Land Management and Woodland Trails
When John Hay died at The Fells in 1905, the property passed to his son Clarence, and his wife, Alice Appleton Hay. In 1960, Clarence and Alice Hay deeded most of the estate (675 acres east of NH Route 103A) to the Society for the Protection of NH Forests to protect it from development. In 1972, the widowed Alice Hay deeded the remainder of the estate to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—the bulk of which came into federal possession upon her death in 1987. In 2008, 83.5 acres that included the historic buildings and grounds were divested from U.S.F.W.S., and The Fells, who had cared for the property since 1995, became owners. The remainder of the property continues to be owned and managed by U.S.F.W.S. All three properties have a network of trails that criss-cross the nearly 900 acres—from the summit of Sunset Hill to the shores of Lake Sunapee. While hiking these trails, please, take only pictures; leave only footprints; and do not pick plants. Dogs are not permitted on The Fells Estate grounds or John Hay Wildlife Refuge. However, they are allowed on the John Hay Forest Reservation (entrance across 103A from the Gatehouse parking lot).
The John Hay Forest Ecology Trail
This trail, named for the renowned natural history author and grandson of John Milton Hay, is part of The John Hay National Wildlife Refuge administered by the U.S.F.W.S. A brochure describing attractions along this 1 1/2 mile long trail is available at the Gatehouse and trailheads. Forest succession can be observed as the trail passes through fields and pastures abandoned over 100 years ago. The area is now populated by many stands of fine trees including white and yellow birch, red and white pine, beech, sugar maple, red spruce, and of special note, two virgin hemlocks 300 to 400 years old.
The Carriage Road Trail
The Carriage Road Trail is an easy one-half mile trail that travels through two distinct and exemplary stands of mature second-growth forest. The upper, eastern forest stand of red oak, white pine and hemlock is likely 80 to 100 years old. Remnants of stone walls and rock piles provide evidence of field clearing. Today, periodic red oak acorn crops provide excellent food for resident populations of deer, turkey, raccoons, grey squirrels, flying squirrels and white-footed mice. The upper portion of the trail merges with an early farm road used by the Hay family to travel by horse and wagon to the summit of Sunset Hill for picnicking. The trail leads through former open pasture into a more shade-tolerant northern hardwood forest of sugar maple, yellow birch and American Beech. The trail passes several towering white pines which survived the 1938 hurricane and stands of white birch which thrived in the formerly open countryside. The composition of the woodland and artifacts give us clues about climatic and human impacts, and help us better understand the history of our forested landscape.
This trail offers a short moderate hike that begins from the Veranda and traverses a variety of habitats, including mowed field, brushy woodland margin, mixed age hardwood/softwood forest, lakeshore, and mature hardwood/softwood forest. The rocky first leg of the trail passes through a shady hemlock grove, then beneath the understory of a mix stand of hemlock, sugar maple, white birch and red oak. At the water’s edge, there is a magnificent view along the full verge of the lake to the north revealing an impressive glacial erratic on Minute Island. Across the lake, Mt. Sunapee rises to over 2,700 feet.
The Hay Forest Reservation
The Society for Protection of NH Forests’ Hay Forest Reservation offers nearly four miles of excellent hiking along interior roads and trails growing back on former hay fields, sheep pastures, and orchards belonging to the Hay Estate. The most-popular hiking trails ascend Sunset Hill, where at the summit there are sweeping views of Lake Sunapee, Mount Sunapee, Kearsarge, and distant peaks of the White Mountains.