Saturday July 27, 2013

CHESTERFIELD, N.H. -- Both the president and the history and education chairwoman of the Friends of Pisgah Council have stepped down in hopes of not endangering the organization’s future when they challenge the state over its decisions regarding Pisgah State Park.

Kathy Thatcher and Laurel Powell resigned, they both said with regret, from the council as a way of distancing themselves from the group, which they hope will be spared any penalty if they ruffle feathers at the state level.

The Friends of Pisgah is a group of volunteers organized to assist the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation with the planning, operation and maintenance of Pisgah, the Granite State’s largest state park. Both women stressed they are not opposed to logging in general.

Thatcher is in a battle with the state, which claims Pisgah is not a state park but a state reservation. She also feels the degree of timber harvesting New Hampshire is conducting at Pisgah violates the Park’s true purpose as a hub of outdoor recreation.

Powell said she resigned for similar reasons, but is coming at it from a different angle. As the history and education chairwoman, she has learned a great deal about Pisgah’s past -- and how harvesting has been affiliated with it for a long time. However, she is opposed to the amount of timber harvesting going on now because she believes it will affect the natural evidence of the Park’s storied history.

Powell said she needs to put her energies toward "insisting that the state give answers."

Thatcher said she will continue to be involved with the Park, just in a different capacity.

"I must continue my pursuit of challenging the state in their claim that Pisgah State Park is a state reservation," she said in a mass e-mail. "I have reviewed a great many documents over the last few years and believe that Pisgah is, indeed, a State Park, and should be managed accordingly. Because of my taking such a stand in challenging the state, it became apparent that I needed to resign from the Council."

Thatcher told the Reformer she fears the state could revoke the Friends of Pisgah’s rights to convene at the park if state officials and bureaucrats get angry with her mission.

Following Thatcher’s resignation, Vice President Gary Montgomery will serve as interim president until the Friends of Pisgah’s Board of Directors and membership vote in a November election.

"(Thatcher) has her cause that she believes in very deeply and she needs to pursue it," Montgomery said Thursday, adding that Thatcher also chose to resign because "not all of the Friends are on board with her."

Montgomery said some members of the Council do not have a problem with the timber harvesting, and he said the loggers are doing a clean job. He said they are selective-cutting, not clearcutting -- a controversial practice in which all trees in an area are uniformly cut down.

Nevertheless, the organization hired attorney Amy Manzelli to deal with the N.H. Department of Resources and Economic Development, and in 2012 she sent a letter to the National Park Service (NPS) regarding her clients’ worries that the state ignored federal obligations -- such as not harvesting timber -- pertaining to Pisgah.

According to a legal document sent from Manzelli to the NPS, New Hampshire acquired Pisgah (roughly 13,500 acres) through a grant from the federal government under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act. Some members of Friends of Pisgah have said the money came with certain conditions they believe have been violated.

New Hampshire is in the process of harvesting timber at Pisgah, which some say is prohibited by the terms of the fund. And Thatcher said the state has already marked the next area it will harvest.

But Kenneth Desmarais, an administrator in the department’s Division of Forests and Lands’ Forest Management Bureau, told the Reformer in October the potential to harvest timber in Pisgah was included in the original proposal to the federal government.

When asked why he thinks Friends of Pisgah has a problem with the harvesting, Desmarais said he wouldn’t pretend he can read their minds and mentioned the work being done is consistent with the terms of the fund. He said the department uses forest management for recreation and wildlife habitat maintenance.

Desmarais said some people hunt at Pisgah and others use it for bird watching. He said timber harvesting creates a habitat that increases the number of game animals to be hunted and the number of bird species that can be viewed. Montgomery echoed that sentiment, as he said many members of the Council are avid hunters and are excited about the extra space the harvesting will yield.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.