By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
SHELBURNE — The North Country’s rugged beauty along Route 2 from the shores of the Androscoggin River up to the ridges of the Mohoosucs will be forever preserved, after the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests announced Monday the 3,700-acre conservation project is completed.
The combined total cost of the project is $3.4 million. The 2,670-acre Shelburne Valley Forest and 1,030-acre Bald Cap Peak Forest will be known collectively as the Mahoosuc Highlands Initiative.
They present spectacular views to travelers entering and leaving the Granite State just east of Gorham.
This will be the Forest Society’s second largest reservation, behind Monadnock at close to 5,000 acres.
Many worked in collaboration to make it happen, including the town’s conservation commission, the state’s LCHIP program and federal highway mitigation funds and money to create a protective buffer for the Appalachian Trail nearby, including The Conservation Fund which helped pull the project together.
It will benefit habitat, conservation, recreation and forestry.
Shelburne Conservation Commission Chair Katie Stuart said, “This project is important and compelling because in addition to connecting wildlife habitat on conserved lands between the Mahoosuc and the Carter-Moriah mountains, it preserves traditional public recreational access along Hogan Road, beloved by residents and visitors to our part of northern New Hampshire.”
The announcement comes just two days after the annual meeting of the Forest Society at The Rocks, its new North Country headquarters.
Jack Savage, president of the Forest Society, said this new acquisition is “a prime example of our conservation goals north of the notches: conserving working forest that provides sustainable forest products, enhances outdoor recreation, protects water quality, and links diverse ecosystems that combat climate change.”
The Shelburne Valley Forest property includes 24.3 miles of stream frontage and the headwaters of the Leadmine Brook. This critical cold water stream provides habitat for wild brook trout, a New Hampshire species of greatest conservation need.
The conservation effort also includes 1.6 miles of frontage on the Androscoggin River.
The property has cranberry bogs, red spruce swamps, a silver maple floodplain forest, as well as talus slopes and cliffs helping to support black bear populations, according to the press release issued by the Forest Society.
It also includes parts of the 84-mile Cross NH Adventure Trail and provides a protective buffer for the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.
Bald Cap Peak Forest directly abuts the Forest Society’s Peabody Forest with hiking trails of Peabody Brook, Middle Mountain, Giant Falls, and Bald Cap Peak.
The Bald Cap Peak Forest was acquired by the Forest Society in fee from The Conservation Fund. The Conservation Fund pre-acquired the land at the request of residents supporting public access and forestland use and the National Park Service to expand the buffer along the AT.
The other tract, the Mahoosuc Highlands, has been protected in perpetuity thanks to a partnership between The Conservation Fund, Mahoosuc Land Trust, the Town of Shelburne Conservation Commission and the Forest Society.
The New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment Program provided $500,000 to help conserve the Shelburne Valley Forest, and $400,000 to conserve the Bald Cap Peak Forest.
LCHIP Executive Director Paula Bellemore said the North Country’s growing outdoor-recreation economy is dependent on access to back-country land for recreation.
“Together these two forests secure that access, while also preserving critical habitat, protecting aquatic resources, and supporting working forestland,” she said. “The Mahoosuc Highlands Initiative checks every box for LCHIP, and we are pleased to have played a role in securing these expansive forests for conservation and recreation.”
Also, the state’s Executive Council recently authorized the New Hampshire Department of State Transportation and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, through the Aquatic Resources Mitigation Fund’s In-lieu Fee Program, was tapped to provide a mitigation payment worth more than $1.2 million dollars for the Shelburne Valley Project. It was approved at a recent Governor and Executive Council meeting.
“The Department is very pleased that the project’s wetland mitigation funds are being used to preserve the Shelburne Valley Forest for us all to enjoy,” states Timothy Dunn, project manager for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.
“Locating a mitigation site within the same watershed as a project is rare and even rarer still that the timing works out to be able to use those funds,” said Dunn. “The Department’s wetland mitigation fee is required to compensate for damage to wetlands caused by an upcoming project on NH Route 16 in Cambridge that will reconstruct the road and move it away from the Androscoggin River.
“We believe this mitigation is a win-win for all involved, the public gets both an upgraded road that is safer and better protected from the river, and a new protected forest straddling the Appalachian Trail.
An additional grant awarded to the Shelburne Valley Forest project was provided by the U.S. Forest Service Community Forest Program.
“The Forest Service is honored to help protect these diverse and important lands through the Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program. Keeping forests as forests provides a unique opportunity to ensure public access, recreational opportunities, protect vital water supplies and critical wildlife habitat,” said Regional Forester Gina Owens.
The Mahoosuc Land Trust also played a critical role in accepting the conveyance of a conservation easement on the Shelburne Valley Forest property required by one of the project funders.
The conservation easement on the 2,670-acre Shelburne Valley Forest abuts MLT’s 880-acre Shelburne Riverlands preserve which protects numerous islands and riverine habitat along the Androscoggin River.
“Mahoosuc Land Trust is thrilled to support the Forest Society’s acquisition which will ensure permanent, sustainable management of these lands, which have seen multiple ownership changes in the past three decades,” said MLT Executive Director Kirk Siegel. “This project complements many years of conservation work by MLT and others that recognize the significance of the Mahoosuc Mountains as a nationally significant resource in both New Hampshire and Maine.”
Additional funding was also provided by several private foundations including the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation’s Randolph Area Conservation Opportunity Fund, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Wild East Action Fund, and over 160 individual private donors.
Both properties are now owned by the Forest Society as a permanently protected forest reservation.
The lands will be managed for their long-term, multiple use objectives, including forest management, habitat protection, scenic value, and for public recreation and education. The lands will remain open to hiking, hunting, fishing and for future forest management.
“The Shelburne Valley Forest protects a significant ecological, economic, and recreational resource for the region,” states Brian Hotz, vice president of land conservation at the Forest Society. “We are thrilled to be seeing this project through to completion.”