Foundation and gained the support of nonprofit groups, state agencies, legislators, and the federal government. Each group brought their own perspectives and talents to the table and worked through the many challenges of acquiring and conserving this special land. The results are yours to discover: the Randolph Community Forest and the Pond of Safety Tract of the White Mountain National Forest.

Today, these lands are managed for traditional recreation uses within a working forest. The trail network winds through the Randolph Community Forest and the adjacent White Mountain National Forest. Although under different jurisdictions, the lands are managed similarly, with an emphasis on allowing a variety of activities while conserving the forested landscape for the future.

The Town of Randolph has developed a Stewardship Plan that describes the landscape and resources of the Community Forest and the mix of activities the
land and the community will support. It also describes future goals to be addressed by residents and Town committees.

The Randolph Mountain Club (RMC) is responsible for all hiking trails in the Community Forest. RMC has a long history of maintaining many miles of trails in the northern Presidentials and the Crescent Range, which now includes caring for the new trails connecting the Community Forest with the Pond of Safety in the White Mountain National Forest.

The U.S. Forest Service joined the conservation partnership by acquiring the land extending between the Pond of Safety and the Community Forest boundary on Crescent Ridge. The White Mountain National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan directs the mix of activities allowed on the land. The Pond of Safety Tract is managed as a working forest with a scenic area designation around the pond. This management approach complements the goals of the Randolph Community Forest and continues the traditional uses of the land. Although formal plans document and set the course for managing this land, it is important to remember that the plans—the Stewardship Plan for the Randolph Community Forest and the Management Plan for the surrounding White Mountain National Forest lands—are built with the energy, vision, and input of many individuals. All have joined in a partnership for conservation.

The Randolph Community Forest Project

On December 4, 2001, the Town of Randolph took title to a 10,000-acre tract of land and became the owner of the largest town forest in New Hampshire. For the Town, this was the culmination of a multiyear effort to preserve more than 13,000 acres strategically located between two sections of the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) lands. The effort was initiated by the Town of Randolph and involved the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the Trust for Public Lands, and the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands. The creation of the Randolph Community Forest (RCF) had widespread local backing, as demonstrated by the attendance and tone of North Country residents from Randolph, Jefferson, and neighboring communities at numerous meetings and discussions, and by the overwhelming success of the Randolph Foundation in raising funds from area residents and businesses. It also received important financial support from national charitable institutions and the State of New Hampshire’s Land and Community Heritage Program (LCHIP).

Funds for the outright acquisition of the additional 3000 acres, which lies within the White Mountain National Forest’s proclamation boundary, came from the budget of the USFS, and that land became part of the Kilkenny division of the WMNF. The USFS also contributed to the acquisition of the remaining 10,000 acres by the Town of Randolph through its Forest Legacy Program, which funded the purchase of a conservation easement held by the State of New Hampshire. The easement ensures that the land will be used only for traditional forms of outdoor recreation, for sustainable timber harvesting, and for the protection and enhancement of habitat for wildlife and plant life.

One of the most dramatic and unique locations protected by the project is the Pond of Safety, an area long popular with both local residents and visitors to the region. The pond is actually located within the new addition to the WMNF, but access to it runs through the Randolph Community Forest.With the Forest in place, the Randolph Mountain Club constructed two new hiking trails during the fall of 2002. The Underhill Path and the Four Soldiers Path form a new loop that provides hiking, skiing, and snowshoeing in an area rich in cultural and natural history.

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A Balancing Act

The cornerstone of traditional use is public access.

A promise was made when the Randolph Community Forest was created. A promise that the land would serve as a working forest, as stated above, with traditional uses continuing into the future. Indeed, acquiring the land was supported in part by the federal Forest Legacy Program—speaking to the promise that future generations would inherit the legacy of the past: a working forest offering a variety of recreation opportunities, a healthy home for flora and fauna, and wood to meet society’s forest products needs.

The cornerstone of traditional use is public access. The Randolph Community Forest remains open for the enjoyment of all who seek the solace, sights, and sounds of the forest.

Traditional uses of the land include the favorite pastime of many: tramping the paths, exploring the valleys, and climbing to that view from the top. Along the way the encounters are numerous: a glimpse of a deer, the chatter of chipmunks, the whispering flutter of a winter wren. In silence, you may follow a soaring broadwing hawk or the train of your own thoughts. In winter, the blanketed landscape offers yet more sounds—the crunch of skis, the huffing of your breath as you break trail, the soft plop of a clump of snow dropping from a hemlock bough. These are perfect conditions for communing with the natural world, an activity pursued as an escape from the details of hectic lives.

The land will also continue to grow trees and provide raw materials for the forest products industry. You see evidence of historical logging throughout the Forest, and with time and the guidance of sound forestry principles, the Forest will continue to provide wood for the mills.

Managing the land for such a variety of uses fits well with the neighboring White Mountain National Forest, which is managed for multiple uses as well. The U.S. Forest Service expects a variety of traditional uses will be identified for the lands west of Crescent Ridge and surrounding the Pond of Safety. The Pond of Safety is a gem to be carefully managed to conserve its important aquatic habitat as well as its recreational and historical values.

Visit the Community Forest with an eye on the past and know that the land that attracts you continues to be a working forest—providing a place for hiking, birding, hunting, fishing, snow-shoeing, skiing, snowmobiling, and exploring, as well as a managed resource for your family, friends, and neighbors in the wood products industry. Balancing uses is an art that the Randolph Forest Commission will be perfecting through the years.

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Forest Management Practices

This forest area was formerly industrial forestland and nearly all logged over at one
time or another during the last century.

The block of land comprising the Randolph Community Forest (RCF) and the White Mountain National Forest’s Pond of Safety tract has been a place for work and play for more than a century. The land has historically supplied logs for industry, recreation for outdoor enthusiasts, and habitat for forest critters. The land managers of today are charged with continuing these traditional land uses for the benefit of all who come here.

Following a stewardship plan, the town forester visits each stand of trees with a long list of questions:What kind of forest community is here? How old are the trees? Is there enough timber volume for a harvest? How can we enhance the health of the trees? What is the soil type? What wildlife species are here? Has there been logging? The list of questions goes on and on. The forester looks for clues such as stumps, old roadbeds, artifacts, and old standing trees to determine what management has occurred in the past and what we can expect with future management. In the end, the forester takes everything into account in order to design a “prescription” or plan for managing that particular stand. The bigger picture is also considered: what is the character of the watershed? What are the neighbors doing with their land? What wildlife habitat and recreational needs exist in this area?

When all the questions are answered, the database grows, and a mapping process begins. The RCF data is kept in a Geographic Information System (GIS) format for ease of planning and updating forest information.

