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Wilmot is in the transition between the western highlands of New Hampshire, a range of mountains that extends south from the White Mountains to Massachusetts, and the hilly to flat country of the greater Merrimack River drainage. The landscape of the town includes uplands with elevations between 3,000 and 1,000 feet above sea level covered, with a mixed deciduous and coniferous forest at the lower elevations to a mostly coniferous forest of spruce and fir at the higher elevations. The lowlands, which descend to ~750 feet above sea level in Wilmot Flat, are often sandy or covered in wetlands because the drainages are disrupted by glacial and post-glacial deposits. Towering white pines dominate the sandier plains and the wetlands are full of red maples, alders, dogwoods, hollies, and sweet pepperbush.
The town includes USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 6a to 5a. Because colder air drains down off the uplands into the valleys, the warmest zone (6a) is in the north end of town and the coldest (5a) is in the lowlands through Wilmot Flat and the Frazier Brook valley, which runs down from Danbury center. Winter temperatures can reach -20°F in Zone 5a, -15°F in Zone 5b, and -10°F in Zone 6a. Most vegetables can be grown here, but don’t put most of them in the ground before late May.
In the Koppen classification, most of New Hampshire has a “warm-summer humid continental” climate (Dfb). This means the coldest month averages 27°F, all months have average temperatures below 71.6°F, and at least four months average above 50°F. There is no significant precipitation difference among the seasons; rain or snow falls an average of 133 days scattered through the year. Wilmot receives an average of 47 inches of rain each year, and part of this precipitation falls as 71 inches of snow. Truth be told, Wilmot is rainier, less sunny, colder, and snowier than most places in the United States. However, it is above 90°F only two days each year in Wilmot, which is cooler than most of New Hampshire. But the nighttime temperatures in January average only a little over 7°F, which is colder than most places in New Hampshire.
Wilmot is drained by several brooks, but there are no rivers in town. Historically, nearly all of these were put to work powering industry: saw mills, grist mills, shingle mills, a tannery, and factory that made shoe lasts. Most of these were shut down by the early 20th century and the hurricane of 1938 swept away nearly everything that remained, aside from parts of the foundations.
Cascade Brook flows through Wilmot Flat. There are three main branches. The USGS now applies the name to the north branch that originates at Pleasant Lake and flows through Chase and Tannery ponds to join Frazier Brook near Cilleyville. The Blackwater River is formed by the confluence of these two brooks. The Blackwater is a tributary of the Contoocook River, which in turn flows into the Merrimack River.
Many local survey maps label this branch of the Cascade Brook variously as the Blackwater River or Tannery Brook. The USGS shows the headwaters to be above the wetland pond (called Chandler Brook Wetlands on the 2018 USGS topographical map) in the Esther Currier Wildlife Refuge in New London. The brook flows into Pleasant Lake and then out again, drawing attention to the fact that Pleasant Lake was made larger at some point in the past by dam and berm at its southern end. That is, Cascade Brook once joined another brook that has now been drowned by the expanded lake.
This north branch has two named tributaries. Whitney Brook flows southward off the upland on the New London/Wilmot border east of Pleasant Lake and meets Cascade Brook in the woods somewhere east of and behind the Park n Go Market. Cassey Brook heads up near Pedrick Road, north of Wilmot Center, crosses both Wilmot Center and Shindagin roads, and flows into Tannery Pond.
The 1956 USGS topographical map labelled the south branch as Cascade Brook. This stream heads up in North Sutton in Cascade Marsh and flows through the “Low Plain,” an area of jumbled glacial topography on the New London/Wilmot border, under NH Route 11 near Kearsarge Valley Road and joins the other branch just below the Tannery Pond dam. The stream may have been called Collins Brook by some in the past. This branch has another unnamed tributary that flows down off the the northwest side of Mount Kearsarge from the vicinity of Cascade Road.
