Direction Sought on Town Forest vs. Town Park

Considering the proposed “clean up” of a trail in the Town Forest, the Conservation Commission called for the Town to determine a management plan for the community space before moving forward with any further clearing.

Local volunteer Kent Allen told the Conservation Commission at its Aug. 25 meeting that he has been clearing out invasive plant species and debris in the Town Forest in an effort to open up trails and increase accessibility in the area.

“In the long run, if people see it and start using it, it’s going to help turning it into a park down the road,” he said.

Commissioner Deb Lievens said the Town needs to decide if the Town Forest will continue functioning as such, under the management of the Commission, or if the space will be transformed into a community park.

“I think the trails are sufficient for usage,” Lievens said. “I will not support clearing it to turn it into a park at this point without further support from the Town.”

“Doing all this clearing around the trails, the trails sort of lose something. They’re not really the trails in the woods anymore,” Chairman Marge Badois agreed.

Lievens noted the clearing removes valuable materials that put nutrients back into the soil as it rots. “The forest won’t be functioning the way it’s functioning now, as a town forest,” she said.

“With a town park, there is replanting. If the Town wants to do that – with the future costs in mind of what it takes to maintain a park – they can do that. But I don’t think it’s up to us to make that far-reaching decision. I think it needs to be more of a town-wide decision,” Commissioner Mike Speltz said. “It’s certainly not up to this Commission to set us off on that path. I think myself and other members of this Commission think it functions better as a forest than a park. But I would be willing to listen to alternatives.”

Commissioners Mike Considine and Roger Fillio advocated in favor of clearing trails in the Town Forest of invasive species and other debris to make the site more appealing.

“I think it should be a town park. We have this asset at the center of Town that can be used by a lot of people. If you have kids in there, you wouldn’t want them running through all these decomposing tree branches,” Fillio said.

Fillio said the Town Council is responsible for determining how the forest is to be managed, but passed the responsibility to the Town Manager.

“Kevin Smith said do whatever the Conservation Commission wants to do, and now the Commission wants it to remain a wilderness no one can penetrate. I don’t see it that way,” he said. “I see it as a town forest park. They keep referring to the way it was given to us, but it wasn’t given to us, it was sold to us. And there’s nothing in the deed saying we can’t use it this way.”

Fillio added that Andy Mack Sr., whose family owned the land on which the Town Forest is situated, has advocated for the Town Forest to be transformed into a park that could serve as an outdoor classroom for students in Londonderry.

But Lievens argued the forest as it exists, with dead logs and branches in the trail, presents unique learning opportunities for children that they wouldn’t find in a well maintained park.

“I don’t think we need to make the trail any bigger,” Lievens said, noting dead logs and branches in the trail present unique learning opportunities for children they wouldn’t find in a well maintained park.

“Lift a dead log up and teach them about all the bugs and animals under it. You don’t see the real world in a park, you see pretty. Not that I wouldn’t support turning it into a town park, if that’s what the Town wants,” she said.

“You don’t see the real world in a park, you see pretty,” she added. “Not that I wouldn’t support turning it into a town park, if that’s what the Town wants.”

“You’re talking about clearing it and maintaining it – my problem is a natural area is supposed to be natural. If you have trails and areas around the edge that are cleaned up, the rest of the forest, I think, should stay natural and have organic material breaking down, serving as habitat for animals,” Commissioner Eugene Harrington said.

The Commission agreed to consult with the Town to determine proper management of the property before moving forward with any further clearing in the forest, including the potential for a warrant article by which the voters could weigh in on changing the character of the Town Forest.

Badois continued consideration for the proposed “clean up” between Pillsbury Road and the Overlook Trail for a month to allow time to consult with the Town on what the next steps should be.

“Give us one month to find out specifically what we were charged with doing. We have to follow the rules,” she said.

Speltz also recommended Allen commit to writing a set of guidelines for the proposed clearing in the Town Forest.

“Then we will have something to hold you to,” Speltz said.

“I think we need a rule,” Lievens agreed, noting she likely wouldn’t have signed off on the Londonderry Trailways’ last clearing project in the Town Forest, which they brought in heavy machinery to complete.

Among Allen’s guidelines for the proposed clearing, Speltz suggested he include at least a 50-foot buffer to remain undisturbed around the frog pond and the installation of water bars in steep sections around the new trails to help prevent erosion.

Lievens also recommended leaving any brush that’s cleared on site along the perimeter of trails or in brush piles for animals to take shelter in and from which the forest can draw nutrients.

Speltz said there are positive and negative aspects to the varying management approaches for the Town Forest.

“I’m willing to consider making it a grassy park with a discussion about the future management,” he said.

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