This forest area was formerly industrial forestland and nearly all logged over at one time or another during the last century.Most of the logging was selection cutting—taking some but not all of the trees in a stand—to promote regeneration of species that can tolerate shade and thrive below a canopy of taller trees. Some large trees left from early selection cutting are still scattered throughout the forest area. These now serve as perching and nesting surfaces and as a food source for a variety of flora and fauna. Recent harvesting has included some clearcutting in order to salvage timber and clean up damage caused by the severe ice storm of 1998.While creating wildlife habitat was not a goal in the past, there is ample space in the Randolph Community Forest for a diversity of habitats.

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New Hampshire Forest History

. . . careless harvesting methods of the 1880s and 1890s set the stage for terrible fires
that raged through North Country forests . . .

New Hampshire’s history and character have been shaped by the challenges and benefits of its forested landscape. The beginning of New Hampshire’s logging industry was in 1634 when the first shipment of tall pines arrived in England to be made into masts for the ships of the King’s Navy. The tall pine, or King pine, trade with England ended with the American Revolution, but much of the forested land, about 70% of the land south of the White Mountains, continued to be cleared for more farmland—mostly grazing land for sheep— up through the 1850s. As the railways opened up the west, however, farmers moved on to what they hoped was richer land.

With the arrival of logging railroads in the mid to late 1800s, logging became a major industry in the White Mountain region. Unfortunately, careless harvesting methods set the stage for terrible fires that raged annually in many locations, including the Kilkenny-Berlin fire in 1903 that “effectively ended logging in this region,” according to a Forest Service article. This fire however, did not impact the land that the Four Soldiers Trail crosses today, though fifty acres were burnt immediately west of the Pond of Safety. The fires to the south in the Zealand Valley were the most severe and most notable. Brooks and streams carried eroded soil, the result of burnt, denuded hillsides, south to the Merrimack River, which carried it on to industrial cities, such as Manchester and Lawrence. There the silt clogged woolen mill machinery and had mill owners looking upstream for the cause, and for solutions, to the problem.

This downstream debacle helped the landscape of wasted forests recover. Laws were passed to protect the mills and, therefore, the mountain forests. Ultimately, the U.S. National Forest Service was established in 1911. Some years later, the Great Depression of the 1930s brought most business and industry to a standstill. This also gave New Hampshire’s forests a chance to recover, albeit briefly.

By the 1940s, logging was mechanized and much more efficient as the horsedrawn sleds, saws and axes, river drives, and logging camps were replaced with trucks, skidders, chain saws, and logging roads. Since then, people in the logging industry in New Hampshire have an increasingly better understanding of how vital it is to manage the woodlands carefully. These professionals have the knowledge, skills, and equipment to do the job well.

It is understood that our forests of today are not a limitless source of lumber for construction or fiber for paper as was once believed, instead our forests are a manageable resource for many uses such as recreation, natural ecosystem protection, and scenic beauty, as well as harvesting trees.

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Local Logging History

“On the shores of the Pond of Safety . . . around a great steam sawmill that
employed a hundred men, hummed a village of shacks,
stables, and a boarding-house. . . .”

Although settlers in Randolph in the early 1800s set up small sawmills in the valley, industrial logging did not come to the area traversed by the Four Soldiers Path until well after the Civil War. In 1885, the firm of G.W. & N.W. Libbey of Whitefield bought forestland in Randolph. They moved a sawmill from Priscilla Brook in Jefferson to the Pond of Safety, beginning more than a decade of logging and milling spruce and pine from the surrounding forests. During the winter, the milled lumber could be towed the seven miles into the valley on horse-drawn sleds.

In the late 19th century, spruce was typically rough sawn for framing lumber and pine was sawn for boards, although, says Berlin native and mill owner Barry Kelley, “if they had a stand of spruce and wanted boards and framing lumber, they would have done both.” Randolph historian George N. Cross described the character of the forest in the heyday of logging. “On the shores of the Pond of Safety . . . around a great steam sawmill that employed a hundred men, hummed a village of shacks, stables, and a boarding-house. . . . In a few winters, the beautiful forest region about the Pond of Safety was converted into a desert of brooding silence. Such mushroom villages sprang up winter after winter on the slopes and in the ravines of Jefferson, Adams, and Madison, marking the slow march of ruin and destruction down the beautiful Randolph valley.”

In its early days, the sawmill at the Pond of Safety generated a huge pile of sawdust that could be seen for miles around and was referred to as Mount Sawdust. Since there was no use for the sawdust, it was left where the crude saws of the era produced it. As late as 1931, the Appalachian Mountain Club guidebook referred to Mount Sawdust as a landmark.

It was the habit of the Libbey Company to move operations to a forest location, harvest the usable timber, then move on. In this case, the Libbeys sold their Randolph lands to the Brown Lumber Company of Whitefield in 1895. After running into financial difficulties in 1902, Brown Lumber Company sold all these Randolph holdings to the Berlin Timber Lands Company, the real estate arm of the Brown Company (no relation) of Berlin. The available record of the Berlin Brown Company’s activities in Randolph is sketchy, but local residents remember logging camps set up in the 1940s, possibly to clean up after the Hurricane of 1938, and in the 1950s. During the 1960s, the Brown Company contracted an independent logger to harvest timber in Stag Hollow including the Pond of Safety area, according to Walter Wintturi of Watershed to Wildlife Inc., Randolph’s town forester.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, timber sale contracts were supervised by Brown Company foresters. In 1980, ownership of the land changed; however, the forest through which the Four Soldiers Path passes seems to have been managed by the same Brown Co. foresters.

In 1993, ownership of the land was transferred again, this time to the Hancock Timber Resource Group (HTRG), which continued the practice of managing the forest via contract. In 1998, a three-day ice storm devastated the forest. HTRG harvested as many of the stands as possible to put the timber to practical use before it deteriorated. In 2000, HTRG forestland was sold to the Trust for Public Lands, who subsequently arranged the sale to the White Mountain National Forest and the Town of Randolph as the Randolph Community Forest.

The Town’s long-term goals for the Forest include encouraging the growth of high-quality, saw-timber products, preserving existing trails for the public, encouraging plant and animal diversity, and protecting the water resources, streams, and wetlands within the Forest’s boundaries.

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Native Peoples:
The Israel River and Moose River Valley Region

“We have very little that remains from this long history,
making it all the more important to preserve and respect it. . . .”
— Dr. Richard
Boisvert, New Hampshire’s state archeologist

At the end of the most recent glaciation, some 12,000 years ago, Paleo-Indian peoples migrated into the then treeless region, probably from the west, carrying their caribou-hunting culture with them. These were cold-adapted peoples, most likely following migrating caribou herds on east-west routes.Much of the time, they moved considerable distances in extended family groups, meeting some times in larger groups for celebrations. In addition to caribou, these people also hunted smaller game, such as birds, and collected plant foods.

Since only their stone artifacts have survived, archeologists have merely a tiny view of Paleo-Indian lifestyle and must piece together information from these
extant tools by studying how other peoples have lived in similar places and circumstances. Based on the design, some of their stone tools appear to have been well suited to work on bone and ivory, though bone and ivory artifacts have not survived.

