The question of cleaning the Town Forest of debris and small trees returned to the Town Council on Monday night, and eventually ended up in the lap of Town Manager Kevin Smith.
Heritage Commission Chairman Arthur Rugg and Cemetery Sexton Kent Allen, who had earlier volunteered to do the cleanup work, brought the matter back to the Council.
Rugg said that as far back as 1985 at Town Meeting, the town was allowed to acquire the land surrounding the Town Common, valued at $195,000, and accepted a portion of that land as a donation from the Mack family.
Rugg said that in 1986 as a “freshman selectman,” he recalled a meeting with the Conservation Commission to discuss using the parcel as a place for walking trails, and an article was presented at Town Meeting to see if the Conservation Commission would be responsible for managing forested land, with any proceeds going to a conservation fund for that purpose.
“In 1987 the town adopted an article that gave rise to the Historic District Commission and in the early ‘90s, according to state statute 674:44-A, that gave rise to the Heritage Commission, which allowed the Heritage Commission and the Historic District Commission to be one and the same regarding their respective duties,” Rugg said.
At that time, Londonderry had three town-owned properties – the town forest, the town wood lot and the Morrison House property, Rugg said, adding that the 2004 and 2013 Master Plans both encourage public use of town-owned properties.
He reminded the council that Allen had approached the Heritage Commission regarding cleaning the Town Forest. “I think that Ken’s proposal of doing some cleaning is a good idea as it gets people in there,” Rugg said.
He added the idea of cleaning the forest of debris and fallen trees, dead wood and branches, would help make the forest more usable.
Rugg also said he had talked with fire officials, who said the forest should be cleaned to prevent any personnel who had to enter the forest to fight a fire from tripping and falling.
The town manager, however, said the town’s forester had explained that Londonderry is doing what it is supposed to do in terms of cleaning trees that are approaching the end of their lives to make way for smaller, younger trees to flourish.
Smith added that Primex, the insurance carrier for the town, and the town attorney, Mike Ramsdell, both said from a liability standpoint that volunteers should not be used to do the work. Ramsdell said volunteers should not be used even if they signed a waiver.
Councilor Jim Butler said he had visited the town forest and could see the fire department’s concerns. He noted the town now has five properties – the Town Common, the town forest, the historical property on Pillsbury Road, the Grange Hall and the town pound.
Councilor Tom Freda asked what the Heritage Commission position was on town property ownership.
“I think we would like to work with the Conservation Commission with that,” Rugg said.
Rugg said if the properties were opened up, they would pose less of a liability problem.
Freda asked what Rugg thought it might cost and Rugg said he had no idea.
“That’s why we use volunteers and we have a very good volunteer in Kent, and he helps us out doing the cleaning,” Rugg said.
“Well, it looks like we can’t have volunteers,” Freda responded.
Smith said he thought use of volunteers depended on what activities they would be doing. He said volunteers using wood chippers and chain saws brings up liability issues.
Butler asked about the liability when Londonderry Trailways volunteers create a trail using the tools that Smith had just described.
“I’m not sure what the answer is regarding your question, I just know that those in front of us have asked us for recommendation and direction,” Farrell said.
Conservation Commissioner Mike Speltz said it was important to determine what the property’s purpose is.
“Is it a park or a forest?” Speltz asked.
If it is a forest, he said, the Town can’t take down trees three inches in diameter because they would be destroying future growth. He noted that some of the debris, such as blown done trees, are used by animals for protection and habitat. Similar comments were made by Town Forester Charlie Moreno during a recent site walk at the Town Forest, as previously reported by the Londonderry Times.
Allen said he used Boy Scouts who are working on their Eagle projects to do volunteer work in the cemeteries, and said they would not be using power equipment in the Town Forest, just hauling out debris.
“I think it should at least be cleaned up,” Allen said.
Farrell said they would “turn everything to Kevin (Smith), and he’ll get back to us with a recommendation.”
Later, resident Reed Clark said he was confused on the issue of volunteers. stating that if he went into the forest and broke his leg on something, “you can know I will sue the town,” but if he went in there knowing that he’s working in there, he shouldn’t be able to sue because he knew what he was getting into.