2,000 Acres Overlooking Merrymeeting Lake Now a Community Forest

Community Celebration Planned for July 13, 2019

Press release courtesy of Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire.

Photos show views from and of Birch Ridge taken by Virginia Long, Matt Murphy, and Stephanie Thornton.

There’s a lot to celebrate in the Lakes Region this week. For more than a decade, critical recreation land and wildlife habitat in New Durham has slipped through the fingers of many neighbors and local outdoor enthusiasts who wished to protect the land from development. Now, through partnership efforts of the Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire (SELT), the Merrymeeting Lake Association (MMLA), and Moose Mountains Regional Greenways (MMRG), these 2,000 acres are conserved forever as Birch Ridge Community Forest.

According to Ron Gehl, New Durham Conservation Commission Chair, “We’re thrilled that efforts begun over a decade ago have finally come to fruition for this jewel of a conservation project. This land represents the classic natural character of our town, and the community can now rest assured that it can be enjoyed by all – forever. Our sincere thanks to all who supported this project and put in the hard work to make it a reality.”

Laurie Smith, incoming president of the Merrymeeting Lake Association added, “The Merrymeeting Lake Association’s mission is to protect and preserve pristine Merrymeeting Lake. This purchase is a huge step forward!” 

Birch Ridge Community Forest rises over Merrymeeting Lake with views of Mount Molly and Mount Bet, across the winding snowmobile corridor 22. It filters clean water to Merrymeeting Lake and Coldrain Pond. The forest offers 13 miles of trails for hikers, cross-country skiers, hunters, and birders. And, it offers critical habitat for wide-ranging species such as moose, bear, deer, and bobcat, as well as solitude along Coldrain pond where in the spring common loons can be seen feeding.

Those who know this land, cherish it. When the land became available in summer 2018, the Merrymeeting Lake Association put down a non-refundable payment to purchase the property. They then reached out to SELT for help.

“The Birch Ridge land was immediately recognized as a must do,” explained SELT’s Conservation Director Duane Hyde. “We saw the importance of this land for people and nature and the amazing enthusiasm of the Merrymeeting Lake Association, and we knew we needed robust community engagement to succeed.”

Becoming a Community Forest

This knowledge guided the formation of the Partnership for Birch Ridge (SELT, MMLA, and MMRG) and their sole goal to acquire and permanently conserve the property as a community forest. As a community forest, Birch Ridge will promote conservation, community, and economic development through SELT’s ownership and management of land for the benefit of the community.

“Public support and interest in this land was strong and deep,” shared Brian Hart, Executive Director of SELT. He continued, “The passion for the protection of this special place was keenly felt through generous donations from more than 250 community members, and the dedication of many to the public process for the project. We are so grateful for the support to make the Birch Ridge Community Forest possible.”

Last fall, with the investment of funding and hopes of community members high, the Partnership offered an inclusive public process to inform the public and gain valuable insight, hopes, and concerns from area residents. Following this, and through the work of the volunteer Community Forest Steering Committee, vision and goals were developed to create a management plan for the property. The management plan is currently being drafted but will ensure access to open space for recreation, habitat protection for wildlife, preservation of water quality, and climate change resilience. The land is open to the public for respectful exploration; however, trail maps and signage are not yet available.

The protection of Birch Ridge Community Forest was made possible by generous donations from New Durham community members, an early grant of $500,000 from the US Forest Service Community Forest and Open Space Program, a $350,000 grant from the New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP), the Town of New Durham, and New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Aquatic Resources Mitigation Program.

Dijit Taylor, Executive Director of LCHIP shared, “LCHIP is very pleased to assist with this project that has been a local and regional conservation priority for many years and that demonstrates the strengths that can come from cooperation between many different kinds of project partners.”

Birch Ridge Community Forest is now owned and managed by SELT for the benefit of the community, with a conservation easement held by Moose Mountains Regional Greenways with the Town of New Durham and NH Department of Environmental Services holding a right of enforcement.

The conservation of Birch Ridge is really just the beginning.

Now, the long work begins to finalize the management and stewardship plan, establish and steward a safe trail system for the community’s use and enjoyment, and restore the land after the aggressive timber harvest. As the caretakers of the Birch Ridge Community Forest, SELT and MMRG are thrilled about the future of the Forest. Click here to learn more and keep updated about the Birch Ridge Community Forest.

Celebrate the New Birch Ridge Community Forest

To celebrate this new community forest, the Partnership for Birch Ridge is planning a community event on Saturday, July 13 at 10:00 am at the New Durham Elementary School. Following brief comments, three field trips of varying difficulty will be offered, with participants traveling by bus to the Birch Ridge Community Forest for guided walks. The event is free, but pre-registration is required to help ensure enough field trip guides are available.

The celebration will begin immediately following Merrymeeting Lake Association’s Annual Meeting, which is scheduled for 9:00 am at the New Durham Elementary School. After recognitions and a brief update on the vision, goals, and planning process for the Community Forest from 10:00 to 10:30 am, buses will leave for field trips at 10:45 am. Each trip includes a stop for lunch where people can enjoy their own packed lunch or a bag lunch from New Durham General Store that can be ordered during the online registration process. The field trip choices include lunch at the cabin on Birch Hill with scenic views and optional walks, a 2.5-mile hike to the cabin that continues up Blueberry Hill to the old Aspinwall settlement, and a more strenuous 2.7-mile hike up Mt. Eleanor that ends at the cabin.

This event is free and open to the public, but advance registration is required. Click here to learn more and RSVP online at or call 603-778-6088.