Around 9,500 years ago, the climate was warmer, and a mixed northern hardwood forest covered the land. Depending on the climate, which varied over time, conifers were sometimes in the ascendancy, while at other times, it was oak, beech, and hemlock. The native people of this era did not travel great distances as in earlier times, they instead moved around their home base hunting, gathering, and fishing. They made woodworking tools such as axes, and probably fashioned dugout canoes. None of the wood artifacts have survived.

Some 2,500 to 3,000 years ago, these natives, now called Woodland peoples, added gardening and pottery-making to their hunting skills. Given the harsh northern New England climate, gardening was a supplement, not a focus.

Their population grew slowly over time, up to the point of European contact, around 1600. Tribes formed during this period. The ancestors of today’s Abenaki peoples lived in the area, although there were also other groups of native people. The fur trade was another important means through which the Europeans and native peoples came in contact with one another.

In the early 1700s, the Iroquois and the Mohawks made long raids from what is now upper New York State. Native peoples were used as proxies in European territorial wars.When Europeans came to dominate the region, native peoples slipped into the local fabric, hiding in plain sight by adopting current customs. Some were more aware of their ancestral heritage than others.

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Building the Four Soldiers Path

The bottom line is a better trail and a protected resource.

Randolph has been home to many famous White Mountain pathmakers— Watson, Cook, Edmands—and others.Most pathmakers of old laid out trail with only aesthetics or challenges in mind. Today, however, we need to be concerned about trail erosion, because of increased use over the years, and use throughout the year.Maps, data, and fieldwork are all employed to steer clear of ecologically sensitive areas, and to avoid following the “fall line”—the route water takes down a hill. On the Four Soldiers Path, the only really steep portion of the path incorporates wide switchbacks. As a result, erosion is minimized and costly trail work is decreased. The bottom line is a better trail and a protected resource.

Bog bridges are an example of resource protection. They aren’t there for the hiker, as opportune as they may be. They are really there to protect a fragile wetland. If that bridge wasn’t there, hikers would create a wide swath trying to avoid the wet area. The result? Damage to fragile plants and soils. Bog bridges keep hikers concentrated on a narrow line across and above delicate plant communities.

Bog bridge components are carried in on foot. The posts and planks are made of native cedar and tamarack, both highly rot resistant. Using such materials, a bridge’s life span can be more than 20 years. Each bridge costs about $25.00 in materials, and takes from a few hours to a full day for two people to pack in, assemble, and install the 140 pounds of wood and nails. The Four Soldiers Path has more than three dozen bog bridges. The cedar and tamarack used for these bridges was harvested in northern Coos County.

Other trail work you will see, if you look carefully:
Step stones – to keep you on the path and off wet fragile areas.
Waterbars and Ditches – to move water off the trail, so it doesn’t erode soil.
Outsloping – to define and narrow the treadway and to drain water gently.
Blazes and Signs – to show you the way. Blazes are up high, so they’re visible in winter. Yellow means you’re on land owned by the Forest Service, while orange means Community Forest or Private land. Two blazes on a single tree mean that a junction or a sharp turn is coming up. “RCF” on the corner of a sign means you’re on Randolph Community Forest land.

One of the goals of good trail work is to protect the resource while minimizing the visual impact. So, good trail work is not always easy to find to the untrained eye. Keep your eyes open. That rock you’re stepping on might just have been placed there on purpose.

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Randolph's Geologic Foundation

Walking along the path, you’ll see loose boulders and rocks that are
vestiges of the last glacier to cover the region.

Underneath the Four Soldiers Path lies bedrock that differs from anything you would find just across Route 2, in the “big hills” of the Presidentials. All the RMC paths on or adjacent to the Crescent Range run across what are known as Oliverian Domes, made of 450,000,000-year-old igneous rock. Igneous rock, one of the three basic classifications of rock, along with sedimentary and metamorphic, comes pretty much straight from volcanoes. The rock itself in these domes is pinkish to light colored and granite-like with dark mica or biotite, quartz, and feldspar.

The Oliverian Domes were once magma chambers in a chain of volcanic islands in an ancient ocean called the Iapetus, an early version of the North Atlantic. As continental plates moved, the ocean closed, and the volcanics and frozen magma stuck to what is now the east coast of North America. After this collision, the frozen granitic rocks of the domes had a lower density than the basaltic volcanics that overlay them. As a result, the solid granitic rocks actually floated and flowed up and through the volcanics. The volcanic rocks, called the Ammonoosuc volcanics, can be found on the south side of Route 2.

The bedrock geology changes subtly when the path gets to within about one half of a mile of the Pond of Safety. Here is found a similar looking granitic rock called syenite. It is different only by the presence of a mineral called hornblende, and no, or very little, quartz. The rock is still pinkish in color, Ordovician in age, and part of the magma associated with the old volcanoes described above.

Regardless of the origin of the bedrock, it has been weathered, broken apart by freezing and melting water in cracks, and ground into loose boulders and small rocks by several huge continental glaciers over the past 100,000 years. The last glacier to cover the region, which receded about 12,000 years ago, left a blanket of rubble called glacial till. This is what makes up rocky landscape you can see in places along the path where it isn’t covered by soil and vegetation.

Note: The Oliverian dome rocks are exposed in stream beds and on Lookout Ledge, especially, as well as along the Four Soldiers Path in the cut areas nearest town where erosion has exposed them. Here, too, can be found an occasional glacial erratic, rocks from the north, deposited by the glacier. For example, look for a one-foot-diameter layered rock right in the middle of the trail, next to a trail blaze on the left side of the trail heading up, and on an old skid path in the area mentioned above. Its striped layers are different types of rock in contact with each other.

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Water: The Lifeblood of the Forest

In the summer, water reigns supreme and the forest biomass
increases dramatically.

As the local glacial ice melted 12,000 years ago, Paleo-Indians followed caribou herds annually as they migrated through present-day Durand Valley, across a tundra-like treeless landscape. The forest vegetation we see today was then just beginning to take shape—slowly—as plants and trees “migrated” from the south with the warming climate. Maples for example, showed up here approximately 8,000 years ago. A key factor in the increase of species was, along with the warming climate, the availability of liquid water. How water flows through the earth and atmosphere, at any location, governs the biological nature of the landscape. In our location today—halfway between the equator and the north pole—the climate is moist and temperate with much of the year warm enough for water to flow and nourish.

With a wide range in temperature from summer to winter, animal and plant species found here have adapted to seasonal extremes with strategies that call for fighting or fleeing when water—therefore food—and favorable weather become scarce.Water, in the liquid form, is scarce in the winter, hence the relative lack of plant and animal activity. In the summer, water reigns supreme and the biomass of the forest increases dramatically.

