It has been about a year since Londonderry volunteer Kent Allen started working to clear litter and natural debris from the floor of the Town Forest.
Countless hours and 40 substantial piles of debris later, about a third of the Town Common has been cleared for recreational use and Allen has his sights set on the section of the property along Mack’s apple orchards.
As the floor of the Town Forest has become increasingly groomed, Allen said he has seen an increase in the area’s use by residents.
“There are a lot more people walking their dogs,” he said. “Especially because of the target shooting in the Musquash – it has scared a lot of people out of the woods and they came over here.”
Allen has focused his efforts on removing dead debris and pulling out invasive plant species, leaving small understory plants to continue regenerating the forest. He has also built and installed several benches along the trails, including benches at the Orchard Overlook, which offer visitors a place to rest and enjoy a scenic view of Adams Pond.
The area he plans to clear next spans from the edge of the Town Common along Mammoth Road, about halfway back into the Town Forest toward Glenwood Cemetery.
Allen said he is motivated to push forward with his work in the Common when he sees the area he has finished clearing.
“The reward is seeing the people out here,” he said.
Town Manager Kevin Smith, who assumed responsibility for management of the Forest when voters approved a warrant article transferring responsibility from the Conservation Commission, said management of the forest has had no cost impact to the Town, so far.
Crews from the Department of Public Works have been slowly removing Allen’s debris piles as time permits.
“Going forward, we will have to determine if there are cost items for maintaining the Town Forest and how to pay for them,” Smith said. “Kent has been unbelievable. He’s an amazing volunteer and he has done a wonderful job.”
Members of the Conservation Commission have said they are not opposed to the Town Common’s being used as a recreational area, as long as the property is under management of the Town Manager; but Chairman Marge Badois said there are concerns with removing large amounts of debris from the floor of the Town Forest.
And while the “frog pond” near the bandstand is not a vernal pool, Badois said “it is a sensitive area.
“They should leave a buffer along the edge of the pond because it serves as a natural filtering system for runoff and it gives wildlife that live in the pond shelter from predators,” she said.
Of the substantial clean-up of the forest floor, Badois said, “yes, small animals will have to move.
“Snakes and salamanders, people forget about the small animals and critters. Everyone thinks of deer, but most animals are too small to really notice,” she said. “Those animals will suffer. They will need to move or perish. Fortunately, the pace they’re clearing at gives the animals time to migrate. If they make it across the apple orchard towards Adams Pond, that could be a good thing.”
As long as Allen continues to take the lead on maintenance of the Town Forest, Smith said he will support his efforts.
“It will evolve over time,” he said, noting Allen’s work has significantly increased accessibility to the Town Forest for all residents. “This fall I’d like to see if we can put in an ice skating rink just behind the rock wall. It’s not very costly and it’s something people have been saying they want.”
According to Smith, additional volunteers in town have said they would help with installing the skating rink, and the Town may be able to find funds in the Recreation budget to subsidize the project.
Compared with the Master Plan’s vision for a more urbanized Town Common, Smith said he thinks the improvements Allen has made in the Town Forest are more in line with the traditional look and feel residents have said they would like the property to have.