In Western Maine along the New Hampshire border, the Mahoosuc Range compares only to Mt. Katahdin in its vast, unbroken high-elevation forest. As northbound travelers on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) cross into The Pine Tree State, the green sea of the Mahoosuc Mountains stretches before them.
Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve builds on a legacy of wildness in Western Maine. These mountains, also known as the Mountains of the Dawn in honor of the Wabanaki of Maine, or, the People of the Dawnland are some of the first mountains to greet the rising sun as day breaks over this continent. It is an area of high conservation importance, and one that the Wilderness Trust has turned its attention to in recent years. Grafton Forest is a keystone area linking a vast public Ecological Preserve and a 15,000-acre, well-managed woodland conserved by The Forest Society of Maine. From the Preserve, a few days’ hike north on the A.T. brings one to the outskirts of Northeast Wilderness Trust’s Lone Mountain and Redington Wilderness Sanctuaries, which cumulatively protect 4,455 forever-wild acres near Bigelow Preserve.
For Nature and People
People seeking to enjoy the solace of a remote adventure aren’t the only ones benefitting from the vast forestland of the Mahoosucs. The high-elevation forests are home to myriad bird species, including Bicknell’s thrush, spruce grouse, boreal chickadee, white-winged crossbill, black-backed woodpecker, many species of warblers and even nesting peregrine falcons. Mammals like American marten, long- and short-tailed weasels, fox, snowshoe hare, and Canada lynx find refuge here, and the region is home to the largest population of moose in the lower 48 states. The high ridgelines are used as migratory routes by songbirds, raptors, and bats.
Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve will also protect different kinds of high-elevation forest: Fir-Heart-leaved Birch Subalpine Forest, a rare forest type, and Spruce-Fir Montane Forest.
The southern parcel of Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve sits just west of a two-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail that passes through the Grafton State Forest. An official A.T. side trail, the Speck Pond Trail, traverses this parcel for more than 1.5 miles.
A Natural Climate Solution
As the planet sits at the precipice of rapid climate change and biodiversity loss, the Northeast is poised to play an important role over the next several years with regards to climate stabilization. A 2020 study published in Science Advances identified the Northeastern United States as part of a ‘Global Safety Net’ where, if sufficient ecosystem protection and restoration occurs—quickly—we may have hope of avoiding the worst effects of climate change.
Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve will continue to store incredible amounts of carbon within the mature, high-elevation forests and expansive low-elevation forests. Where logging occurred before the land's conservation, the forest will regenerate, capturing and retaining carbon. All told, the full carbon storage capacity of these 1,388 acres totals approximately 120,000 metric tonnes of carbon, which will never be lost to resource extraction.
When selecting lands to conserve, Northeast Wilderness Trust places an emphasis on climate resiliency—the capacity of a place to support diverse flora and fauna as they move, migrate, and adapt in the face of a warming climate and more extreme weather events. A landscape evaluation tool developed by The Nature Conservancy ranks the resilience of Grafton Forest as well above average. It also considers the entirety of the Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve a “Climate Flow Zone with Confirmed Diversity.” This means that high levels of plant and animal movement occur here, and there are known locations of rare species and unique natural communities.
The Wild Core to a Critical Corridor
Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve lies within a 102,000-acre forest block, which is part of a five million-acre stretch of globally significant forest. This region includes more than half of the United States’ largest globally important bird area—providing habitat and breeding grounds for 34 northern woodland songbirds.
This vast expanse of habitat is an important wildlife corridor. Animals who roam or migrate long distances or have territories that are miles wide rely on large forests in order to forage, hunt, find mates, and raise their young. When wildlife corridors include lands that are left in their natural state, they allow species to adapt in the face of a rapidly changing climate. The Mountains of the Dawn are the critical ecological link between the western portion of the Northern Forest (the Adirondack, Green, and White Mountains) and its eastern stretches, which reach into New Brunswick and the Gaspé peninsula.