Kimpton Brook was once lined by the largest concentration of mills in town and was originally called “Center Brook.” The mills were located from Wilmot Center north to the Springfield line. The remnants of dams, flumes, and foundations can still be seen in many places. This stream heads up a mile northwest of the Wilmot/Springfield line in a small pond. It then falls through 1,000 feet of elevation over 7 miles to its mouth at Eagle Pond.
Kimpton Brook passes through two large wetlands that are mosaics of marsh and shrub-swamp. One of them is south and east of the junction of Stearns Road and NH Route 4A. In the early 1970s there was a proposed scheme to build a dam and create a lake there. This was never undertaken. The other wetland is immediately north of Wilmot Center and can be viewed from the Wilmot Public Library. Historical filling in the center created the wetland by narrowing the valley to a stone-lined flume that passes just west of the town hall. Flooding is increasingly common in the drainage and the brook has inundated the town hall several times. The flooding is exacerbated when beaver dams give way during storms.
Walker Brook begins on the upland between LaJoie and Old North roads near the Springfield line and flows southeast across North Wilmot into Frazier Brook between Roy Ford and Jack Wells roads. It is steeper than Kimpton Brook, falling 800 feet in less than four miles. Its mills were less numerous because it was harder to get anything out of the steep uplands it passes through. In contrast, Kimpton Brook is paralleled by the Fourth New Hampshire Turnpike, constructed in 1804 primarily to move goods across the state’s interior.
Frazier Brook passes through the small eastern extension of Wilmot that includes Eagle Pond. It occupies a prominent north-south oriented lowland that was the route for the Grafton Turnpike (now US Route 4) and the Boston-Maine railroad (now a rail trail). It falls only 140 feet over 6 miles before it becomes the Blackwater River below Bog Pond (behind the Circle K in Andover).
In New Hampshire there is no legal distinction between a lake and a pond, but any waterbody larger than 10 acres is deemed a public water body and is owned by the state. While there is nothing called a lake in town, there are six such ponds in Wilmot that qualify as public waterbodies. One of them is a mile walk from any road, but most of them are accessible by car and several have boat launches and offer good fishing. From north to south:
Piper Pond is entirely surrounded by private land, but there is a small island at the south end owned by the state, and the Town of Wilmot has an 100-foot-wide easement at the north end between Piper Pond Road and the shoreline. This allows members of the public to carry a small boat down to the water and put in. Piper Pond Road is an unpaved Class V road not maintained (plowed) in the winter. The pond is 34 acres with an average depth of 10 feet and a maximum depth of 15 feet. It is fished for bass and pickerel.
Butterfield Pond is just south of Piper Pond over a low divide, but it is approached from the south by a trail from Gardner Memorial Park on NH Route 4A on the Springfield line. The walk through the woods is approximately a mile, but many local people have brought rowboats and canoes to the pond and have left them there. Although they are not locked, this is not an invitation to use the boats. Please don’t. The land around Butterfield Pond is a mix of public and private land and a trail follows the shoreline all the way around. The pond is 12 acres, and it was originally formed by a mill dam, but is now held up by a beaver dam across the outlet for the old mill. Its average depth is only 6 feet but the maximum depth is 23 feet and its cold waters are home to brook trout.
White Pond (or Whites Pond) is adjacent to Camp Wilmot, but there is a state-owned boat ramp there that provides public access from North Wilmot Road. No motorized craft are allowed. This 15-acre pond has an average depth of 13 feet and a maximum depth of 29 feet. With somewhere deep and cold to retreat to, White Pond supports a population of brook trout. It is the deepest pond in Wilmot.
At 37 acres, Eagle Pond is the largest waterbody in town. Camps Kenwood and Evergreen are on the western shore and the Northern Rail Trail passes along the eastern shore. There is a state “car-top” boat ramp on the eastern shore accessible from US Route 4. With a maximum depth of 19 feet, it is home to bass and pickerel. The pond is known nationally because U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall retired to his family farm there and wrote many poems and essays that reference the pond and the surrounding landscape.
