Photos by Kate Wilcox

On a brisk sunny Sunday afternoon, a group of 27 outdoor enthusiasts donned snowshoes or crampons and headed out to explore the new Split Rock Conservation Area in Brookfield, recently conserved by MMRG and the Fred Cann family. With wildlife expert Charlie Bridges and forester Wendy Scribner as guides, participants observed signs of winter wildlife activity and learned about managing a woodlot.

Although tracking conditions were less than ideal given the frozen crust of snow, Charlie spotted prints of coyote, deer, mink and squirrels to show the group. Little tunnels originally made underneath the snow by mice and voles were also now in evidence. Signs of deer included numerous occurrences of browsing on hardwood twigs. MMRG Board member Bruce Rich was interested to learn about animal food preferences, commenting, “Did you know deer and beavers both avoid beech? Recently ‘cut’ beech trees near a beaver pond are a sign the food supply is running out, and the beavers will likely soon be leaving.”

Wendy pointed out the early growth of birches and poplars in areas recently logged. She explained the importance of sunlight, that different tree species have different sunlight requirements and that forest composition changes as trees grow up in a cut area, reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the ground. Noting the good forestry practices now take account of wildlife habitat, she encouraged woodlot owners to leave dead trees in place as opposed to harvesting them for fire wood. Such old trees support insect populations that provide food to numerous birds and offer hollows as potential nesting sites.

The terms of the new 150-acre Split Rock Conservation Area easement guarantee public access for low impact recreation. In summer, there will parking for 2-3 cars at the entrance of a logging road on Route 109, where a sign will be installed. People are requested to respect the privacy of the landowner.

In addition to recreational opportunities, the easement provides other benefits: protection of high quality habitat for animals, plants and ecosystems, additional preservation of water quality in the Lake Wentworth watershed, and open space for farming and forestry, which can yield taxable revenues that benefit communities. With the abutting 190-acre Warren Brook Easement, a total of 340 acres provides a growing greenway for animals to move freely towards food sources and away from danger. Click here to read more about Split Rock Conservation Area.