In the spring and summer months, streams and bogs define much of the trailside landscape along Pasture Path and the Four Soldiers Path. The coolness of mountain stream water helps cold-blooded fish and aquatic insects because colder water holds more dissolved oxygen. The warmer the water, the less oxygen it can hold.Warm water tends to have excessive algal growth, which decays and takes away oxygen, making slow running water cloudy and brown. This isn’t a problem here—abundant overhanging vegetation along the stream bed and spring-fed water, help keep streams cool. However, as our climate continues to warm here in northern New Hampshire (three degrees Fahrenheit in the last 100 years) mountain stream water will warm, too, causing changes in water quality.

Water quality also depends on current. The steeper the slopes, the more oxygen in the water. Like a giant mixer moving air into the water, the flow over the rough terrain not only oxygenates the water but also picks up soil run-off and nutrients from decomposing plants and animal matter. An efficient solvent, moving water can create a mix of vital, invisible, dissolved nutrients, also known as liquid soil, even though it appears clear. A good indicator of this “healthy” water is the presence of stream insects, usually found under rocks and logs. Caddisfly, stonefly, and mayfly larvae indicate a healthy stream because they can’t tolerate pollution. These insects also provide food for fish, birds, and amphibians. Streams concentrate the essential ingredients of life within their waters.

Intermittent streams are those with discernible channels, that show evidence of annual soil deposition or scouring, but do not flow year- round. They occasionally leave stagnant puddles and pools in the drier season. There are several intermittent streams along the Four Soldiers Path.

Forest mammals use intermittent stream beds as travel corridors, within and between watersheds. Food is often abundant in these areas, as are good locations for dens. Intermittent rivers or stream banks remain cooler than surrounding hill slopes, so they may act as thermal refuges for fisher, marten, and other secretive boreal species. Bats are even more closely associated with riparian areas because they require pools of water from which to drink, they also eat insects associated with aquatic and riparian environments. Dragonflies can be seen whizzing down Carlton Brook on mid-summer evenings, riding the flow of cooler air sinking down to the valleys as night approaches.

Intermittent streams, however, have been abused. They were not consistently protected from land-use disturbance in the past. Tractors occasionally used them as skid roads, and trees were commonly yarded across them. These sites frequently accumulated large volumes of logging debris and, so, were likely to support intense fires when the debris piles were burned. The logged areas along the Four Soldiers Path near the “Eye of the Needle” spur at the height of lanf were harvested appropriately, limiting damage.

Vernal pools are intermittent pools that provide habitat for a short period of time. In the fall and winter, vernal pools fill with water from rising groundwater, runoff, rain, melting snow, and seasonal flooding. By mid-August, they are generally dry. By definition, however, vernal pools are not found in dry streambeds. Dense stands of trees can delay warming of the pool water and slow evaporation. Because of dry or low water conditions and winter freezing, vernal pools are free of predatory fish. These fish-free waters are perfect habitat for amphibian and invertebrate species that have evolved to take advantage of the relative safety of vernal pools. Some of these animal species, such as spring “peepers,” require vernal pools for their life cycle and are found nowhere else.

Note: In early to mid-May, a search off trail in the flat areas along Pasture Path and near Pond of Safety may lead to the discovery of a vernal pool. Vernal pools, however, should not be confused with the bogs found immediately to the east of Stag Hollow Road. This conifer bog results from poorly drained soil that is saturated most of the year. Sphagnum moss defines this type of community and the highly acidic soil allows only a few species of plants and trees. On a warm summer day, the coolness of this shaded area is a reward for the four miles of hiking from Pasture Path and Randolph Hill.

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The Ice Storm of 1998

Eighteen million acres of forestland were damaged across the Northeast.
Randolph Hill looked like a war zone.

While New England residents are accustomed to harsh winter weather, the ice storm of 1998 was something altogether different. Usually ice storms are short lived, as they require specific conditions: a layer of air at temperatures just slightly above freezing on top of a layer of air just below freezing. In most ice storms, the layers mix after several hours, and the air either warms producing rain, or cools producing snow, or, with more dynamic atmospheric conditions, the storm just goes on its way.

The storm of 1998 did none of these three things. It resulted from a front, stuck in place for days over northern New England, southern Quebec, and New Brunswick. At fronts, or boundaries between warm and cold air masses, colder air near the ground tends to wedge under warmer air, because the cold air is denser. If objects on the ground are well below freezing after several cold days, then rain reaches the ground as liquid, but freezes on contact. This is exactly what happened in 1998.

After one day, Randolph Hill was virtually encased in ice. The severity of the icing was very dependent on elevation, however, and areas along Durand Road were largely unaffected. Cold weather continued for days after the icing had subsided, preventing the ice from melting and causing trees and limbs to crack with even the tiniest of breezes. The sound, along with the sight in the forest, is what will stay in many residents’ memories.While life slowly returned to normal for most residents, the storm left its mark. Randolph Hill looked like a war zone.

The forest, however, has a way of springing back from disturbance. The forest canopy, which blocks sunlight from reaching understory tree species, has disappeared in many of the affected areas; forest succession will occur rapidly in these places. New wildlife habitats will be created. There is a bonanza of detritus and nutrients now on the forest floor, and the healthy trees that withstood the storm will be the ones whose progeny will populate the forest in years to come.

Note: Some ice-storm damage can be seen along the path in the cleared areas, a mile or so north and south of the height of land. Tree tops are sparsely leaved, and some broken limbs can be seen. Also, as of 2004, typical forest understory plants are out in the open. Trillium for example, can be found at nearly every point along the trail. The ice-storm damaged trees, now gone, no longer cover these plants; they are exposed to more sunlight, and will eventually be out competed by sun loving plant species.

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The Forest Floor

The “earthy” smell of the forest comes from the
decomposition of dead organisms.

Right at the bottom of the food chain lie the decomposers, which mechanically and/or chemically break down organic matter. And they do it exceedingly well here in our moist forests, especially in the warm summer months. Bacteria, fungi, and a combination of the two (a weird little microscopic family called actinomycetes) are the three primary decomposers.When dead plants or animals rot, they are being broken down by decomposers, and their nutrients are returned to the soil.

The animals of the forest contribute to the decomposition process by breaking plant matter apart with beaks and claw’s and by eating, digesting, and depositing the chemically treated organic matter. Scavengers such as coyotes, ravens, earthworms, maggots, and millipedes, are especially helpful in this regard. Still, the vast majority of decomposers are the truly tiny bacteria and fungi.

If it were not for decomposers, hiking on the Four Soldiers Path would become a mighty challenge, given the hundreds of feet of dead mammals, birds, insects, tree branches, bark, leaves, and grass. But, then again, we wouldn’t be here to enjoy it all, because plants would cease to grow, animals could not eat, and eventually life on earth would stop. That’s how vital decomposers are.

