North Country
7:45 am
Mon December 31, 2012

North Country Towns Work On A Community Forest

The proposed Cooley-Jericho Community Forest in Easton flanks the White Mountain National Forest.
Credit Courtesy of Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust

A group of North Country residents is much closer to creating a community forest alongside the White Mountain National Forest.  

Now they’re beginning to think about what kind of playground it should be.

For years people in the western part of the White Mountains –have admired an 840-acre tract of privately owned land.

It is located in Easton, which abuts the better-known towns of Sugar Hill and Franconia.

From its ridgeline there are fabulous  views of the nearby White Mountain National Forest.

Find just the right spot and Pearl Lake is framed by trees.

Some of the forest was logged about a decade ago, opening areas for wildlife and making it a little easier for hikers to get around.

The admiration, however, has been tinged with worry.

There here have long been concerns about its potential development, says Rebecca Brown, the executive director of the Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust.

“It is the largest un-fragmented, meaning there are no roads going through it, highest elevation privately owned land in this region and it is adjacent to the national forest.”

Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

Standing in the Easton Town hall selectman Ned Cutler unfolds a map of the tract.

And, he points out what could have been: The landowner’s proposal for a road several years ago.

“And, then it would traverse the whole property from north to south with a couple of switchbacks in it.”

The owner later reconsidered and agreed to sell the land for $600,000 – less than its appraised value - so it can be preserved.

So, the Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust has been working with residents of Easton, Sugar Hill and nearby towns to buy what they are calling the Cooley – Jericho Community Forest.

While the group still has money to raise, it is also looking ahead to a looming task, says Ed Craxton, a Dalton resident and member of the conservation trust.

“I think the biggest challenge right now is to structure what the management of that property would look like.”

During a recent meeting in Easton organizers were already starting to figure that out, including what recreational opportunities there should be.

Sound of meeting…

Organizers say a major challenge is how to manage the community forest.
Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

In the adjacent White Mountain National Forest  federal officials decide the types of recreation allowed.

But in the Cooley – Jericho Community Forest  those decisions would be decided by the community, says Rebecca Brown.

“Well, the beauty of a community forest is that it is managed by people in the community for the benefit of everyone. “

“We own it, we control it. We don’t have to go anywhere else seeking permission.”

Possibilities include trails for hiking and cross-country skiing, horseback riding and perhaps snowmobiles.

One of those attending the Easton meeting is Suzanne Beauchesne  of Franconia. 

She’s been working on the community forest and she favors mountain-bike trails.

“There is a fair group of mountain bikers around here who like long-distance, epic rides, like four or five hours from one point to another. So, this is a ridgeline that is connected to a lot of other trails that we have in the area.”

Down the line there will also be a a timber harvest and the  profits will  be shared among the communities supporting the project.

But there’s more money to be raised.

In addition to the $600,000 purchase price  about $50,000 more is needed for legal and other costs.

This month the group got $40,000 from the state’s Land and Community Heritage Investment Program.

Last month the effort got a significant boost with a $100,000 grant from the Open Space Institute, which is based in New York City.

But the biggest pop came earlier this year: A $372,000 grant from the US Forest Service’s Community Forest Program.

But that still leaves the project about $100,000 short with a deadline of next June.

For NHPR News this is Chris Jensen