New England can claim 57 National Natural Landmarks of the 599 listed throughout the country. The six-state region has a wealth of beautiful conservation land that contains fossilized dinosaur tracks, quaking bogs, old growth forests, rhododendron stands and a spectacular rocky gorge.
The National Park Service administers the National Natural Landmarks Program to encourage conservation of sites with outstanding biological or geological features.
We selected the most breathtaking of the National Natural Landmarks in each of five New England states. Because tiny Rhode Island has only one, we didn’t have much choice.
If you know of any National Natural Landmarks worthy of note, please include them in the comments section.
Connecticut Dinosaur Trackway
In 1802, a Massachusetts farm boy named Pliny Moody came across dinosaur tracks in Holyoke, Mass. He made the first of many such discoveries in the Connecticut River Valley’s sandstone.
On Aug. 23, 1966, Edward McCarthy was bulldozing a path for I-91 in Rocky Hill, Conn., when he overturned a block of sandstone imprinted with six three-toed footprints. It turned out he was disturbing a former lakebed riddled with dinosaur tracks, the largest in North America.
Scientists confirmed the importance of the Rocky Hill dinosaur tracks, each about a foot long.
Engineers rerouted the highway, and the state designated the lake bed a Connecticut state park. Scientists subsequently found about 2,000 of the three-toed tracks, linked to the Jurassic-era Dilophosauris.
The seven-acre Dinosaur State Park abuts an arboretum that has about two miles of hiking trails. The exhibit center opens Thursday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. The park opens every day but Sunday and Monday.
Dinosaur State Park, 400 West St., Rocky Hill, Conn.
Gulf Hagas earned the name ‘Grand Canyon of the East’ for the three-mile slate gorge carved by the West Branch of the Pleasant River in Central Maine. The river drops 370 feet through the gorge, creating waterfalls that only the most experienced kayaker can manage. The West Branch of the Pleasant River creates a three-mile slate gorge with many waterfalls. Gulf Hagas belongs to the Appalachian Trail Corridor, following it through the Hundred-Mile Wilderness. Many view it as the most remote and difficult part of the Appalachian Trail.
Most people reach Gulf Hagas by driving through the Katahdin Iron Works, a historic site where iron ore was once smelted. Loggers used to drive logs for those smelting operations through the gorge, as narrow as eight feet wide in some places. .
Archaeologists have found gravesites belonging to the Red Paint People in the area.
The Gulf Hagas Rim Trail goes through The Hermitage, a rare stand of virgin old growth forest. Giant eastern white pine trees, once used for the British Royal Navy, grow as tall as 150 feet and as thick as 10 feet in diameter.
One eight-mile-long hike along the canyon rim takes as long as eight hours. An easier trail takes hikers four miles through The Hermitage and Gulf Hagas Brook.
Katahdin Iron Works Road, Bowdoin College Grant East Townswhip, Maine
Col. John Ashley, a Connecticut River God, settled the 329 acres of Bartholomew’s Cobble before the American Revolution. Ashley enslaved an African American woman named Elizabeth Mum Bett Freeman, who won a place in history by suing for her freedom and helping to end slavery in Massachusetts.
The Trustees of Reservations took ownership of Bartholomew’s Cobble in 1946 and gradually added to it over the years. The trustees also manage the John Ashley home site.
Bartholomew’s Cobble sits right on the border of the northern and southern limits of a number of species, giving it tremendous diversity of plants, especially ferns. It also sits on the crossroads of the marble valley lowlands of the Berkshires and the Taconic uplands.
You can snowshoe, canoe, picnic, birdwatch, climb Hurlburt Hill to catch the sunset. The five miles of trails take you along the Housatonic River, up through the geological cobble formations, meadows and farmland full of wildflowers, ferns, mosses and ground-nesting bobolinks.
105 Weatogue Rd., Sheffield, Mass.
Rhododendron State Park
Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, N.H., has the largest of 19 native Rhododendron maximum stands in central and northern New England. The 15-acre park, near Little Monadnock Mountain, once had another name: Old Patch Place.
Samuel Patch built the Old Patch Place sometime between 1790 and 1816. The Patch family sold the house and land around 1841. Subsequent owners sold it several times before Stephen Follansbee bought it in 1885. Follansbee did a thriving business selling rhododendron blooms for 5 cents a bunch, 10 cents a tub or 25 cents a buggyful. Follansbee also sold the medicinal waters of Monadnock Mineral Spring.
Levi Fuller bought the Old Patch Place and planned to lumber it off in 1901. A philanthropist named Mary Lee Ware, however, bought the land from Fuller and gave it to the Appalachian Mountain Club in 1903. The gift came with several conditions: that it be open to the public forever, that no rhododendron would ever be picked and that no ax ever be used. The AMC breached the contract once, after the Great Hurricane of 1938 required downed trees to be clear.
Hikers used the Old Patch Place as a hostel until 1947, when the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation took over.
The National Register of Historic Places added the house to its list in 1980. Two years later the National Park Service named the rhododendron lot one of its national Natural Landmarks. According to the National Register of Historic Places, it represents ‘an early achievement of the conservation movement in New Hampshire to protect endangered natural resources.’
424 Rockwood Pond Rd, Fitzwilliam, N.H.
Ell Pond, Rhode Island’s only entry on the list of National Natural Landmarks, is a kettle hole surrounded by a quaking bog. The bog in turn is encircled by a cedar bog and rock formations. The surrounding woodlands are dense with rhododendron and mountain laurel, which bloom in mid-June.
The 50-acre preserve has trails that offer some of the most beautiful hikes in Rhode Island. Visitors say they go to the uncrowded preserve to find some peace.
The preserve abuts lands owned by The Audubon Society of Rhode Island and the state. In 1972, The Nature Conservancy bought Ell Pond to add a link to the web of contiguous protected lands in Rhode Island.
433-,445 Old Rockville Rd, Hopkinton, R.I.
You’ve seen the Camels Hump of Vermont, if only on the back of the state quarter. Its distinctive profile makes it Vermont’s most recognized mountain.
The Camels Hump has had no less than a dozen names since Samuel de Champlain sailed down the lake that bears his name. De Champlain called it ‘Le Lion Couchant,’ meaning ‘the Resting Lion.’ Ira Allen called it the ‘Camel’s Rump.’ The Abenaki Indians called it ‘tahwahbodeay wadso.’
A forest preserve encloses the mountain, the summit of which philanthropist Joseph Battell donated to the state in 1905. By 1912, the Green Mountain Club built a trail between the mountain and Sterling Pond. Today the trail is a high point on the Long Trail system. The Green Mountain Club now pays a caretaker to make sure hikers respect the mountain’s fragile alpine tundra.
The Camels Hump has a number of trails, popular with hikers. On a clear day the view from the summit takes in Mount Washington in New Hampshire, Mount Marcy in New York and Mount Mansfield in Vermont.
Camels Hump is one of 12 National Natural Landmarks in Vermont, which include pristine freswhater marshes, a biologically diverse fossil reef, virgin forests and alpine tundra.
Camels Hump Road, Huntington, Vt.
Images: Dinosaur Trackway By Daderot – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2105435; Col. John Ashley House, By I, Daderot, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2523950; Gulf Hagas By Tcpx36 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17590021; Old Patch Place Cottage By User:Magicpiano – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22023191