In 1991, Congress passed the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) Act (P.L. 102-212). The act authorized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to establish a national fish and wildlife refuge to protect the diversity and abundance of native species within the Connecticut River watershed. The Nulhegan (pronounced Nul-HEE-gan) Basin in northeastern Vermont was identified as a high priority Special Focus Areas within the watershed. The Basin was considered to possess high biological values including the presence of rare species, wetlands, and contiguous migratory bird habitat.
In 1997, Champion International Corporation announced that it would sell approximately 132,000 acres of land in Essex County, Vermont. A non-profit conservation organization, The Conservation Fund, successfully bid on the property and subsequently passed it along to agencies and a timber company. Because the Nulhegan Basin was identified as a Special Focus Area for the Refuge, the Service was offered ownership of 26,000-acres within the Basin. The purchase of this area by the Service on July 21, 1999 marked the establishment of the Nulhegan Basin Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources acquired about 22,000 acres adjacent to the Basin to form the West Mountain Wildlife Management Area. Essex Timber Company purchased the remaining 84,000 acres that surrounds the federal and state properties, subject to protective easements that restrict future development and encourage sound and sustainable forestry practices. The combination of ownerships and easements on the 132,000 acres will provide long-term conservation of important wetland and upland wildlife habitats as well as preserve traditional uses of the land. back to top
The Nulhegan Basin was formed when a pool of magma formed within existing metamorphic rock. The magma cooled into a relatively soft granitic rock called quartz monzonite. Once erosion wore away the cap of metamorphic rock, the softer monzonite eroded more rapidly than the surrounding metamorphic rock. This resulted in a relatively flat circular interior area, roughly 10 miles in diameter, surrounded by hills. Sand and gravel were later deposited in the bottom of the Basin by melting glaciers.
Located just a few miles south of the Canadian border, the Nulhegan Basin's vegetation most closely resembles that of the northern Appalachian Mountains but also contains elements of the boreal forest that occurs farther to the north. The Basin is predominately a forested habitat interspersed with streams and various types of wetlands such as shrubby peatlands, bogs, and beaver flowages.
Northern hardwood forest, dominated by sugar and red maple, beech, and yellow and paper birch, cloak the mountains of the Basin rim and the larger hills of the Basin interior. Quaking and bigtooth aspen also are common. Notably absent in the Basin are any oaks — another indicator of the more northern character of the forest. The Basin bottom is dominated by spruce-fir forest. Red and black spruce and balsam fir are the principal trees in these forests. Tamarack, northern white cedar, black ash, and speckled alder also occur commonly in the Basin, but are restricted to the wetland areas.
There are several rare plants of Vermont found on the refuge lands including bog sedge, shining rose, drooping bluegrass, ligonberry, and the State-endangered auricled twayblade. Most of these plants are associated with bogs and other peatlands common in the refuge. There are currently no plant species known to occur on Nulhegan Basin Division lands that are federally-listed as endangered or threatened.
The Nulhegan Basin is the primary watershed of the Nulhegan River, an important tributary of the Connecticut River. The main course of the Nulhegan River runs adjacent to the south boundary of the Division. Three of the four major tributaries of the Nulhegan River — the North, Yellow, and Black Branches, run south through the Division. A network of smaller streams feed these branches. The 68-acre Lewis Pond is located in the northwest portion of the Division. Elevations in the Division range from approximately 1,000 feet to 2,800 feet above sea level. back to top
The Nulhegan Basin is well known as a remote landscape with an abundance of wildlife. A wide array of bird species including black-backed woodpecker, black-and-white warbler, black-throated blue warbler, black-throated green warbler, blackburnian warbler, blackpoll warbler, Canada warbler, boreal chickadee, black-capped chickadee and many other migratory songbirds can be seen and heard in the forests of the Division. American woodcock, ruffed grouse, waterfowl, and various birds of prey also can be commonly observed. A variety of mammals including moose, black bear, white-tailed deer, snowshoe hare, red squirrel, beaver, fisher, and coyote commonly occur on the Refuge. Reptiles observed on the Division include the garter snake, redbelly snake, ringneck snake, common snapping turtle, painted turtle, and the State-significant wood turtle. A variety of amphibians can be seen or heard around wetlands including spring peeper, mink frog, green frog, wood frog, pickerel frog, gray tree frog, and bullfrog and several salamander species. Brook trout, bullhead, chain pickerel, chub, dace, and common shiners inhabit the Nulhegan River and its tributaries. Numerous insect and other invertebrate species also are found on the Division.
