Northern Forest

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(HOST) Summer is a good time to explore some of the less familier parts of New England, and commentator Willem Lange has a few tips on enjoying the northern paradise that’s our home.

(LANGE) If you could look at the northeastern United States from space, you’d see a vast swath of green all the way from the eastern end of Lake Ontario to Calais, Maine. There’d be a few breaks, where industry and population are established, and the most heavily populated part of Canada is just to its north. But in spite of its location in the jaws of a demographic nutcracker, the Great Northern Forest, as it’s called, is Nature’s tiara on the top of New England.

One hundred years ago the area was much less forested. Logging and mining, with little view to the future, had destroyed much of its natural beauty. Ironically, it was business interests that first appreciated the value of what had been lost. Canal operators in New York were unable to operate in the summertime for lack of water. The headwaters, stripped bare by logging, no longer tempered the spring runoff. Eventually the New York legislature created the Adirondack Forest Preserve, a vast and priceless protected area of forests and mountains.

East across Lake Champlain, a National Wildlife Refuge protects the marshes at the mouth of the Missisquoi River. This was the last stand of the New England Abenaki, who saw every treaty they signed broken by European settlers. Some of them are still here. They’ve recently gained recognition from the State of Vermont.

New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest is the most-visited in the United States. If you want to keep away from the crowds, you’d best travel north of the notches. There are scenes of old-fashioned logging scattered everywhere — overgrown railroad beds, ruined log dams, moldering bunkhouses and cook shacks.

East of Whitefield is the nation’s newest wildlife refuge, Pondicherry, with miles of marshes and ponds and a view to the south of the main ridge of the Presidentials. Floating islands shelter loon and red-winged blackbird nests, and acres of dead snags harbor more bird species than perhaps anywhere else in the state.

On the Maine border lies the Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge. Haunted by moose, eagles, ducks, geese, and the area’s largest breeding population of loons, the lake and its marshes are perfect for canoe camping. Bass fishing is the newest enthusiasm; warm-water species are displacing the native trout and salmon. Nobody seems to mind much, except the salmon fishermen and some locals, for whom federal ownership and control are anathema. It’s hard not to notice the new sign near the entrance of the refuge is full of bullet holes.

You could go on almost indefinitely, east into Maine, the 100-Mile Woods, Baxter State Park, and the downeast coast. Baxter is the most spectacular of the spots I’ve mentioned. But it’s a long way over there; there’s enough to do right around here to keep us busy the rest of our lives.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire. I gotta get back to work.

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