Chase Pond was formed by damming Cascade Brook to power a grist mill. While a descendant of the dam is still there, the mill is long gone, and the pond is completely surrounded by private homes with public access only where the town’s right-of-way (next to Village Road) reaches the shoreline at some points along the south shore. No motorized watercraft are allowed on the pond and boats are rarely seen there. In an unusual legal circumstance, the condominium association at the east end (it consists of single-family homes, not “condos”) owns all the land under the pond and other landowners’ boundaries are at the waterline. Its maximum depth is 14 feet.
Tannery Pond is named for an industrial building that stood next to the dam at the west end in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It has long since burned down. The pond was part of the tanning process; the hides were attached to floats and soaked in the water to soften them. Happily, this tannery does not seem to have employed mercury. The only blemish on the pond water is the fault of its Canada goose population, which causes occasional E. coli spikes. This is unfortunate as the Wilmot Community Association maintains a sand beach at the east end, accessible from Shindagin Road and open to all town residents. This 16-acre pond has an average depth of only 6 feet and a maximum depth of 14 feet. The town owns the dam and a small parcel of land around it, but it is easier to put a boat in the water at the beach to fish for the pickerel and bass that haunt the waters.
There are several smaller ponds scattered around Wilmot. Most of them are beaver ponds. One of the largest is accessible via the “Beaver Pond Trail” from North Wilmot Road, just north of Wilmot Center. This is part of the Sunapee-Ragged-Kearsarge (SRK) Greenway. Another pond in Langenau Forest (owned by the New Hampshire Society for the Protection of Forests) appears to be excavated (although it is also dammed by beaver). This pond is at the end of Messer Road and is one entrance to an extensive trail system that extends west into New London and east into Danbury.
Many of the mountains and hills in Wilmot are roches mountonee. This glacial landform has a smooth, more gradual slope on the side facing the approaching icesheet and a steep rugged slope on the other. When an icesheet advances over a mountain, it plasters moraine against the upglacial side, which smooths it. The rising terrain causes the glacial ice to compress and briefly melt at the bottom. The meltwater penetrates joints in the bedrock and refreezes. As the glacier moves inexorably forward, it “plucks” out pieces of the mountain along the joints weakened by the expansion of the refreezing ice. This creates the steep, rugged downglacier slope.
Mount Kearsarge (2,936 feet above sea level) lies along the southern boundary of the town; the summit itself is just over the line in Warner. Kearsarge is a monadnock, a type of mountain that stands alone, much higher than anything around it. While the lower elevations are composed of an igneous rock called granodiorite, widely encountered in the region, the peak area exposes several different metamorphic and igneous formations. Several acres of the summit are bare rock, which is deeply grooved in many places by glacial erosion. Large boulders being dragged beneath the icesheet dug straight trenches through the summit rock.
Much of the mountain is public land. The portion in Wilmot is called Winslow State Park and a gated public entrance is at the end of Kearsarge Mountain Road. There is a parking fee, paid at the entrance. This gate is closed between late October and April.
There is a picnic area and restrooms next to the parking lot. This was once the site of the historic Winslow House, a 19th century hotel that had a spectacular view. It burned to the ground for a final time near the turn of the 20th century. There are two trails to the summit from this location. The Barlow Trail is a more circuitous route and the Winslow Trail is more direct (and steeper). There is also a trail to the summit under the power line.
A road (also called Kearsarge Mountain Road) to a lot just below the summit begins in Warner and climbs a ridge on the southern side of the mountain. The drive brings you through Mount Kearsarge State Forest.
A third route to the summit is called the Lincoln Trail (some trail signs call it the Link Trail). It begins on Kearsarge Valley Road in Sutton and climbs the western slope over Black Mountain through land owned by the Forest Society and crossing the southernmost tip of Wilmot. The Lincoln Trail is part of the SRK Greenway, which descends the mountain along the Barlow Trail (above) and then winds down the northeastern slope toward Ragged Mountain.
