Mt. Jasper Draft Plan Outlined to Planning Board

March 15, 2013
by Barbara Tetreault
Berlin Daily Sun

BERLIN -- The Berlin planning board Tuesday night received an overview of the draft natural resource inventory and management plan just completed for the Mount Jasper property.

The 36-page report was prepared by Watershed to Wildlife Inc., a natural resource and land use planning firm out of Whitefield hired last spring to assess the 203-acre city-owned parcel for wildlife habitat diversity, wetlands and natural resources.

The board also heard from Berlin school officials about plans to build an access road behind the high school in the eastern section of the property A planning board subcommittee, chaired by Sally Manikian, Backcountry Resource Conservation Manager for the Appalachian Mountain Club, was initially formed to look at placing an easement on the property. Manikian was successful in obtaining some funding for the project. But the subcommittee discovered the property already has a 91-acre overlay zone established by the city to protect the summit, a 27-acre easement the city approved as a swap for a development project, and 41 acres listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The subcommittee decided a natural resource inventory and management plan would be more valuable.

The report by John Severance and Elise Lawson of Watershed to Wildlife found the property is mostly forested with about 30 percent wetlands. It contains a diversity of habitant types including mature mix hardwood stands, vernal pools, headwater streams, some scattered mature red oak, and areas of mature white pine and eastern hemlock. The open rock outcrop ledges on top of the mountain offer panoramic views of the city. But the report notes there are other wildlife and nature views within the property. The site's proximity to the downtown and relatively easy access makes it an important natural resource for the city.

The property also has special cultural history centered on the rhyolite mine that was used by Native Americans to make tools. N.H. State Archaeologist Richard Boisvert has studied the site extensively and written that Native Americans who ranged as far as northern Maine used the stone. The site was added to the National Register in 1992. Subcommittee member Michael Eastman, who claims Abenaki lineage, said the site is very sacred to Native Americans.

The property includes a hiking trail built two years ago by the Berlin High JAP Program with access near the school's running track. There is an alternative access off Cates Hill. A major snowmobile corridor runs along the edge of the Dead River floodplain and over Mount Jasper to Cates Hill.

The report recommends maintaining buffers around wetlands, streams, and vernal pools and mapping soil types before allowing timber harvesting and additional motorized use. It also recommends maintaining and improving both the hiking and snowmobile trail and stressing a policy of carry in, carry out. The report suggests the city should consider opening up some additional views and placing benches in scenic locations.

Expanding the educational opportunities provided by the historical site was another recommendation. The report suggests the kiosk at the hiking trailhead could be expanded to include information on the history of the Abenaki culture and the Mount Jasper rhyolite mine. One recommendation is to hold an annual Mount Jasper event highlighting its history with speakers and hikes. A word of caution was included in the recommendations, noting the locations of sensitive materials and ancient worksites should not be displayed.

Eastman told the planning board he had two main concerns. He said he opposes any additional motorized trails on the property. Boisvert has come out against ATV use, especially within the 41 acres on the National Register. Eastman said he would like to see the access from the Cates Hill side improved so people not able to hike from the bottom could still access the ledges.

Eastman said he also opposes any removal of cultural material from the site. He said that is forbidden under the National Historic Register designation.

Planning board member Tom McCue said he liked the recommendations on partnering with the historical society and other organizations to educate the public about the site. He said he thought Watershed to Wildlife had done a good job with the draft report.

'Generally I was really pleased with it,' he said.

Berlin Community Development Director Pamela Laflamme urged board members to forward any comments on the draft to her by Friday. Once Watershed to Wildlife has finalized the report, the subcommittee will decide on a plan of action that will go to the full board and then to the city council for approval.

Superintendent of Schools Corinne Cascadden and Business Administrator Bryan Lamirande followed the presentation on Mount Jasper with a report on the school district plans for the section near the high school. The pair explained there is no access road around the entire high school property. The lack of such an access road creates a safety issue for fire protection and also for police and security since the forested area comes right up to the school. Cascadden said police report most vandalism at the school occurs in that area.

The school board wants to build an access road that would allow police to patrol that area of the building and provide access to fire trucks in case of a fire. Cascadden stressed the board is talking about an access road and not a thruway for traffic to circle the building.

Lamirande said the school is also talking about constructing a 2-bay garage to allow the school mechanic to work on vehicles with the rest of the buses stored near by in some form of open structure. The district would like a separate entrance, playground, and parking lot for the Mini Mounties Daycare Program as well as a small visitors parking area for the Mount Jasper trailhead. The final component is space for a wood pellet boiler to cut heating costs. Cascadden said the district would like to install a wood pellet boiler next to the existing oil boiler to help cut heating costs. She said the district tried to get grant money for a biomass facility but was unsuccessful.

The district hopes to issue a request for qualifications this spring to select an engineering firm to provide preliminary design and cost estimates for the access road, parking area and water and sewer line installation. Cascadden said once the district has the cost estimates, it will seek a grant to do the design and then use the design to seek funding to do the actual work.


Editors Note:  A planning board subcommittee is working on a management plan for the 203-acre parcel of city-owned

land that includes Mount Jasper. This view from the summit looks down upon the city (BARBARA TETREAULT PHOTO).




The draft Natural Resource Inventory and Management plan for Mount Jasper notes the panoramic

views from the ledges near the summit. The report states the ledges are positioned to provide views

not available elsewhere in the city. (BARBARA TETREAULT PHOTO).

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