Natural Heritage and Ancient Forests

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In Mount Sunapee State Park is an exemplary natural community system that encompasses a rare old forest. This forest is an irreplaceable part of New Hampshire’s natural and cultural heritage, which deserves and requires permanent protection. See how you can help: Current Action.

Mount Sunapee State Park is home to a significant natural community system, including rare ancient forest. According to the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau (NHB) and its published reports, the state park contains a 484-acre exemplary northern hardwood-conifer forest system, the only such documented forest system in New Hampshire.

This image, produced by the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau, shows the exemplary natural forest community system in Mount Sunapee State Park.

New Hampshire leased the stated-owned ski area at Mount Sunapee State Park to a private operator (Okemo Inc.) in 1998. The first state-sponsored natural heritage study at Mount Sunapee, conducted in 1998 by the Natural Heritage Bureau, produced a report in 1999 titled “Old Forest and Rare Plants at the Mount Sunapee Ski Lease Area” (PDF 5 MB).

Since 1998, NHB has conducted additional field evaluations at Mount Sunapee, resulting in published studies of the East Bowl (in 2003) and the proposed expansion area on the west side of the park (in 2004 and 2015).

Greater fringed-gentian (Gentianopsis crinita) may be difficult to identify until they flower in the fall. NH Natural Heritage Bureau photo.

Additionally, NHB has documented and continues to monitor two state-threatened plants in the leasehold area: the Loesel’s wide-lipped orchid (Liparis loeselii) and a population of the greater fringed-gentian (Gentianopsis crinita). See the NHB June 2020 letter regarding rare plant observations (pdf 2 MB).

The NHB reports from 1999 and 2003 included specific conservation recommendations to protect New Hampshire’s natural heritage at the State Park. And the bureau provides specific recommendations to the resort operator to protect the Loesel’s wide-lipped orchid and greater fringed gentian.

See (below) the Natural Heritage Bureau studies of Mount Sunapee State Park.

"Typic old growth hardwood stand at [Mount Sunapee] ski lease area. Note various hardwood canopy species, and a diverse canopy structure."

This is a typical old-growth hardwood stand at Mount Sunapee State Park in the ski lease area. “Note various hardwood canopy species and a diverse canopy structure,” according to the Natural Heritage Bureau report, 1999. Photo from the NHB report.

In 1999, the NHB recommended: “The best conservation approach would be to protect in perpetuity the entire mosaic of forest types, including old growth to protect the assemblage of forest conditions …” See Old Forests and Rare Plants at the Mount Sunapee Ski Lease Area, 1999 (PDF 5 MB).

Responding to ski resort proposals, the NHB confirmed that “any development activities within Polygon 23 would have a detrimental effect on Mt. Sunapee’s old forests.” See the NH Forest and Lands memorandum Findings and Conclusions Regarding Exemplary Old Forest in Polygon 23, 1999 (PDF 2 MB).

In 2003, the NHB recommended Natural Area designation of the East Bowl. See Natural Heritage Inventory of the East Bowl at Mount Sunapee State Park, 2003 (PDF 3 MB)

Then, starting in 2004, Okemo/Mount Sunapee Resort proposed master development plans for the expansion of the ski area. The development would cut through and fragment the forested western flank of Mount Sunapee State Park. The development plans led to natural heritage field evaluations of the proposed expansion area conducted in 2004 and 2014.

The state’s report in 2004 documented exemplary forest of statewide significance in the proposed expansion area on the west side of Mount Sunapee State Park. See Evaluation of Proposed Ski Lease Area Expansion on Mount Sunapee, 2004 (PDF 3.6 MB)

The 2015 NHB report then confirmed and mapped the 484-acre exemplary northern hardwood-conifer forest system at Mount Sunapee State Park. This system includes three natural communities. See Addendum to Evaluation of Proposed Ski Lease Area Expansion on Mount Sunapee, 2015 (PDF 1.1 MB)

The exemplary northern hardwood-conifer forest system at Mount Sunapee (entered into the NHB database in 2004) is the only one of its type in New Hampshire and includes:

  • high-elevation spruce-fir forest
  • sugar maple-beech-yellow birch forest
  • northern hardwood-spruce-fir forest

The 2015 report says:

“The sections of mature trees found in the exemplary natural community system add significant value to the larger forest mosaic of Mt. Sunapee. This mosaic in turn has a high ecological value because of its connection to the extensive Sunapee Highlands Corridor. Large, intact systems are more resistant to impacts from natural disturbance, insects and disease, and human disturbance.”

Studies of Mount Sunapee State Park by the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau

According to the Native Plant Protection Act (RSA 217-A:7): “All state agencies, consistent with their authority and responsibilities, shall assist and cooperate with the commissioner to carry out the purposes of this chapter. To the extent possible actions funded or carried out by state agencies shall not jeopardize the continued existence of any protected plant species or exemplary natural community.”

Additional Natural Heritage Bureau documents

Natural Communities of New Hampshire (PDF 2.4 MB)

Natural Community Systems of New Hampshire (PDF)

Rare Plants, Rare Animals, and Exemplary Natural Communities in New Hampshire – listed by town (PDF 1.7 MB)

Visiting New Hampshire’s Biodiversity: Old Forest In Franconia Notch State Park (PDF 1.4 MB)


Contact the NH Natural Heritage Bureau for more information about these reports.

The Natural Heritage Bureau is in the Division of Forests and Lands, PO Box 1856, Concord, New Hampshire 03302-1856. Phone (603) 271-2214.

In 2017, the state re-organized the former Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) and created the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR). DNCR includes the divisions of Parks and Recreation, Forests and Lands, and Historical Resources; the State Library; and the State Council on the Arts.

Last update to this page: June 18, 2020

Copyright © 2020 Friends of Mount Sunapee