More than 150 vertebrate species have been documented on the Nulhegan Basin Division. Although no federally-listed threatened or endangered species have been encountered, three birds that occur on refuge lands (spruce grouse, common loon, and osprey) are classified as endangered by the State of Vermont. In fact, Vermont's only viable breeding population of spruce grouse is mainly located on the Refuge. back to top
Amphibians and Reptiles of the Nulhegan Basin Division
Birds of the Nulhegan Basin Division
Birding Brochure for the Nulhegan Basin Division
Fishes of the Nulhegan Basin Division
Mammals of the Nulhegan Basin Division back to top
Hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, environmental education, and interpretation are priority public uses on national wildlife refuges as defined by Executive Order 12996 (March 25, 1996) and the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, as amended by the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 (Public Law 105-57). Visitors have an opportunity to experience each of these at the Nulhegan Basin Division. back to top
The Nulhegan Basin Division currently provides opportunities for hunting according to state regulations. A Division-specific hunting and fishing plan will be developed at a future time. The Northeast Kingdom is recognized as the premier region for harvestable wildlife in the state. This region of Vermont is particularly noteworthy for: large white-tailed deer, the highest moose densities, 45% of the state black bear harvest, and some of the best ruffed grouse and American woodcock hunting. Snowshoe hare and coyote also support abundant hunting opportunities in this remote setting. With an abundance of game, and fewer roads and development than other areas, the Northeast Kingdom offers some of the best hunting opportunities in Vermont. Hunters bring a good deal of trade to local businesses during the season. back to top
The Nulhegan Basin Division currently provides opportunities for fishing according to state regulations. The Northeast Kindgom is well known as Vermont's top region for trout and land-locked salmon. The North Branch of the Nulhegan River and the Moose River of the former Champion lands are particularly recognized for brook trout. Of the 295 lakes and ponds statewide, 80 are located in the Northeast Kingdom; 13 of these are within the former Champion lands (3 of these are rated as "wilderness like") and one is located on the Division. Many streams, rivers, and ponds are stocked with brook trout and aquatic studies performed on Nulhegan Basin Division and West Mountain Wildlife Management Area in 2000 indicate that a wild, self-sustaining brook trout population may exist in some of these waters as well. Lewis Pond and the North and Black branches on the Nulhegan Basin Division also offer opportunities for brook trout fishing. back to top
Wildlife Observation and Photography
Visitors may view and photograph wildlife in a variety of settings such as while driving on the forty miles of gravel roads, walking along wooded pathways, following stream courses, or while hiking in the deep woods. Many areas on the Division provide scenic vistas of the Nulhegan Basin and the surrounding mountains. Visitors can access the Division's lands and vistas by vehicle, snowmobile (in winter), or on foot (or cross country skis or snowshoes in winter) to enjoy wildlife observation and photography.