Bacteria are the smallest living organisms, and the most numerous of decomposers. They make up 90% of the billions of microorganisms typically found in one gram of forest soil. Bacteria can thrive in any environment; they can be found in the cold Antarctic wilderness, in the intense heat of a steamy geyser, or in the acidic contents of your stomach. They will eat things as diverse as an animal carcass or an oil slick on the surface of the ocean, and they often produce methane as a byproduct. Methane, like carbon dioxide is an important greenhouse gas. Decomposers, therefore, play a major role in regulating the temperature of the planet.

Fungi, another decomposer group, are simple organisms and include molds, yeasts, mildews, and mushrooms. Next to bacteria, fungi are the most efficient decomposer organisms because they break down wood, enabling bacteria to continue the decomposition process.Molds are responsible for much of the rotting that takes place in the forest.

Actinomycetes are a form of fungi-like bacteria that form long filaments that stretch through the soil. Actinomycetes are the primary decomposers of tough plant tissues like bark, paper, and stems. Soil’s earthy smell is caused by actinomycetes at work. They are especially effective at softening up the tougher plant and animal materials found in the forest. The forest fragrance is particularly noticeable when moist air increases the sensitivity of the nerve endings in your nose that detect smell.

Lichens provide another adventure in decomposition. “Alice Algae and Freddie Fungus took a lichen to each other.” You may have heard that saying somewhere along the line. It reminds us that lichens—the greenish, yellowish kind of matted and crusty stuff you see clinging to rocks, hanging from spruce trees, or poking up a tiny bit from the ground—are the result of a symbiotic “agreement” between fungus and algae. Lichens are able to colonize bare rock and even chemically break it up into nutrients and tiny grains, leading to the production of soil. Little bits of lichens were, therefore, among the very first organisms to thrive here in Randolph, blown in on the wind just after the most recent retreat of glacial ice, 12,000 years ago.

Note: About one hundred feet east of the Crescent Ridge Trail intersection, on a flat stretch of trail, sits a large stump on the uphill side of the trail, covered with a lichen called British soldiers. Not to be confused with the Four Soldiers who “colonized” Pond of Safety, these British soldiers colonized this bare tree stump, a substrate only a lichen—and perhaps a yellow birch or spruce tree— could love.

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The Physical Landscape

Average temperature differences in the soil are approximately four degrees
Fahrenheit from north to south slopes.

Our forest here is a combination of the boreal softwood forest zone found to our north and the mixed hardwood forest zone to the south. These large areas of basically similar vegetation indicate climate zones on a global scale. Here in the boundary land between the two zones, differences in forest types can be detected by traversing just a few steps along the path. This is due chiefly to the slope or steepness of a hillside, and whether it faces the sun.

The aspect of the slope (the compass direction it faces) affects the forest microclimate—the climate within and under the canopy of trees. Northern slopes generally have lower air and soil temperatures, along with less evaporation. Average temperature differences in the soil are approximately four degrees Fahrenheit from north to south slopes. A north-facing slope receives less solar radiation than a south-facing slope and thus tends to be cooler and somewhat wetter, usually supporting more conifers.

Valley floors are also cooler, but at night. As the sun sets, the ground radiates heat and cools the air, which becomes heavier and slowly drains down the slope to collect in the valleys, just as water does. On a clear still night, when radiational cooling is at its greatest, an air temperature difference of 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit can develop between a basin and an adjacent hillside. Known as “frost pockets,” these basins have a shorter growing season.

The most significant changes, however, are caused by the simple facts that the higher elevations are colder, windier, and cloudier than lower elevations. In addition, soils are thinner on higher terrain and, therefore, change temperature as quickly as the air, as opposed to the deep rich soils that can maintain a more even temperature over the course of a season.

When hiking up a mountain, gaining 1,000 feet of elevation is roughly equivalent to traveling 200 miles north, as far as forest vegetation and climate are concerned. The Four Soldiers Path gains 1,000 feet of elevation from its start at Pasture Path to the height of land at the “Eye of the Needle.”

Note: Steepest slopes, including cliffs, are almost always found on the southeast side of a hill or mountain in New England. As glaciers, centered around southern Hudson Bay, expanded outward, they rode up over the northwest side of our mountains, smoothing that side. As they expanded further to the southeast, they froze solid to huge chunks of rock, literally pulling them out of the mountain as they advanced, creating steep slopes and cliffs. Lookout Ledge is just one example of this “glacial plucking.”

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Pasture Evidence

. . . tree trunks larger in diameter than surrounding tree
trunks . . . may be in an old pasture area.

During colonization, land was cleared for homesteads, including pastureland for grazing animals and cultivated land for growing crops and hay. There is still some evidence of pastures along the Four Soldiers Path and, of course, much evidence along Pasture Path, including its name! The following signs will help you spot areas along the path that may have been cleared for pastureland more that one hundred years ago.

Wolf trees are trees that spent their early years of growth surrounded by pasture. Trees grown in the open extend their branches outward, taking in vast amounts of sunlight and hoarding space from future competition. These trees are evidence of what at one time was an open area. Trees grown in a forested areas exhibit tall, narrow trunks and multiple canopy branching that compete with others for limited sunlight. Look through the forest for tree trunks larger in diameter than surrounding tree trunks and you may be in an old pasture area.

Juniper is found only in overgrazed pastures, crevices of rock outcrops, and dry, nutrient poor soils. A volatile oil in the leaves makes Juniper unpalatable, so livestock would have avoided it. These low-growing evergreen shrubs have three-sided needles that occur in whorls of three with three-sided branchlets.

White pine on upland slopes may indicate old pasture land. Pine seeds need soil free of leaf litter and duff in order to germinate. The pines of pre-colonial time grew in the moist, silty or sandy soil, but the cutting of pine for the British Navy and for colonial use reduced the population dramatically. Seeds left behind in upland pastures were more likely to germinate there than in other locations, where conditions were less favorable.

Stunted apple trees with gnarled, twisting branches are another clue of old pasture. Browsing animals would feed on the tree and contort the tree’s growth. Once the browsing stopped, the tree would grow normally once again. So, unlike the juniper, the apple tree’s defense is one of simple tolerance.

Note: Of all the above pasture indicators, only wolf trees are clearly visible along the Four Soldiers Path. An off-trail bushwhack may reveal others. Right next to the trail sign pointing to the “view” spur trail, is a massive yellow birch, surrounded by other large, expansive trees. This relatively flat area is a good suspect for a former pasture, though other clues may be needed to confirm it. Pasture Path is the eastern approach to the Four Soldiers Path and has many indications that it travels across old pastureland, not the least of which is its name.

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Forest Succession

Just as we are born, grow, change, and move
toward our golden years, so to do forests.

Forest succession is the development of any forest type over time from the seedling stage, to young, then mature forest, and onto the last stage of development called climax forest. Forests change as succession progresses. These changes include tree size, structure, density, and diversity of flora and fauna. Forest succession is a continuum with sometimes-blurry lines between stages.

