Visit the Blue Heron House and Trail in Effingham

 By Sarah Wright

Photo courtesy Green Mountain Conservation Group

Photo courtesy Green Mountain Conservation Group

I love being outside in nature, whether alone or with my kids. Spring is upon us, and that means we’ll be hitting the trails again, trekking out into the woods for a much-needed dose of natural exploration. Many studies have shown that spending time in natural surroundings improves one’s wellbeing. Even Einstein said, “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.” You could say that it puts things in perspective. Every year, I look for new areas to explore, and this year, we’ll be checking out the recently opened Blue Heron House at Patricia & Charles H. Watts II Conservation Center in Effingham. 

The Green Mountain Conservation Group celebrated the grand opening of their new home at the Blue Heron House on Saturday, July 21 of last year. Located directly on the Ossipee River in Effingham, the property of the Blue Heron House at Patricia & Charles H. Watts II Conservation Center includes the Lawrence B. and Jacqueline M. Leavitt Water Resource Center, the Jann Leeming & Arthur Little Community Room, the Stan and Gladys Brown Natural Resource Library, class room, and office space. 

The Blue Heron Nature Trail in the surrounding acres currently consists of an easy, quarter-mile walk around a vernal pool and out toward the Ossipee River. Two AmeriCorps members are currently working with The Green Mountain Conservation Group (GMCG) to help implement new trails and extend the trail system so that it loops through several riparian habitats, including the wetland and river bank, in addition to the vernal pool. Beginning this spring, the GMCG is inviting the public to volunteer and help clean up the trails, if interested. Plans also include implementing a kiosk with an interpretive map, as well as placing signs and markers to indicate points of interest and educate hikers about the natural surroundings. 

Naturally, Blue Herons have been seen flying overhead above the river, but the property is also home to native species such as the blue spotted salamander, various turtles and frogs, bob cats, black bears, and a beaver that’s already building a dam on the river. If you enjoy bird watching, sign up for the Blue Heron Bird Club and help collect data for a Cornell program called Project Cedar Watch. If you have an hour to spare, all you have to do is relax and monitor the site’s bird feeders, keeping track of the birds that you see. (Check the event information at www.gmcg.org or call 603-539-1859.) Or you can spend some time in the cozy nature library, perusing books about the natural Lakes Region surroundings, or educating yourself on topics such as land trusts. There is also a small viewing area for watching the library’s DVDs. 

The Blue Heron House is already hosting educational programs and talks, like a History of Logging presentation this past January. There is also a quarterly newsletter available and plans for summer activities oriented toward families. Upcoming events on the schedule include an Earth Day Celebration on Saturday, April 20 from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm. Participate in trail clean-up, crafts, recycled t-shirt bag making, chair decorating, and a picnic with hot dogs, veggie dogs, iced tea, and lemonade. This event is free and great for families.

Then on May 4, from 10 am to noon, join Wetland Scientist Rick Van de Poll at a Vernal Pool Ecology Workshop. This short workshop will provide an overview of vernal pool ecology, including landscape position, basin characteristics, typical breeding species, and their importance for local and regional biodiversity. Participant will explore the two-year-old vernal pool on the site for evidence of amphibians, fairy shrimp, and other macro-invertebrates that are typically found in such habitats. Get ready to get your hands wet and explore!

On Tuesday, May 14, from 6 to 7 pm, join Harris Center Hawk Watch Coordinator, Phil Brown, for a presentation about Raptor Migration. This talk will be about hawk watching in the state, raptor identification, and species’ natural histories. Phil will discuss what he has learned from observing the fall migration spectacle at Pack Monadnock Mountain each autumn for the past 14 years, as well as sharing anecdotes from the observatory and handy identification techniques. 

Come explore the Blue Heron House and its trail this spring and marvel at what was under renovation for four years, and accomplished through many volunteer hours. The opening of the property is a landmark achievement for the Green Mountain Conservation Group, and a significant expansion for their water quality program. Located just before the Maine border on the Ossipee River, it is the exit point for all the water flowing out of the Ossipee Watershed, a symbolic and beautiful venue for water education. The GMCG believes in “healthy water, healthy communities” and staff members travel throughout the Ossipee watershed areas, educating the public at libraries, and other community buildings.

The Green Mountain Conservation Group is a community-based, charitable organization dedicated to the protection and conservation of natural resources in the Ossipee Watershed in central Carroll County including the towns of Eaton, Effingham, Freedom, Madison, Ossipee, Sandwich, and Tamworth. GMCG also partners with friends across the border in Parsonsfield, and Porter, Maine through the Saco River Corridor Commission. Founded in 1997, GMCG is also a networking and referral resource for area residents concerned about land use issues in their communities. The organization encourages individual and small group activism based on common sense and science-based approaches to resolving problems. 

Support the GMCG and their work, and check out the Blue Heron House and trail, located at 236 Huntress Bridge Road in Effingham. The trail is open from dawn to dusk, and the building is open from 9 am to 4 pm on weekdays (open on weekends during events only). For more information about the group, or to check the event schedule, visit www.gmcg.org or their Facebook page. It is welcome spring by venturing out into nature. The sights, sounds, and smells of spring will nurture your soul!