Owascoag Nature Trail at the Seabrook Science & Nature Center
The Owascoag Nature Trail at Seabrook's Science & Nature Center was established in 1978 as an interpretive environmental education walk. The three-quarter-mile boardwalk allows visitors to enjoy the habitat of a salt marsh and the surrounding woodlands.
The trail's name, Owascoag (oh-ask-oh-wog), comes from the Native Americans who lived in this area many hundreds of years ago and means "land of many grasses." The habitats are diverse, but each area is perfectly interwoven with the next to form a balance of resources for wildlife.
On the Owascoag Nature Trail visitors can observe interesting habitats and other features, including:
- Forest – a typical New England mixture of deciduous, or leaf-bearing trees, such as maples and oaks, and needle-bearing trees, such as hemlocks and pines.
- Saltmarsh – an area of wet, acid soil, perfectly suited for small low-growth plants and shrubs like greenbrier and sheep laurel.
- Salt panne – a pool that is unique to the salt marsh with low spots that retain water after a high tide. Later, as the water evaporates, it leaves the water in the panne with a high concentration of salt. Only specialized salt-tolerant plants can grow along the panne's shore.
- Estuary – an "in-between" zone where fresh water from the land mixes with the ocean salt water. Acres of marsh, pools, pannes and creeks form the estuary, creating a unique blend of aquatic environments.
- Hemlock ravine – conifers, such as pines and hemlocks, among the oldest types of plants on earth.
- Beech grove – beech and oak trees, providing hearty nuts and seeds to small wildlife.
Ecologists from the Nature Conservancy of New Hampshire have discovered and documented the following four state-threatened plants and one critically imperiled plant thriving in this area.
- Salt marsh gerardia – this plant is one of 11 sub-populations in the Hampton River Estuary and grows in the salt marsh.While the plant is nothing special to look at for 364 days of the year, its bright, beautiful pink-to-purple bell-shaped flowers bloom in late summer. The beauty is fleeting as the flowers last for only one day.
- Missouri rock-cress – has had only four populations in New Hampshire in the last 25 years.
- Hackberry – a hardwood used to make furniture. In the fall, this tree produces an edible red-orange fruit that is said to be dry, but very sweet.
- American plum tree – this tree's fruit makes excellent jams and jellies, and the population on our nature trail is the first population recorded in New Hampshire in 25 years.
- Orange horse-gentain – also called wild coffee, this state-endangered wildflower has only two populations recorded in New Hampshire in the past 25 years. In earlier times, the berries were roasted and used as a coffee substitute. This is probably the most significant species found in the entire Seabrook Station wetland and upland forest area.
With the help of the New Hampshire Audubon Society, Seabrook Station built an osprey nest to attract nesting ospreys. The osprey is a threatened species, but with the help of state and federal organizations, the osprey has made a comeback in this region. Seabrook Station is an ideal location for ospreys, situated in a remote area and near open water that features abundant live fish. Plant personnel continue to work with the Audubon Society as part of the state's Osprey nesting program.