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MILTON MILLS — Despite forecasts of showers on Saturday morning, about 30 intrepid paddlers set forth on a 4-1/2mile scenic trip along the Branch River through lush wetlands to a pullout and picnic spot on Milton Three Ponds. The day turned pleasant and sunny for this 10th annual Branch River Paddle presented by Moose Mountains Regional Greenways (MMRG) and Branch Hill Farm/Carl Siemon Family Charitable Trust (CSFCT) and co-sponsored by M&M Boat Storage/Sunshine Acres Campground. A couple of paddle stops with nature experts provided an educational aspect to the outing.
Guest presenters Nels Liljedahl and Don Keirstead of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) parked themselves on a sand/gravel bar midway down the river and talked to passing paddlers. Liljedahl drew attention to some trees that had fallen from the opposite riverbank into the water.
He commented, “Such fallen trees create excellent habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms. There are many benefits to allowing these natural processes to occur.”
Keirstead pointed out how the river had changed course over time, leaving dry some sections of the sandy gravelly riverbed, which now support the rapid growth of numerous shrubs. These shrubs in turn support numerous insects and a host of birds and small animals that feed upon them.
The loose sandy nature of the river bank soils make them at risk for erosion if the stream side vegetative buffer is lost due to development. Thanks to the fact that the lands on both sides are conserved, the pristine quality of the water and scenic value of the area have been maintained. However, the Salmon Falls Watershed (including the Branch River) is one of the most endangered in the country, due to potential loss of forested areas to residential development, lending a sense of urgency to local conservation efforts.
MMRG Executive Director Virginia Long was stationed in a kayak near the mouth of the Branch River, where it widens into open wetlands dotted by islands of cattails, shrubs and a few water-tolerant trees such as silver maples. She helped participants identify various birds, including the ubiquitous red-winged blackbirds that thrive in cattail habitats and several flitting yellow warblers that tend to inhabit riparian areas. Paddlers were also delighted to see a Baltimore oriole on its hanging nest in the silver maple.
Moose Mountains Regional Greenways, a grassroots land trust serving Brookfield, Farmington, Middleton, Milton, New Durham, Wakefield, and Wolfeboro, has helped conserve more than 4,400 acres in the Moose Mountains region. For more information, go towww.mmrg.info. Branch Hill Farm/CSFCT is a private operating foundation whose mission is to conserve land, produce quality timber products, and educate people about sound forestry practices and conservation. For more information on CSFCT, visit www.branchhillfarm.org.