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.
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).
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.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.”
- Old Forests and Rare Plants at the Mount Sunapee Ski Lease Area – 1999 (PDF 5 MB)
- Findings and Conclusions Regarding Exemplary Old Forest in Polygon 23 – 1999 (PDF 2 MB)
- Natural Heritage Inventory of the East Bowl at Mount Sunapee State Park – 2003 (PDF 3 MB)
- Evaluation of Proposed Ski Lease Area Expansion on Mount Sunapee – 2004 (PDF 3.6 MB)
- Addendum to Evaluation of Proposed Ski Lease Area Expansion on Mount Sunapee – 2015 (PDF 1.1 MB)
Additional Natural Heritage Bureau documents
Natural Communities of New Hampshire (PDF 2.4 MB)
Rare Plants, Rare Animals, and Exemplary Natural Communities in New Hampshire – listed by town (PDF 1.7 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.
Last update to this page: June 18, 2020