Karinne Heise, Warner Community Conservation Cohort Participant

On Veteran’s Day, 2022, armed with pry bars, levels, post hole diggers, shovels, and ten 6-foot beams, Warner’s 2021 Community Conservation Cohort completed one of its two primary goals – the revitalization of the Chandler Reservation’s Woods Walk with ten new signposts. “I thought we were a pretty good team getting the posts in,” noted Barbara Marty. “Amazingly, the last one was getting planted just as the rain started. It timed out perfectly.”

Straightening the signpost.  (L to R: Dawn Quirk, Jody Sloane, Barbara Marty)
Straightening the signpost.  (L to R: Dawn Quirk, Jody Sloane, Barbara Marty)

From start to finish, the Take Action for Wildlife team’s renovation of the educational nature trail took a year. A site visit to the Chandler Reservation in Warner’s Mink Hills the previous November launched the project. Haley Andreozzi, the cohort’s UNH Cooperative Extension mentor, led a group of foresters, Conservation Commission representatives, and Chandler Reservation Board members on a walk of the one-mile loop with the Warner cohort to identify interesting locations for signposts.

After taking note of the experts’ observations during the site visit, the Warner team devised an interactive, educational strategy for the trail’s ten signposts. Each sign would feature a question and a QR code linked to an informational write-up housed on the town website. The hope was that posing questions (without answers in sight) would spark curiosity, critical thinking, and lively interest in the natural history of the Mink Hills and its different wildlife habitats.

Participation in webinars also informed the nature trail’s layout and key questions. Doug Tallamy’s webinar, “Bringing Nature Home,” for example, highlighted oaks as a keystone species for wildlife because not only do numerous mammals and birds eat acorns, but close to 1,000 species of caterpillars in the U.S. eat oak leaves. This fun fact led to the Red Oak signpost question: “What wildlife species use oaks as a food source?” A Land Acknowledgement webinar, hosted by the Nashua Public Library, focused on Native Americans’ pivotal role in the land’s history and inspired the Sugar Maple signpost question: “Who discovered how to tap maple trees for sugar?” Lastly, a revisiting of Tom Wessels’ seminal work, Reading the Forested Landscape, furthered the trail’s natural history focus by inspiring questions on glacial erratics, stone walls, invasive pests, and forest management practices.

Nature Trail Signposts with questions and QR codes

Nature Trail Signposts with questions and QR codes

Additional consultation with experts helped put the finishing touches on the QR codes’ informational write-ups. Haley Andreozzi shared instructive feedback on multiple drafts. Tim Wallace, the Chandler Reservation’s forester, gave useful guidance on another trail walk. Finally, local scientists – Sarah Allen, a wetlands ecologist, and Rich Cook, a veteran of NH Fish and Game – generously shared their professional expertise on yet another trail walk, making invaluable suggestions regarding the trail layout and signpost content.

The numerous walkabouts during different seasons of the year also revealed the need for trail maintenance and upkeep. Before installing the signposts, the team reunited for a morning devoted to chain sawing blowdowns, adding footbridges and stepping stones to low wet areas, and freshening blazes with new yellow paint.

To encourage more use of Chandler Reservation resources and the Woods Walk, the group has shared information about the updated nature trail with local schools. The Warner cohort has also hosted community events at the site. The highlight this past January was the second annual “Chill Out” at Chandler – a fun sledding party on the historic ski hill, beautifully groomed by the Warner snowmobile club. There was lots of laughter, hooting and applause as kids of all ages (including retirees) slid down the slope on tubes, plastic sleds and old-time Flexible Flyers, taking occasional breaks to enjoy hot cocoa and marshmallows toasted over a firepit.

Groups of people sledding on a hill covered in snow

“Chill Out” at Chandler 2023

With the nature trail finished, the group will focus its attention this spring on its second primary goal – raising public awareness about the importance of pollinators by transforming the base of the ski hill into a demonstration garden and pollinator meadow. Thanks to the brush hogging and stump removal work done by Ray Martin, the Town Moderator, and generous funds for purchasing seeds and seedlings from the Warner Conservation Commission, the team is ready for action as soon as the ground thaws.