Eastern Region Viewing Area

LOCATION and PHOTOS

Main Ranger Station entrance and new viewing gardens.
Main Ranger Station entrance and new viewing gardens. Photo by Christopher Mattrick.

Side view of Saco Ranger Station viewing garden.
Side view of Saco Ranger Station viewing garden. Photo by Christopher Mattrick.

Woodland wildflower interpretive sign.
Woodland wildflower interpretive sign. Photo by Christopher Mattrick.

Saco Ranger Station Viewing Garden

Forest: White Mountain National Forest

District: Saco Ranger District

Description: The Saco Ranger Station located in Conway, NH at the eastern end of the Kancamagus Highway, a National Scenic Byway, is the most visited ranger station on the White Mountain National Forest. The original landscaping, installed in the 1980’s consisted of mostly non-native species including many now considered invasive. The invasives have been removed over the past decade and in 2008, a garden planting highlighting species that visitors may encounter while walking the numerous miles of trails found on the Saco Ranger District was developed.

During the summer of 2008, the garden area was reclaimed and converted from lawn by removing sod, stumps, roots, and rocks. The soils were appropriately amended with compost and an automatic irrigation system installed to ensure the plants would receive appropriate levels of watering. The garden area is roughly broken into three very broad growth zones based on the requirements of species occupying woodland, edge or transitional areas, and open or meadow sites. These areas in the garden generally mimic habitats found in the wild, but due to their extremely small size do not offer the values of wild habitat to plants or wildlife. In early September, over 1,000 pots of ninety-two species were planted. All species are native to the White Mountains and include examples of native grasses, forbs, ferns, shrubs, and trees, such as red trillium, maidenhair fern, Pennsylvania sedge, beaked hazelnut, flat-topped aster, Canada lily, witherod viburnum, and steeplebush.

An attractive educational feature of this garden is the presence of three interpretive panels providing information on woodland wildflowers, ferns, and meadow wildflowers. These signs were originally developed by the New England Wild Flower Society and noted botanical illustrator Gordon Morrison. Each sign highlights roughly twenty species and their pollinators, and provides an overview of that habitat type. Additionally, each individual species planting is signed with the common and scientific name, range of the species, and a list of potential pollinators of that species.

Corylus americana
Fall foliage of American hazelnut (Corylus americana). Photo by Amanda Weise.

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae
New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae). Photo by Amanda Weise.

Hamamelis virginiana
Flowers of witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana). Photo by Amanda Weise.

Helianthus pauciflorus
Stiff sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus) and pollinator. Photo by Amanda Weise.

The garden is a valuable resource to visitors to the Saco Ranger District and serves as a nectar source for local pollinators, some of which may be struggling. Furthermore, because the plants growing in the garden are of local genetic type, the seed they produce will be collected, dried, and stored to be used on restoration projects on the White Mountain National Forest.

Directions: The Saco Ranger District can either be reached from the Kancamagus Highway (route 112) or route 16.

From the Kancamagus Highway: From interstate 93, take exit 32 onto route 112 East. Follow this route for nearly its entire length. The Ranger Station is located on the north side of route 112, just prior to the eastern terminus of route 112 and its intersection with route 16 in Conway, New Hampshire.

From Route 16: Follow route 16 to its intersection with Route 112 (Kancamagus Highway) in Conway, New Hampshire. Turn west on route 112. The Ranger Station entrance is located immediately on the right (north side of the road). The gardens are located in front and to the west of the Ranger Station office.

Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, White Mountain National Forest, Saco Ranger District.

Closest Town: Conway, New Hampshire.