Volunteers have been ready with many different tools to clear trails in the Cooley-Jericho Community Forest in Easton. The Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust closed on the $650,000 property last month. Pictured are, David Thurston of Sugar Hill, left, and Howard Pritham of Easton. Courtesy photo. (click for larger version)
October 09, 2013EASTON — Sunday will see a multi-community celebration at the Easton Town Hall. The purpose is to rejoice in the purchase of the Cooley-Jericho Community Forest. The Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust closed on the 844-acre property last month.
Rebecca Brown, ACT's Executive Director, said $650,000 was raised in time to complete the deal. This was the largest fundraising effort in ACT's history, she said.
After closing on the property, the effort's website, www.townforest.org, proclaimed, "The Forest is Ours."
Excellent views are possible from the forest, which is located at the northwest corner of Easton. The forest borders both Landaff and Sugar Hill. "The land is special," Brown said. "It's a wonderful, rugged, wild place."
Brown said that a planning group worked on the forest project for over a year. She called the 3,000 hours of time spent "a tremendous amount of work." Even though the forest is completely within Easton, six other communities joined the planning effort, Brown said.
The committee has other work to do, Brown continued. "I think a big emphasis will be on trail planning," she said. Trail building will follow next year.
The recreational potential has been one major point to sell the community forest idea, Brown has noted. Last March voters in Easton, Sugar Hill, Franconia, and Landaff endorsed a region-wide effort to make the forest a resource for the towns. Future timber harvest revenue should be another benefit.
Although the funds raised for the land deal were large, some additional fundraising will occur, Brown noted. "We still need to raise funds for a natural resources inventory and management plan," she said.
Several hikes have occurred in the last 18 months so the public can see the site. Brown said people who have walked the property are "finding some really interesting natural communities and wildlife signs." Brown said evidence of lynx and pine marten are just two of the many creatures known to be in the area.
Brown sees many benefits to the forest. "We will be reaching out to schools," she said, because the forest "is such a great place for an outdoor classroom." Hikers, mountain bikers, wildlife watchers, and even artists should find the spot very useful, Brown continued.
A celebratory hike takes place on the land at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 13. Brown said those interested in the hike can park at the end of Dike Road in Sugar Hill. At 5 p.m. Sunday, she added, there will be a community potluck at the Easton Town Hall to add to the festive day.
Brown suggested that the potluck will celebrate the great preservation victory the forest symbolizes. She said the event is meant to honor "the work of many hands." In addition to food, maps and photos of the property will be part of the potluck.
Trail clearing occurred last weekend. Brown said those who show up to help out are working "in the spirit of a community forest."
Brown said the process to buy the forest took a long time. It was a large tract that she had her eyes on for over a decade. Even with the time to achieve the dream, Brown noted, "It was great to watch this go from a vision to a widely shared goal," she said.
"A lot of people are watching this with great interest," Brown suggested. The collaborative management of a forest by four towns is rather unique, she continued.
With the land now in hand, turning the idea into a great regional asset remains. As Brown said, "Now, the fun work begins."