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New Ipswich to vote on Tophet Swamp conservation


Published: March 01, 2006

Braced against strong winter winds, Bob Boynton makes his way along the frozen Gridley River on Tuesday.
Braced against strong winter winds, Bob Boynton makes his way along the frozen Gridley River on Tuesday. (Staff photos by Don Himsel)

NEW IPSWICH – According to the dictionary, the term “Tophet” comes from the Old Testament and refers to a “hellish kind of place.” Perhaps to the earliest settlers in the area, 500 acres of boggy, wet swampland was rather hellish.

Conservation commission Chairman Bob Boynton has other descriptions of the area.

“The habitat is fantastic,” he said Tuesday. He and Jeffrey Littleton, a conservation ecologist with Moosewood Ecological Services in Harrisville, walked up the Gridley River and talked about the area, known locally as Tophet Swamp. About two inches of fresh snow covered the ice and gave a magical appearance to the place.

They pointed out an old beaver lodge, coyote tracks and the many blueberry bushes that attract bears in the summer.

“The swamp stores a massive amount of water, as demonstrated by the floods last October,” Littleton said. “One of the main functions of a swamp is the storage of floodwater.”

On March 14, residents will have an opportunity to vote for some protection of Tophet Swamp. The conservation commission would like the area designated as a prime wetland under state statutes. The designation can be applied to any significant wetlands if they meet the standards of “size, unspoiled character, fragile condition or other relevant factors.” Tophet Swamp meets all of those criteria, Boynton said.

Littleton was commissioned to do a study of the swamp and has produced a rough first draft of a report. He notes that the swamp covers about 555 acres in the towns of New Ipswich, Sharon and Rindge. About 367 acres, or 66 percent, is located in New Ipswich. About 235 acres are protected from development by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

However, the reports says, “this ecosystem’s health is still vulnerable to a variety of land used in the adjacent uplands.”

Boynton noted a 40-unit condominium project in a nearby area, swamp and future growth.

Jeff Littleton, left, and Bob Boynton explain the layout and ecology of the wetlands bordering the Gridley River near New Ipswich. Jeff Littleton, left, and Bob Boynton explain the layout and ecology of the wetlands bordering the Gridley River near New Ipswich.
Tophet Swamp is now known for its beauty, wildlife habitat and recreational uses. The Gridley River, which flows through the center of the swamp, is used for kayaking canoeing, fishing and bird watching. In the winter, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular.

Littleton’s report lists several salamanders that are of special concern and one endangered species, the marbled salamander. Two endangered species of bird, cooper’s hawk and the osprey, have been seen in the area, with several others that are of concern, including the brown thresher, eastern screech owl, goshawk, king rail, least bittern, sora and Virginia rail.

Three regionally rare turtles, Blanding’s, spotted and wood turtle, have been seen as well as a ribbon snake.

A variety of fish, including American eel, brown bullhead, brook trout, chain pickerel and pumpkinseed sunfish, have been observed.

Among the mammals are black bear, fisher, deer, moose, rabbits, hares, beaver, otter, raccoons, skunks and bobcats.

Several other area towns have designated prime wetlands, including Brookline, Pelham, Derry and Nashua.

Neither Sharon nor Rindge joined in the study, Boynton said, “so we paid for the study. I hope they now get involved.”

Historically speaking New Hampshire has done a good job on wetland protection, Littleton said.

Between 1780 and 1980, the state lost about nine percent of its wetlands, compared to over 50 percent in other states, by some analysis. About 117 million acres have been filled, drained or flooded in attempts to make productive land. The rate of loss is slowing, Littleton’s report notes, but the population in the southern part of New Hampshire is growing about twice as fast as the rest of New England.

Only 21.5 percent of New Hampshire’s wetlands are protected, according to the SPNHF, leaving the various towns with the responsibility of protection.

Boynton is asking his fellow townspeople to give the designation some thought.


   
 
   
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