Explore the Forest

Explore the Forests at Wolfe’s Neck Farm with a hike on our trails!

Wolfe’s Neck Farm has more than 3 miles of hiking trails that are open to the public year round.  Our pristine trails are a great place to walk or run in the summer, and hike, ski or snowshoe in the winter.  In addition, the Farm has a unique combination of forest and estuarine habitats that make it a great birding destination.  Take look at our trail map and see where you’d like to explore.

Things you might see on the trail….

Zones of the Forest

Take a moment to stop on a hill crest and look at the forest as a whole from bottom to top; you might notice a pattern.  There are a few basic zones in the forest that are loosely defined by the size and function of plants and other vegetation that occur together.

Starting at the ground, the zones are: forest floor (lichen, moss, soil), ground cover (saplings, plants), the shrub layer (plants that are 3-10 feet tall), the understory (medium sized trees), and the canopy (the tallest trees that form the forest’s roof).

Forest Succession

Open areas in the forest can be caused by natural disturbances like blown-down trees, or anthropogenic sources such as logging.  Succession is the process of an ecological system progressing from disturbance and instability to a mature and more stable system that feeds back and maintains its state.

On our trails this means that the plants and mosses and other flora you see will re-colonize disturbed areas and eventually grow to look like the forest around it.  If a disturbance is too great, like clear-cut logging, there may not be enough continuous forest; the result could be that the system doesn’t recover.  As long as there is continuous habitat surrounding disturbances in a place like the forest, the areas will likely return to their original state.

Decomposition in Action

Spring and fall are perfect times of year to see all sorts of mushrooms and fungi along the trails.  Not only do some look wild and exciting, but fungi also serve an important function in the forest where area trails are located.  Much of the dead leaves and fallen trees in the forest are broken down by these decomposers, in combination with many different bacteria; the result is nutrients that can be used by all kinds of other plants.

Look for decomposition in action! Find an old fallen log and feel how soft it is; do you see any mushrooms or shelf fungus growing on it?  Find and sort through an old leaf pile to find fungal hyphae; these are the string-like, white root-like structures of a fungus. Hyphae release enzymes that break down organic material.  In one square inch of forest soil, the hyphae provide almost one million miles of absorption!

Along our trails you can expect to see some distinct habitats and ecological communities:

Conifer forest

Dominated by white and red pine, firs, hemlock, tamarack trees, theses plants area also called evergreens as a general group.  All are known as soft woods, and have needles instead of leaves. Trees keep their needles for up to 4 years, before shedding them in favor of fresh needles.  Some are short and flat, some round and long, some in clusters, others like a bottle brush.

Deciduous Forest

These ecosystems are characterized by mature oak, maple, beech, and birch trees growing in stands or intermingled throughout the area. The trees in this part of the forest are responsible for our spectacular autumn colors.  Many are hardwood species.  These trees often grow slower than conifers and softwoods, making very old, tall examples an uncommon sight.

Wooded Wetlands

This area is formed under a unique combination of wet and dry conditions which results in mature trees in a zone with distinct wetland features.   Forest plants colonize and grow in the area for most of the year, but seasonal flooding changes the system such that only flood-tolerant species thrive and persist year after year.  For a great example of wooded palustrine wetlands visit our Mossy Spur Trail!

Salt Marsh

This part of the forest is bordered by the salt marsh. A salt marsh is a type of estuary, or a body of salt water created when a river runs into the ocean. The marsh is affected by the tides, so sometimes it is full of water, and other times it is a mud flat. The marsh is a great place to watch wildlife – herons, crabs, raccoons, and more!