March 21, 2013 - by Barbara Tetreault, The Berlin Daily Sun
BERLIN ?White Mountain National Forest Supervisor Tom Wagner has approved a land swap that will allow a 96-acre parcel of White Mountain National Forest land to become part of Jericho Mountain State Park. In exchange, a 76-acre parcel on the northern slope of Bartlett Mountain will become part of the WMNF.
Wagner�s decision is not subject to appeal and Kori Marchowsky of the U.S. Forest Service said all that remains to be done is the final legal work. The exchange is expected to take place this summer.
"This is a big milestone," she said. The exchange has been in the works since 2009 and N.H. Trails Bureau head Chris Gamache said it has been discussed even longer. "It will be great when all this is finalized," he said.
It is a complicated transaction involving the U.S. Forest Service, N.H. Bureau of Trails, and the Society for the Protection of N.H. Forests.
The parcel of WMNF land sits in the middle of the 7,200-acre Jericho Mountain State Park, which is being developed for ATV use and includes over 80 miles of trails for motorized recreation. But because the WMNF does not allow ATV use, the Trails Bureau has had to re-route an existing trail to avoid ATVs crossing the parcel.
Four years ago the Cassidy family decided to sell a 76-acre parcel on Bartlett Mountain that fell within the proclamation boundary of the WMNF. Recognizing the Forest Service could not move quick enough to purchase the Bartlett property, the Forest Society stepped in and purchased the parcel. Jack Savage of the Forest Society noted that as a non-government agency, his organization "can move a bit more nimbly than government agencies."
The Forest Society and Forest Service in August 2009 signed an exchange agreement calling for the WMNF to swap the Jericho parcel for the Bartlett Mountain parcel, owned by the Forest Society. In the years since, the properties have been appraised and the Forest Service has conducted an environmental analysis. Based on that analysis, Wagner approved the exchange in a decision released March 11.
The Jericho parcel is appraised at $48,300 while the Bartlett Mountain parcel has an appraised value of $39,000. To account for the difference in valuation, the Forest Service will also receive $9,300 in cash from the Forest Society.
The Forest Society will sell the Jericho parcel for $48,300 to the N.H. Trails Bureau for inclusion in Jericho Mountain State Park. Gamache said the Forest Society is acting as a broker, facilitating the transaction between the two government agencies. He said money to purchase the WMNF parcel from the Forest Society is coming from the bureau's land acquisition account.
Gamache called the swap a "win-win" for both the state and Forest Service. He said state ownership of the parcel within the park will make management easier and open up an existing snowmobile trail for ATV use. Gamache said the Forest Service will get a parcel that abuts existing WMNF land.
In his decision, Wagner said adding the Bartlett tract to the WMNF will protect high elevation habitat and provide a continuous corridor of protected land running from Hurricane Mountain Road up the trail to Kearsarge North, across Bartlett Mountain and along the town of Bartlett right-of-way to East Branch Road in Intervale.
Wagner noted the Jericho parcel is isolated from other WMNF lands and is not reasonably manageable as part of the national forest. He said it would serve a greater public good as an addition to the state park.
The exchange allows consistent land management activities for both the WMNF and Jericho Mountain State Park, Wagner said.
This summer at Jericho Mountain State Park, Gamache said the state plans to finish the visitors center and set up a small retail operation there. He said trail work will focus on maintaining the existing trails, especially restoring some of the initial trails installed at the park. He said there are already reservations for the 20 camping sites at the park. This year's Jericho ATV Festival is scheduled for July 26-27 and the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce and Berlin Main Street Program will be working with the state to promote and expand the festival.