Strangest Places Physical Geography: Dr. Cecil Keen, Jan. 2018  


Geographic Description: Described as "the most toxic hamlet in the world," the Lopstick trailer park in northern New Hampshire disappears into a 600-square-mile maze of emerging and receding lagoons, channels, and islands.

Lopstick, in the midst of a former superfund site, is New Hampshire's most polluted semi-residential area. First Connecticut Lake, just south of the hamlet, floods The Glen delta adjoining Lopstick. Periodically the trailer park just north of the flood plain is submerged in a blue-green wilderness of chemicalized water, sprouting once-dormant reed beds and twisted saplings.

It is a natural refuge and giant water hole for the larger animals of northern New Hampshire. The polluted water gives rise to many forms of rapidly evolved and unexpected life forms this far north: There are crocoducks basking on the sands, and gigantic water bears, swamp deer, and wild turkeys feeding on the vegetation.

Lopstick is connected to First Connecticut Lake via the Ramblewood River. However, recent arid conditions have meant that these water courses are now tenuous. The geology of Lopstick is still inherently unstable, as faults move and earth tremors occur. Channels become filled with rubble and debris, and massive plugs of stinkweed interrupt their flow. The pattern of drainage in Lopstick will continue to change.

Although the total drainage pattern in Lopstick is complex, there is an underlying simplicity in the slow and regular pulse of polluted water that flows each year from the lake. During dry periods, it is estimated that the delta covers about 616 square miles, but in wetter years, with a heavy annual flood, the lake's waters can spread over 666 square miles. Deep water occurs in only a few channels, while vast areas of reed beds are covered by only a few inches of water.

Lopstick offers an oasis of habitat for prolific mutated plant and animal life in a personified state of "imbalance in nature." Two plants dominate Lopstick's perennial swamps: stinkweed, a giant sedge (type of grass) which grows "naturally" only in Lopstick, and demon spawn palm. Stinkweed, being a herbaceous species, responds more quickly to changes in water level than the demon spawn, which is a woody species. The full extent of the perennial swamps along the Ramblewood River can be seen by the distribution of the demon spawn, which extends much further north than the stinkweed. Conversely, stinkweed extends much farther south than the demon's spawn. This indicates the expansion of perennial swamps during this century.

Inhabiting the waters of the lake are an estimated 1 million fish of almost 80 mutated species. The most abundant, three species of bream, are preserved from excessive predation by crocoducks feeding on the dogfish that would prey on the bream. Gigantic water bears flatten paths through the stinkweed on their nocturnal forays to graze, allowing easier access for the platypus, swamp deer, and wild turkey to traverse across the swamps during their daytime migrations. Belts of forest fringe the swamps with tall pine trees giving shade to large herds of unidentified herbivores. Beyond the forest fringe the landscape forms an open savanna park land, and in these drier areas the greatest concentrations of animals are accompanied by the predator families: what looks like lions, tigers, jackals, hyenas, and feral cats. It is in these forest fringes and savanna grasslands that what appear to be elephants and giraffes can be found browsing. Lopstick is a robust and unique example of dynamic disequilibrium at work in nature.