Typical forest succession in our mixed northern hardwood forest begins with a disturbance of some kind, leaving either nutrient-rich or nutrient-poor soil exposed. The soil helps determine which so-called “pioneer” species of trees will colonize the new opening. Typically, the first stage of forest succession will consist of rapidly growing poplar, cherry, and paper birch, along with raspberry, alder, and other shrubs and small trees.

Next, in 20 to 40 years or so, sugar maple, beech, and yellow birch will enter the picture and grow to the point that they crowd out the early successionals. As these trees reach maturity and create a closed canopy of shade over the forest floor, softwoods, such as hemlock, spruce, and fir, will sprout and grow. Maple, beech, and yellow birch are also shade tolerant, meaning that their seeds can germinate and grow in their own shade. After about 60 to 80 years, the mature, mixed hardwood stands we see today are dominant. Given enough time—well over one hundred years—needles dropped from the softwoods will make the soil acidic, preventing the offspring of the maple, yellow birch, and beech trees from flourishing. Finally, in the climax stage of succession, the spruce-fir forest will dominate. If the area is disturbed, the process will start again.

Forest succession can be managed to create stands of valuable timber, specific kinds of wildlife habitat, or a visually-pleasing experience for forest visitors. For this, foresters employ techniques such as clearcutting, selection cutting, and tree thinning, which imitate natural disturbances like fire, blowdowns, and washouts.

Note: Four Soldiers Path displays varied states of succession, especially in the most recently logged sections on either side of the height of land. Logging provides visitors a chance to monitor rapid early successional forest growth. Early successional pioneer species such as raspberry bushes and cherry trees abound. A fine stand of mature mixed hardwood forest—with beech, ash, sugar maple, white and yellow birch, along with hemlock—can be found at a point on the trail closer to town, at the first stream crossing heading west. These trees were likely spared the loggers saw because of the steep terrain in this small ravine.

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. . . the vegetation of Randolph . . . has probably changed more
materially during the last hundred years than at any period of the same length
since the last glacial epoch. – Professor Arthur Stanley Pease, 1924

The late Randolphian Arthur Stanley Pease, author of Flora of Coos County, noted that 186 of the 659 species of flowering plants and ferns actually collected in Randolph before 1924 were non-native species. Even at that point in history, the influence of a growing American population penetrating deeper and deeper into the northern forests had caused changes in the vegetation. Humans and their beasts of burden had become vehicles or vectors for seed dispersal, along with insects, mammals, birds, the wind, and the streams.

With the seemingly countless flowering plants and ferns in the Randolph forest, it is beyond the scope of this guide to attempt to describe and locate them all. So, for identification of the complete array of flowers this area has to offer, please refer to a wildflower guide—Peterson’s and Newcomb’s are favorites. The information below simply adds a bit of natural history for a few flowers you are guaranteed to see. By the way, Arthur Stanley Pease has a fine essay, “Notes on the Randolph Flora,” on page 211 of Randolph Old and New.

Woodland wildflowers bloom more commonly in spring, while wildflowers of forest openings and fields are seen mostly in late summer and fall. The woodland flowers devote their energy to making leaves and flowers as early as possible each spring, so as to catch the spring sunlight before the leaves of the understory and canopy trees above shade them completely by summer. The leaves of these understory plants will look ratty and used up by the time August rolls around, their seeds produced and their work done.

On the other hand, wildflowers in open locations with sunlight all summer long devote their springtime energies towards growing tall. If they can’t at least equal the height of neighboring grasses and other “weedy” annual plants, the flowers they send out will be covered and missed by potential pollinators in spite of their colorful advertising.

Interestingly, along the Four Soldiers Path, much of the cut over areas have woodland flowers on the treadway, right out in the open. In a few years, they will be out competed by the sun loving late summer plants, grasses, and other early successional shrubs.

Following is a short natural history of two plants you will likely come across in the spring woods, and two you can see in large numbers later in the summer along Stag Hollow Road or in some of the open areas along Four Soldiers Path.

Spring Woods

Bunchberry – Also known as Canada Dogwood, Bunchberry is a small perennial shrub that spreads vegetatively across sections of forest floor, creating dense mats of green at many spots along the Four Soldiers Path. It is native to New Hampshire and is common at all elevations in the Randolph area except for the highest summits of the Presidentials. Its white flower—actually a cluster of flowers—will bloom June through August, at which time the red berries produced appear bunched together on each plant. These berries are rather tasteless, but were used in colonial times as survival food. It is likely that the four soldiers at Pond of Safety found bunchberries rather appealing.

Red Trillium – This spring flower of the woods is a member of the Lily family and is found all along Four Soldiers Path in May. The native Red Trillium, most commonly found here, can at times be purple, pink, or even white. It has many common names including Stinking Benjamin (from its pungent, unpleasant scent that attracts carrion-eating pollinators such as flies and beetles), Wake-Robin, Toadshade, and Whip-poor-will Flower. Its close relative, Painted Trillium, is found along the path intermittently. Trillium are often found among carpets of False Lily-of-the-Valley, Rose Twisted-stalk, Clintonia, Trout Lilly, and Sessile-leaved Bellwort.

Open Areas

Canada Goldenrod – A tall, perennial plant with numerous small, yellow flowers in pyramid-shaped clusters at the top of single, leafy stems. Also known as Meadow Goldenrod, or Tall Goldenrod, this plant is an important source of nectar for honeybees. This species of Goldenrod does not tolerate frequent disturbances, so it is mainly found growing in perennial crops, abandoned fields, ditches, roadsides, and open woodlands. A typical goldenrod plant averages 3,070 seeds per plant. Interestingly, goldenrod releases a chemical that represses the growth of nearby plants, such as Sugar Maples.

New England Aster – New England Asters—a long with Purple-stemmed Asters and other bluish-flowered members of the Aster family such as Chickory and Coneflower—can be found in the same areas inhabited by Goldenrods. The native New England Aster, though certainly not widespread, does prefer moister open areas and is distinguishable by its two- to six-foot height. Aster is a Greek word meaning star, fitting the star-like Aster blossoms, so numerous on individual plants. A bright yellow flower disc is surrounded by blue-purple rays. Hardy in the field—often the last flowers remaining at the time of autumn’s first frost—but not hardy in the vase, Asters contribute little to a wild flower bouquet, so best to leave them be.

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. . . there are anywhere from four million to 40 million species of insects . . .

Insects have been roaming the planet for around 400 million years—that’s about 395 million more years than humans. That kind of staying power requires good adaptations, the ability to quickly evolve to deal with environmental changes, and a considerable diversity of species. Biologists estimate that there are anywhere from four million to 40 million species of insects—up to a quarter of a million species of beetles alone. Insects dominate the forest in terms of sheer numbers, sometimes much to our chagrin.

