Merrimack River Outdoor Education & Conservation Area
It’s often called just the floodplain, but its full name is the Merrimack River Outdoor Education and Conservation Area.
The dramatic floodplain landscape includes oxbows, back channels, and high terraces that host a dynamic collection of overlapping natural communities. A walk down the Les Clark Nature Trail will take you past a pine forest planted in the 1960s, a wooded swamp and beaver-influenced wetlands, a maple-oak-hickory terrace community, and a native silver maple floodplain forest. The silver maple forest is unusual in New Hampshire; it has specifically adapted to life among the shifting sand and silt that line the state’s largest rivers. No other tree species can survive in this challenging environment, so the silver maples end up winning by default.
The floodplain offers a natural sanctuary for not only people, but for wildlife, including turtles, beaver, migratory waterfowl and other birds, such as the cardinal, oriole, bald eagle, osprey, pileated woodpecker, and rose-breasted grosbeak.
- Dogs must be leashed and owners must pack out waste
- No wheeled vehicles (including Bicycles)
- No Motorized wheeled vehicles (ATVs, trucks, dirt bikes)
- No Camping
- No Fires
- Carry in, Carry out all trash
- Do not disturb plants, animals, or cultural features
- No alcohol, smoking, or drugs permitted.
Rules & Regulation
Parking lot on Portsmouth Street fits approximately 10 vehicles. This parking area is plowed in for winter accessibility. If full, additional parking is available at the Forest Society's Conservation Center (54 Portsmouth Street) and from there you will need to walk west on Portsmouth street approximately 800ft to the trailhead. The trails are primarily flat (easy walking) but roots and uneven surfaces may make access with wheelchair difficult. Access for kayaks, canoes and paddleboards is possible only with 1/4 mile portage along trails to Merrimack River.
With half a mile of frontage on the Merrimack River, the Merrimack River Outdoor Education and Conservation Area, near the Forest Society’s Conservation Center headquarters, has long been a destination for local anglers. The Merrimack hosts good populations of bass and other warm water species, and in some places (not here) hosts trout as well. From the parking area off Portsmouth Street, a pleasant walk along the trail leads to the river, but you’ll need to keep walking past the first sandy river bank you come to. This shoreline is steep and unstable. Don’t fish there, as it’s unsafe and it’s where bank swallows nest in the sandy cliffs. Bank swallows are uncommon in New Hampshire, and it’s best not to disturb them. Additionally, the sandy bottom along that section of the property isn’t good fish habitat. Keep walking along the riverbank to where the river splits into a side channel. This is a more productive area for fishing, as are the backwaters and side channels on the forested loop trail back to the parking area. While you’re there, notice the silver maple floodplain forest habitat and the many bird species that call this special place home.
Picture Posts- Submit Your Photos!
Hikers, students, community groups, and individuals can contribute to our environmental monitoring by through digital photography. Picture Posts are stationed at various forest reservations to help document environmental changes in the landscape and habitat. Click the links below to view the Picture Posts at the Merrimack River floodplain and submit your photos. Instructions for how to take the photos are on each post.