Ragged Mountain (2,287 feet) dominates the skyline to the east, although most of it lies in Danbury and Andover. The mountain is mostly composed of metamorphic rock (schists).
New Canada Road, a town road that begins at US Route 4 near Eagle Pond, crosses the ridge of Ragged Mountain into Danbury. It ends near the Ragged Mountain ski resort on the northern slope. The SRK Greenway follows New Canada Road for 0.7 miles before winding through through the forest on private land. The trail follows the long ridge of the mountain eastward before descending into Andover and ascending Mount Kearsarge from there.
Bog Mountain (1,736 feet) is the highest summit within Wilmot and lies just north of Wilmot Center. The mountain is a promontory of granite surrounded by granodiorite. It is the famous Concord Granite, much quarried for building stone. Like Mount Kearsarge, it is a roche mountonee.
The summit is traversed by a section of the SRK Greenway called the Bog Mountain Trail. The eastern trailhead is at the end of Pinnacle Road and the western trailhead is on Stearns Road. Much of Bog Mountain is a privately-owned timber reserve that is also a wildlife management area overseen by the N.H. Fish & Wildlife.
There are numerous smaller hills in Wilmot. Three rise between Pleasant Lake in New London and NH Route 4A in Wilmot. They are from north to south: Philbrick (~1,620 feet), Emery (~1,560 feet), and Jones (~1,460 feet) hills. Grace and Granite Hill roads ascend either side of Jones Hill. Much of the land that covers these hills is privately owned, but there are public hiking trails across them. Many hills have only local names that do not appear on any modern map. When the land at the top of Granite Hill Road and along Messer Road was subdivided, it was called the “Tabor Hill Subdivision,” which perhaps refers to the high, relatively level prominence between Jones and Emery hills that overlooks Pleasant Lake.
Another cluster of hills extends north and east from Bog Mountain. Old English Hill (~1,520 feet) is essentially a shoulder of Bog Mountain. Farnum Hill (~1,540 feet) is across North Wilmot Road from Old English Hill, and Bannock Hill (~1,380 feet)and Eagles Nest (~1,460 feet) are near the Danbury line. There are vernacular names for some smaller prominences here too. The lower reaches of Farnum Hill climbed by North Wilmot Road are often called Teel Hill in local documents and records.
In some cases, only the road signs preserve the name of a hill. A ~1,600-foot peak between North Wilmot and Old North roads, home to an abandoned garnet mine, is not named on any map, but Hobbs Hill Road wraps around its east side. Similarly, a discontinued road between Tewksbury and Piper Pond roads is called Hanna Hill Road. Elkins Hill Road rises up from NH Route 11 near Pancake Street, but the names of the hills themselves don’t appear on maps.
Many summits in adjacent Springfield to the north and west are higher than any in Wilmot. Pillsbury Ridge rises to over 2,240 feet. A branch of Walker Brook descends from the eastern slopes of this mountain and finds its way across northern Wilmot.
Wilmot does not have a ski area within its borders nor does it have a large lake, two traditional places for recreating in New England. But nearby are Ragged Mountain Ski Resort in Danbury and Pleasant Lake, Little Lake Sunapee, and Lake Sunapee in New London. The impressive Mount Cardigan (3,155 feet) is only 35 minutes north. The mountains in the immediate vicinity are not especially high (Mount Kearsarge is half the height of Mount Washington), but they are criss-crossed by trails and covered in mature northern-hardwood and coniferous forests. As described above, many of the local ponds offer opportunities for good fishing.
Ragged Mountain has grown from a small ski area with a chair lift and a T-bar in 1965 into a all-season resort with restaurants, lodging, and facilities for weddings. The portion of the resort in Wilmot is the New Hampshire Mountain Inn on New Canada Road. It is only 8 minutes over the mountain to the ski lodge from the inn.
