Pisgah State Park plan sparks concern

Posted
Thursday July 29, 2010

HINSDALE, N.H. -- In what has become almost a daily afternoon trek, Jeffrey Scott stops in the trail head parking lot at Kilburn Pond right in the middle of Pisgah State Park.

Scott, a resident of Spofford and organizer with Defenders of Pisgah, puts a note under the windshields of all the vehicles in the lot, requesting the assistance from all hikers, naturalists and park enthusiasts to lobby the forests division to amend a proposed management plan for the New Hampshire' largest state park.

While strolling around the lot, he finds vehicles from neighboring Vermont and Massachusetts coming up to use the park's multi-use trails. Through his campaign, Scott hopes to draw attention to the new plan that he says will adversely affect the beauty of Pisgah.

"There are talks about opening more trails (very steep ones at that) to mountain bikes and even the possibility of opening gate to ATVs to allow a through-road as well as the possibility of more logging," Scott said in his note. "We say keep it as it is, and we need your help."

Pisgah is a 13,361-acre state reservation spanning the towns of Chesterfield, Hinsdale and Winchester. The forested terrain includes six mixed recreational use trailheads for hikers, hunters and motorized vehicles.

The Division of Forests and Lands is working with a diverse group of stakeholders on developing a complex management plan for the property. State officials released a 147-page plan complete with detailed information on Pisgah's history, its natural and cultural resources, public access and management direction/implementation, but also proposed additional mountain bike and equestrian trails as well as closing the visitors center for public use.

Scott and a number of local conservation groups have joined with state lawmakers to bring more public attention to the plan.

Democratic legislators William Butynski of Hinsdale and Timothy Butterworth of Chesterfield have pushed for a survey of Pisgah's level of use among the different recreational exertions.

"It seems to me those are crucial informative items that are not in the plan," Butynski said. "In some ways, frankly, the plan is excellent in terms of the technical aspect, but on the negative side, it needs a lot more done for surveying current use in the park."

The forests and lands division must collect that data and incorporate it into how the park is developed in the future while creating more dialogue among New Hampshire citizens, he added. "My goal is to have folks become so engaged with the plan and with the draft recommendations contained therein that they will act to provide valuable feedback to the state."

Butterworth agreed, saying in a letter to the division the state needs to conduct sufficient technical studies to measure current activity levels.

"Because any kind of human use will cause some damage, any new or expanded development should come with a business plan that estimates the costs of the new development, the expense of the supervision and continued maintenance, and guarantees that sufficient revenues are generated to supervise, maintain and control those activities and to remediate any damage done to the environment," he said.

"I don't see these kinds of plans in place at this time, and I can only assume that any new uses encouraging more people and more intensive impact (horse hooves, wheeled vehicles, etc.) will have a negative outcome," Butterworth added.

The Division of Forests and Lands, a branch of the Department of Resources and Economic Development, is soliciting public input on the Pisgah Management Plan. The plan is accessible at the division's website -- www.nhdfl.org.

Within the management plan, the department recommends converting the visitors center into an administrative office and residence for a seasonal forest ranger, and close it for public use. The department also complimented accepting the nearby barn as a gift and permit local activist groups to use it for exhibits and programming while officials used a lower level of the structure for storage and other administrative uses.

But the plan also calls for the state to work with local clubs to provide assistance on the trails, improve signage around the park and informational/educational materials within Pisgah.

The Reformer contacted several state park specialists and media contacts, but did not hear from a representative prior to presstime.

Friends of Pisgah, a volunteer group that assists in maintaining trails in the park for more than 20 years, has blasted the new management plan as short-sighted.

Friends President Kathryn Thatcher of Chesterfield said the measure to close the volunteer-built visitors center is a slap in the face to conservation groups.

The center, completed through the use of local donations and labor, would become a part-time ranger station, leading to a lack of oversight presence in the park, she said. "In the end, we hope that we can pass this treasure of an undisturbed property to future generations."

Laurel Powell, a Hinsdale resident and member of the Friends of Pisgah council, works at the visitor center on the weekends. She provides park tours and tells guests about the park's history and natural resources.

Like Butynski, she was impressed with the technical information within the plan. "It's an amazing document ... that part of it is very, very impressive."

However, Powell said she gets very emotional when the state plans to cut into her resources and close the center.

"I'm very upset with that," Powell added. "I would feel like when visitors came, I would only be able to do half the tour."

In an editorial letter, Paul Rodrigue of the Brattleboro/Keene chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, stated that the group calls for land preservation, but mountain biking is not the same as other effects such as ATV use and logging.

"Numerous studies indicate that mountain biking has no more impact upon trail wear than hiking does. In fact, mountain bikers have become one of the largest groups of stewards of public lands and trail systems and the [local chapter] hopes to play an increased role in helping to preserve Pisgah State Park," said Rodrigue.

According to Scott, it is incorrect to say bicycles create no more impact than hikers, especially on Pisgah trails where he has seen the damage caused by those mountain biking.

"That's just not true," he said. "We are mountain bikers ourselves, but we don't agree with where they are trying to permit mountain bikes to go."

The mountain bike group has offered to find ways to raise money for the park to offset costs.

Residents concerned about the future of the park may send their comments to the forests and lands division before Aug. 5.

The address is the following: Pisgah State Park Management Plan, to director, N.H. Division of Forests and Lands, P.O. Box 1856, Concord, N.H. 03302-1856, or e-mail comments to pisgah1@dred.state.nh.us.

Friends of Pisgah will also host a story circle on Tuesday, Aug. 3, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Hinsdale Community Center for locals to share their memories and hopes about the park's future.

For more information, contact Powell at 603-336-7479 or via e-mail at lpowellbks@comcast.net.

Chris Garofolo can be reached at cgarofolo@reformer.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.


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