Umbagog Refuge-DRED Land Swap Could Remove ATV Trail Obstacle

May 23, 2012

Edith Tucker
The Berlin Reporter

WEST STEWARTSTOWN — Although the technical and legal details remain to be worked out, it appears that a land swap between the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge and the state Division of Forests and Lands would ensure connectivity through a 1/3-mile obstacle to create a through ATV trail to allow riders to go from Jericho Park in Berlin to Errol, as part of a Great North Woods loop. Umbagog Refuge manager Paul Casey explained the tentative plans to the county commissioners at their Wednesday meeting on May 16.

Harry Brown, speaking on behalf of the North Country OHRV Coalition, and chairman Burnham “Bing” Judd of Pittsburg both urged that these two public agencies try hard to complete the swap by Aug. 1.

The swap would trade acreage in Big Island State Forest for a super-easement on the southwest corner of the Umbagog NWR in Errol on the east side of the Seven Islands Bridge. A super-easement would be similar to what was worked out between the Conte NWR in its Pondicherry Division and the Audubon Society of New Hampshire that maintained fee ownership but turned its management over to the federal agency.

Surveys and appraisals, using federal “yellow-book standards,” must be done which can be time consuming at both the state and federal level. A categorical exclusion will be sought by the Refuge to avoid a time-consuming and costly National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) since this would not affect a large piece of land. The Errol Planning Board would also have to vote approval of the project.

“The ball’s in the state’s court right now,” Casey said. “This is not a recreational activity; this is an economic stimulus; it’s our new ‘factory,’” Brown said.

County commissioner Tom Brady of Jefferson said that he would like to find a way to connect his family-owned campground and other small tourist-oriented businesses on the Route 2 corridor to a through ATV trail from Gorham.

Brown urged the county commissioners to engage in marketing this new “factory” or “adventure.” It’s not the Club’s responsibility,” he said. “We need a one-stop shop.”

Brown floated the idea of having Coös County “apps” that would direct tourists to snowmobiling, kayaking, canoeing, hiking and ATVing, including lodging and dining options. He asked that the county consider forming a subgroup to look into the feasibility of countywide marketing. Brown did not think that the N. H. Grand effort was the appropriate venue.

The North Country OHRV Coalition has networked with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF) and state agencies to try to fit together the many pieces of the puzzle, including the availability of parking lots near downtowns, he explained. ATV trail planning and maintenance must become regularized, Brown said. “Volunteers, like me, will wear out,” he warned.

In other action, the commissioners embraced the concept described by John Scarinza, chairman of the Coös County Planning Board for the Unincorporated Places (UPs), of collecting public input on the county’s changing land ownership patterns. UNH Cooperative Extension has pledged to help develop a survey, compile data and hold three public hearings in the county’s three watersheds.

“We need to know what local residents and small landowners — those who are trying to eek out a living here — are feeling and thinking about how natural resources and the timber base are managed,” Scarinza said. ”Outreach will be key; the results will help inform revisions to the UP’s Master Plan.”

“The county commissioners support this unanimously,” Judd told Scarinza. “It sounds like you’ve done your homework.”

The commissioners also agreed that they would send a letter to DRED which now manages the state’s rest areas to inform the agency, including Commissioner George Bald, that the board is distressed that the Shelburne Rest Area on Route 2 would be reopened for the summer season.

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