Insects have their skeletons on the outside for protection against predators and dehydration. The ability to fly allows them to escape quickly and to find food and new habitats. They reproduce very quickly, therefore, evolve and adapt to environmental changes very quickly, too. A variety of adaptations such as camouflage, teamwork, mimicry, and stinging help the insects maintain their enormous numbers.

Of special interest are the butterflies, the showiest insects without a doubt. You will see them on any summer stroll along the Four Soldiers Path or around the Pond of Safety. As insects, they go through complete metamorphosis in four life stages: egg, larva (the caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult (the butterfly). Adult butterflies appear when the air temperature is above 60 degrees, spring through fall. Various adult butterfly behaviors give you insight into their daily life needs, include the following:

Nectaring – Adult butterflies take nectar from plants. They have sensors for smell and taste in various places on their body, but most smell with their antennae or forelegs. Special receptors in their feet detect sweet liquids, causing the straw-like proboscis on the head to uncoil. This allows the butterfly to sip the nectar and in many cases play a major role in plant pollination.

Puddling – Sometimes a dozen or more butterflies gather around a puddle or wet place. This activity is known as “puddling.” Since butterflies only eat plant nectar, they need extra minerals and salts to supplement their diets. One way they get those extra nutrients is by sipping them from the water. Tiger Swallowtails are often seen puddling in June.

Basking – Butterflies fly best when their body temperature is between 85 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is colder, they warm up their bodies by basking in the sun with their wings outstretched. Butterflies are commonly seen basking early in the morning.

Roosting – Butterflies need a place to roost during the night, and often pick the underside of a leaf. They also roost during rainy, cloudy, and cold weather. Butterflies spend about 14 hours each day roosting, usually from sunset until midmorning.

Hibernation/Migration – Butterflies have life cycles of anywhere from a month to a year, a life cycle being the time it takes to go from egg, to larva (caterpillar), to pupa (chrysalis), to adult. The adult stage we see displayed so beautifully usually lasts only a few weeks. Many species produce three or more generations in just one summer; however, regardless of the number of generations in a season, each species in our neck of the woods needs to somehow deal with the onset of winter. Most butterflies, like many insects, respond to our cold winter by “hibernating”—not as adults—but in the egg or larval stage, tucked away under tree bark, in a log, or in the ground. In the spring or summer, they continue their metamorphosis, finally emerging as adults to continue the cycle.

Some adult monarch butterflies live more than a year, and respond to winter by fleeing the cold north. These delicate creatures make a 2,000–3,000-mile roundtrip flight from breeding grounds in the northern United States and southern Canada, all the way to the mountains of central Mexico. They then return in the spring. The individual monarchs that make this round trip, do it only once. Upon return, the females produce young, their young produce more young, and, well you get the picture.

There are as many as three or four generations of monarchs each summer, the last generation being the only one to migrate. The earlier generations live only a month or two. By the close of summer, the emerging adult monarchs are genetically different from their parents and grandparents—in fact, they are specialized migrators. Instead of devoting energy to producing young, this late summer brood is programmed to migrate back to Mexico, flying to, and brooding in, the exact same tree that their great-great-grandparents did the previous winter. How they do this, nobody knows for sure.

The monarch’s breeding ground is here in the north because of the lack of competition compared to the wintering ground in the tropics. This is also where its larval food source, milkweed, is found.When the monarch’s food source dies off in the fall, the newly emerged young adults head south, then west, to brood in warmth until spring. So programmed to make this journey, they choose only the fattiest nectars found along the way, and actually gain weight during this incredible migration.

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Common Birds Along the Path

You may have to work to spot some of our summer songbirds, but it is always worth
it to catch a glimpse of these colorful tropical migrants.

Of the approximately 170 bird species recorded in Randolph over the years, 75 are most likely to be seen along the Four Soldiers Path and around the Pond of Safety. Some of these are year-round residents, such as the black-capped chickadee. Others are seen mostly in late winter or early spring, such as pine grosbeaks and redpolls. Birds such as the broadwing hawk or the golden eagle are most always seen soaring, while the ovenbird or ruffed grouse are seen (or heard) generally resting right on terra firma. You may have to work to spot some of our melodious summer warblers, but it is always worth it to catch a glimpse of these colorful tropical migrants. Regardless of the species, most do not make their presence readily known. The gregarious blue jays, crows, and chickadees are exceptions. Patience, a pair of binoculars, and an attentive ear will reap rewards for even the casual visitor.

Deciding what kind of bird you’ve spotted or heard can be a challenge. It is not the purpose of this guide to serve as a key to identification. A good bird book, such as National Geographic, Sibley’s, or Peterson’s, is invaluable; however, the following list does identify the most likely candidates. In a few seasons of casual birding, familiarity with many of the birds along the Four Soldiers Path is a realistic expectation.

The list (below) of the area’s most common birds indicates where each bird is likely to be found. Please remember though that the first rule of birding states that there are exceptions to every rule. Some species are likely to be found in more than one of the areas noted below.

Many thanks go to Brad Meiklejohn, for his fine document, “Natural Features Inventory for Randolph, NH,” printed in March of 1994. The following list was gleaned from the results of Brad’s hard work. The categorizations are the editor’s.

Species likely to be seen near Pond of Safety or by streams and wetlands –
Great Blue Heron
Green-backed Heron
American Black Duck
Common Merganser
Common Yellowthroat
Red-winged Blackbird
Spotted Sandpiper
Belted Kingfisher
Willow Flycatcher
Alder Flycatcher
Common Loon

Species likely to be seen in the forest canopy or understory –
Eastern Wood Peewee
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo (formerly named
Solitary Vireo)
Black-throated Green Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Northern Parula
Canada Warbler
American Redstart
American Tree Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbird
Scarlet Tanager

Species likely to be seen near the forest floor –
Spruce Grouse (higher elevations)
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Winter Wren
Gray Catbird
American Robin
Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
Northern Waterthrush

Species likely to be seen in high or low flight –
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Broad-winged Hawk
Herring Gull
Chimney Swift
Tree Swallow
Common Raven

Species likely to be seen in thin stands or near forest openings, in flight, on ground, or perched –
Sharp-shinned Hawk
American Kestrel
Red-tailed Hawk
Wild Turkey
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Least Flycatcher
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Kingbird
Blue Jay
American Crow
Eastern Bluebird
Cedar Waxwing (often in flocks)
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black and White Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow (learn this song!)
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
American Goldfinch
Purple Finch
House Finch
Pine Siskin
Evening Grosbeak
Yellow-rumped warbler
European Starling

Species likely to be seen in winter or early spring –
Ruffed Grouse
Gray Jay
Brown Creeper
Black-capped Chickadee
Golden-crowned Kinglet
White-winged Crossbill
Common Redpoll
Red-winged Blackbird
Turkey Vulture
Northern Cardinal

Most often heard or seen at night or dusk –
American Woodcock
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Barred Owl
Great Horned Owl

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Other Travelers Along the Path

Red Fox – Fox are largely nocturnal and are usually active two hours before dark and several hours after dawn. They can also be active during the day if food is scarce. Fox communicate by leaving their scent on prominent markings, such as rocks or tufts of grass. A skunk-like odor emanating from a sparsely wooded area is a sure sign that a fox is around. Scats are also left as markings along the Four Soldiers Path. (With all our woodland mammals, evidence such as scat, tracks, beds, markings on vegetation, or scent are more common than a sighting of the individual animal itself).

