Guest Post: A Bare Bear Brook Park

Eric Orff is a wildlife biologist. He retired from New Hampshire Fish and Game in 2007 after a 31 year career as a biologist. He currently is a consultant to the National Wildlife Federation and is the Merrimack County Fish and Game Commissioner. He serves on the boards of the NH Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Suncook River and New England Outdoor Writers Association.

An iceless Bear Brook in Bear Brook State Park, New Hampshire (credit: Eric Orff)
Unbelievable. Just unbelievable how this winter is going in New Hampshire. I wanted to get back out ice fishing this weekend, but was a bit worried the 7 or 8 inches of ice we had two weekends ago has significantly melted. Snow, except a patch here and there, is gone from even around here. South and east of here, there is none to be seen at all.

I got an hour-long hike in recently at Bear Brook State Park near my home. Here is a place I have spent time each winter over the 33 years I have lived in Epsom. For the first time in my memory, Bear Brook, as in Bear Brook State Park, is ice-free in mid-February. I have snowmobiled, snowshoed, skied, and hiked past this brook all those years. The local snowmobile club spent countless hours preparing a trail called 360, which runs through the Park, and yet, not a single machine has passed by my house on the trail this winter. The trail lay bare before me yesterday as I hiked along it.

A snow-free snowmobile trail in Bear Creek State Park, New Hampshire (credit: Eric Orff)
Here in town, the local snowmobile dealer has sleds stacked high in crates along the outside of his business. What a huge economic impact this is to New Hampshire! At Wednesday’s Fish and Game Commission meeting, the director noted that snowmobile revenue to the department is off some $1 million dollars this winter. A significant part of the annual registration fees are allocated to local clubs for trail maintenance. So, not only will this deficit hurt our state this winter, but funds will be in short supply when it comes time for the local clubs to ready the trails for next winter. But, they will still need plenty of work because trees will have come down just the same, and bridges will be washed out just the same.

My travels took me to the coast yesterday. I headed over early to take some time for a drive and to look at Great Bay in the daylight. Here again, I was struck by the view of an iceless Great Bay. I’m pretty sure this is the first time in recorded history that the Bay has not frozen.

Great Bay, New Hampshire (credit: Eric Orff)
Not far from where I stopped to take some pictures, I remembered a time when I was in high school, probably 1967, that my best friend Rick and I came to the Bay late one December to hunt geese. While most of the Bay was ice-free, we hunkered down behind some giant ice sheets shoved up on the shore by the tides. I remember the snow was deep on our hike to the Bay’s shore. The geese were a half mile away at the bay’s center, but the sound of those geese honking away as we lay in wait easily surfs to my mind’s eye. But, yesterday: nada. No ice or snow could be seen anywhere. While one winter cannot be attributed to climate change, to me, one winter out of several hundred when Great Bay has not frozen over at all sure has some implications of climate change.