Mount Sunapee is 22 minutes from Wilmot Flat. It is another all-season resort, with skiing, biking, hiking, disk golf, and miniature golf. There are 67 miles of ski trails on the mountain.
Cross-country skiing is available at Langenau Forest, but the trails are not groomed and are shared with winter hikers. A 2.5-mile loop begins at the end of Messer Road, where a parking lot is plowed out in the winter.
The Sunapee-Ragged-Kearsarge Greenway is a 75-mile network of trails that connects all three mountains. The greenway was conceived in the mid- 1980s by a coalition that included the Ausbon Sargent Land Preservation Trust, the New Hampshire Society for the Protection of Forests (“Forest Society”), the Lake Sunapee Protective Association, and several local conservationists. The trails cross both public and private lands, usually through undeveloped or minimally developed land, occasionally using woods roads and rarely public roads.
The greenway crosses Wilmot in two places. The main trail ascends the north slope of Mount Kearsarge from the Cilleyville section of Andover. It descends the southwest slope over Black Mountain as the Lincoln Trail to Kearsarge Valley Road and continues into North Sutton as the Kearsarge Valley Trail.
A second greenway route crosses Wilmot from the west side of Ragged Mountain, follows New Canada Road, the Northern Rail Trail, and Eagle Pond Road before heading into the woods as the Beaver Pond Trail, crossing North Wilmot Road and going over Bog Mountain to NH Route 4A, where it climbes the north shoulder of Philbrick Hill from Schoolhouse Lane through the R.H. Webb Forest Preserve to the Langenau Forest.
At the ridge overlooking Pleasant Lake the SRK Greenway connects to a dense network of trails maintained by the New London Conservation Commission and the Forest Society.
See section on Mount Kearsarge for other hiking trails there.
The most rough-and-ready hiking is in the Emily & Theodore Hope Forest just over the town line in Danbury. There is a gated entrance on Roy Ford Road that leads to 4 miles of logging roads. The 372-acre parcel is administered by the Forest Society, which maintains it primarily for forestry and conservation, not recreation. As such, there are no marked trails and no trail maps. The preserve covers much of the southern portion of Moulton Hill.
The most recent hiking opportunity to become available to the public is the Cassey Brook Preserve, which is administered by the Ausbon Sargent Land Preservation Trust. The 201-acre parcel has former logging roads that are being maintained as trails. This land is an extension of the Low Plain, a broad area that extends between Pleasant Lake and Mount Kearsarge where large blocks of glacial ice melted in place and created a rumpled terrain covered with boulders and small wetlands.
The most informal routes for hiking in Wilmot are on town roads that have been discontinued subject to gates and bars. These are still legal easements held by the town, but they have not been maintained as roads for many decades. Examples include Fowler(town) Road off Piper Pond Road, WillowVue Road off Breezy Hill Road, and Mavicki Road off Grafton Road. These roads sometimes appear on maps and sometimes not.
See the N.H. Fish & Game site for details about fishing seasons in New Hampshire. Anyone older than 16 needs a license to fish in the state. They are available online and also sold at Gungewam Outfitters in South Danbury.
None of the ponds in Wilmot are stocked with trout. Butterfield and White ponds both support populations of native brook trout. The nearest stocked waterbodies are Kezar Lake in North Sutton and Little Lake Sunapee in New London, which are stocked by the state with brown and rainbow trout.
Most other ponds in town are home to bass and pickerel. See descriptions above under “Ponds”.
Pleasant Lake in New London has a population of landlocked salmon, as do Little Lake Sunapee and Lake Sunapee.
Kayaks and paddleboards can be rented at Pleasant Lake and kayak tours are available on the Blackwater River in Andover.
Kimpton and Walker brooks in Wilmot are suitable for white-water kayaking when they are running high enough. The nearest USGS gauge is on the Smith River in Danbury. Both are rated as Class IV. Kimpton Brook has flat-water intervals, but Walker does not.
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