Freedom Gets New Town Forest

Freedom — June 6, 2005 — As of Monday, the town of Freedom is the official owner of a 2,660-acre forest that adjoins two other parcels of land, creating about 5,300 acres of protected woods on the Freedom-Madison town line.

Freedom’s town forest, which cost $2.3 million, is paid in full thanks to a federal Forest Legacy grant for $1.8 million as well as funding provided by the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program and private individuals.

Another state grant of $15,000, funded by the purchase of New Hampshire conservation license plates — or, as they are called because of the moose they feature, “moose plates” — will finance initial startup costs such as trail-building, mapping and kiosk-construction. The Freedom town forest has a long road of recuperation ahead of it, according to Selectman Les Babb.

“The forest was heavily clear-cut about 15 years ago,” Babb said. “We have to help it come back.”

According to Babb, the Freedom town forest flanks public woods in Madison as well as Nature Conservancy land. Combined, the parcels create almost 5,000 consecutive protected acres.

Some towns pay for their forests by sustainable harvesting of the properties’ timber. For example, voters in the small town of Errol, located north of the White Mountains on Route 16, approved a multimillion dollar bond to protect its Thirteen Mile Woods, which runs along the Androscoggin River.

The town will finance the bond over the next two decades with proceeds from the sale of the woods’ lumber. But the protected woods of Freedom, paid for by public grants and private donations, will not be a “working forest.”

To keep a forest healthy, it must be occasionally thinned, and Freedom Conservation Commission member Katie Gove expects the forest’s first harvest — which she said will probably be within five years — to pay for the maintenance work done up until that date.

The lumber harvested from dead or damaged trees helps finance upkeep and mapping, but Babb vowed that the town would never rely on its forest to finance itself. Maintenance, or stewardship, will be financed by both the grants Freedom has already received — such as the moose plates grant — as well as ones the town hopes to apply for in the future.

Trail- and kiosk-building will begin sometime this summer, according to Gove. A not-yet-appointed subcommittee of the Freedom Conservation Commission will be in charge of the project, whose completion date is scheduled for 2007.

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