Photographers are not allowed to use disruptive techniques that will disturb wildlife (e.g., baiting, playback tapes, or electronic calls). back to top
Environmental Education and Interpretation
Environmental education takes place when schools, colleges and universities, or environmental education organizations visit Nulhegan Basin Division as part of a course of instruction. Currently no organized, curriculum-based programs are provided at Nulhegan Basin Division. Programs are being developed for on-site and off-site environmental education and outreach. The wheelchair-accessible Mollie Beattie Bog Interpretive Boardwalk provides visitors with information on bog habitat and wildlife. back to top
The public is welcome to visit the Division year-round. Hiking is allowed anywhere on Division lands (including roads and logging trails), but fires and overnight camping are not allowed. All dogs must be accompanied and under control, and not pose a threat or nuisance to Refuge wildlife or visitors. Bicycling, all terrain vehicles, and horses are also not allowed. Research and any other activities not listed here require the issuance of a Special Use Permit. Please contact the Refuge Manager for more information. back to top
Refuge office hours are Monday-Friday 8:00am - 4:30pm. The public is welcome to visit the Visitor Contact Station in Brunswick, Vermont, daily from 8:00am to 4:30pm. Admission to the exhibits is free and there is a scenic overlook and one-mile interpretive nature trail adjacent to the contact station. Visitors can ask the staff questions and pick up various brochures, fact sheets, road maps of Nulhegan Basin Division, state hunting and fishing regulations, and other information about opportunities in the Nulhegan Basin area.
Construction of the new headquarters/visitor contact station was completed in the summer of 2006. There is a scenic overlook behind the building that provides visitors with a bird's-eye view of much of Nulhegan Basin and offers opportunities to photograph the landscape. The Nulhegan River Trail, a rustic, 1-mile loop departs from the overlook.
Because firsthand observation of species in their habitats leaves a strong impression on visitors seeking wildlife, the guestbook/logbook at the visitor contact station will enable them to share their observations with others who read it. Visitors will also be encouraged to share their observations of wildlife directly with Nulhegan Basin Division staff and other visitors. These tools help us monitor and evaluate wildlife observation/photography activities.
The division contains forty miles of gravel roads, which are open for driving during much of the year except during winter and mud season. During the winter, the roads are not plowed, but a network of groomed trails is available for properly registered snowmobiles to use (VAST TMA required). During the spring "mud" season, the gates are locked to prevent damage to the roads and stuck vehicles! The roads are usually open by Memorial Day. Call 1-877-811-5222 for the current status of the roads.
Mollie Beattie Bog Accessible Boardwalk
Mollie Beattie Bog (the Bog) is a destination for visitors because of its exceptional wildlife viewing, photography, and interpretive opportunities. The self-guided, newly renovated, 200-foot, fully wheelchair-accessible boardwalk and trail includes signs illustrating bog formation, the interesting rare plants that inhabit the black spruce bog area, and the legacy of the late Mollie Beattie, a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and a Vermont native. The Bog has been recognized at a state significant site. It is among the most significant black spruce woodland bogs in Vermont. It contains one of the largest populations of the rare bog sedge (Carex exilis) found in the state. The state endangered spruce grouse (Dendragapus canadensis) and rare gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis) can be also seen in the Bog. It is home to the rare Arctic jutta butterfly (Oeneis jutta). Wildflower photographers come to the Bog in search of the sundew (Drosera spp.), yellow, white or pink lady slippers (Cypripedium spp.) pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea) and other northern bog plant species. Collecting any of these plants or invertebrates is not allowed. Many other species including moose and bear can be seen and photographed from the trail.
The Nulhegan River Trail is a 1-mile loop departing from the visitor contact station. This is a rustic trail with stone steps and "bog" bridges. Additional trails are planned for the future. However, in the meantime, visitors may hike the Division's miles of roads and logging trails.
Three informational kiosk are located on the Division (one at each entrance). Seasonal information at kiosks will alert visitors to good wildlife viewing spots, highlight regulations, and alert visitors to safety precautions (e.g., recommend wearing blaze orange while in the woods during hunting season). back to top
The Friends of the Nulhegan serves as an advocate and supporter of the Nulhegan Basin Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. Visit their website to learn more: www.friendsofthenulhegan.com. back to top
Follow Rt. 105 approximately 10.5 miles. The red visitor contact station will be to your left.
From Newport and points west: Follow Rt. 105 east to Island Pond. Continue east on Rt. 105; the visitor contact station will be on your left in approximately 10.5 miles.
From Bloomfield, VT, and points east: Take Rt. 105 west. The visitor contact station will be on your right in approximately 5.3 miles. back to top