Red fox sleep in the open, even in subzero temperatures, and use dens for raising pups or for refuge. Bedding signs may be found in fields and south facing slopes where they can take advantage of the sun’s warmth. During sleep, a fox will cover its face with its bushy tail to keep warm, just like many dogs do. Red fox breed from mid-January to late February, with one to ten pups born in late March or early April.

Moose – A big moose can stand up to six feet tall at the shoulder, and weigh as much as 1,200 pounds. Their front legs are longer than their back legs, helping them step over fallen trees and move through deep snow. Moose have short necks, forcing them to either bend from the shoulder and spread their front legs or drop on their knees in order to feed on ground vegetation.

Moose have keen senses of smell and hearing.When hearing or picking up scents is difficult, as it is during poor weather, moose will take refuge in dense forests.

Unlike many animals, moose do not have sharp incisors in the upper jaw. Instead, the lower incisors bite against a callous pad in the front of the upper jaw. This design enables moose to rip and tear vegetation with their back molars. A good sign of the presence of a moose is willow, striped maple, or mountain ash bark that’s been torn in long, vertical, parallel strips, each strip about the width of a finger. A full grown moose eats up to 35 pounds of food a day. Summer fare consists of stream, pond, and shallow lake plants.

Red Squirrel – These creatures are very territorial and will scamper up a tree, scolding you with their chattering alarm call and rapidly waving their tail. Red squirrels live in coniferous (cone-bearing) or mixed coniferous woods, but can also be found in barns and other wooden buildings in wooded areas. They regularly travel along “highways” through the treetops where they become easy targets for predators like the pine marten or barred owl.

Red squirrels store their pine cone food in a central spot, known as a cache, making it easy to protect it from pilfering chipmunks and other rodents. The cones are stored in a damp area, since dampness prevents cones from opening and dropping their seeds. Red squirrels are agile in trees, can leap five feet, and have been clocked at 14 mph while running along the ground. Surprisingly, red squirrels are very strong swimmers. They will frequent the same eating spot, creating piles of cones and scales known as middens.

Snowshoe Hare – The snowshoe hare is thought of as a rabbit, but it’s a different species altogether. Rabbits, or eastern cottontails, don’t venture any farther north than Massachusetts or southern New Hampshire.

The snowshoe hare is sometimes known as the varying hare, due to the change in its coat from narrow, brown summer hairs to hollow hairs that appear white in winter. The white fur also provides higher quality insulation. The snowshoe hare’s main defense against predators is to sit still in hopes of remaining unnoticed. In the face of danger, they may thump their hind foot, make hissing or grunting noises, or give off a high pitched scream.When necessary, snowshoe hares can run up to 30 miles per hour and leap 12 feet in a single bound.

Large back feet are one of the distinctive features on a snowshoe hare. These built-in snowshoes help them “float” on the surface of the snow pack while other animals of the same or heavier weight with smaller feet will sink into the snow. This ability to stay up high on the snow pack not only helps the snowshoe hare escape predators, it also helps them reach higher tree branches—an important food source—continuously through the winter as the snow accumulates.

Snowshoe hares generally prefer open wooded or swampy areas where their speed helps them evade predators, but they certainly can be spotted at any point along the Four Soldiers Path. Look for them in the spring when their still mottled white fur shows up against a snowless, brown background.

Fisher – Fishers are big weasels and are related to minks and martens. Fishers are not cats as is often thought; in fact, they like to eat cats. They feed largely on snowshoe hares, but they are the only predators willing to take on a porcupine. A fisher will kill the porcupine by repeatedly attacking the head and face and finally the soft belly, to avoid the deadly quills. Fishers are known to follow certain corridors that lead to food sources and will mark these corridors by creating “scent posts” by rubbing up against a tree or rock. Fishers cover their kills with leaves and dirt, and they have been known to stash carcasses in trees.

Fishers are wary animals and will arch their backs like a cat (perhaps the origin of the name fisher-cat) snarl, hiss, and growl when disturbed. Fishers are sexually dimorphic—the male is almost twice as large as the female. Males are solitary except during mating, which takes place over just a two or three day period in April. Females have a long gestation period due to delayed implantation—the fertilized egg does not implant until nine to ten months later.

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Bears and Beech Trees

Bears use their large claws to climb high into beech trees for beechnuts and can
sometimes be seen resting in a tangle of treetop branches.

As you walk along the Four Soldiers Path you will wander through a number of stands of beech trees. The smooth, light gray bark of the American beech sets it apart from many of the other trees in the forest. In winter, beeches are easily seen with their golden brown leaves clinging to their branches. Beech trees reproduce by sending out shoots that grow from established root systems, creating clusters of new trees.

Along with beech trees, black bears are common in the area traversed by the Four Soldiers Path. They eat mostly a plant-based diet to maintain their hefty figures—males average 300 pounds, females average about 150. As seasons change in New Hampshire, so does a bear’s food source. In April, food is scarce; but, after months of winter dormancy, bears eat sparingly on young vegetation until their digestive systems adjust. Late spring and summer months provide the now insatiable bears with all the berries they can eat, beginning with wild strawberries, then raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and elder berries. They also enjoy the occasional beetle or slug.

To help fatten up for its winter repose, a black bear’s diet changes in the fall to dogwood fruits, cherries, and wild apples, but their favorite food is beechnuts. The prickly outer bur seems like an unlikely temptation for any creature, however, the shiny, pale brown beechnuts found inside are relatively high in fat and are a much desired source of calories.

While looking at the smooth bark of a mature beech tree, you may see sets of scars on the trunk. These are bear claw marks. Bears use their large claws to climb high into beech trees for beechnuts and can sometimes be seen resting in a tangle of treetop branches—sometimes referred to as bear nests. To build these nests, bears will bend and break the beech branches, then weave them into a platform that provides the beechnut-sated bear with a safe place to relax.

Bears aren’t the only community members that benefit from beech trees. Beechnuts are a favorite of mice, squirrels, and raccoons as well. Turkeys, grouse, and other birds gobble up beechnuts, and they often roost high in the beech trees—unless the bear gets there first.

Note: Coming up Four Soldiers Path from Pasture Path, stop just after the second major logging road and look at a large beech tree, 15 feet off the trail to the left. A bear’s nest is high in its branches.

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