A Park or a Forest

The seemingly endless debates about trail “clean up” at Londonderry’s Town Forest are long overdue for resolution.

As the Conservation Commission has repeatedly explained, currently the Commission’s duty is to manage the area as a town forest – as the name suggests. That means some “debris” – tree stumps and the like – remains on the ground to provide soil nutrients and animal habitat.

On the other side are local volunteer Kent Allen and Conservation member Roger Fillio, on a mission to open up trails and increase accessibility to the public.

Both sides are well meaning and deserving of praise for their work in town. But a major clean-up of the Town Forest is not part of forest management – forests are not neatly delineated areas but by their nature may appear messy – or natural. A forest is not a park, and a park is not a forest. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be trails and accessibility, but those trails would not be the type to make the area look like a manicured greenspace.

As the Commission has said on more than one occasion, the Town needs to decide whether the Town Forest will continue as a forest, under Commission management as a forest, or be transformed into a park.

Commission member Deb Lievens finds the Town Forest trails sufficient to use, and said she would not support clearing the area into a park without direction from the Town. And commission chairman Marge Badois noted the emphasis on clearing around the trails means “they’re not really trails in the woods anymore.”

As Conservation member Eugene Harrington said recently, “a natural area is supposed to be natural.”

It doesn’t mean invasive species should run wild. But it does mean, if it’s a forest, that everything won’t look perfect.

And while the residents of Londonderry voted once already to keep the Town Forest under Conservation management, Town Manager Kevin Smith thinks it may  be time for another vote.

Of course, that means residents should expect to fund money for replanting and maintenance of a Town Forest-turned-park.

Fillio wants the forest to become a park, and favors putting the question of changing the character of the Town Forest on the warrant. We think that makes sense, but in the meantime, the Town Forest is a town forest, and is not a park, and shouldn’t be treated as a park. If that area is determined by residents to become a park, then it will no longer be managed as a forest, and it will look different than it does today. We can’t have it both ways.

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