Thanks to Stephanie Thornton and Virginia Long for photos of views from Birch Ridge and of MMRG’s 2016 Visioning Session for conservation planning.

The Partnership for Birch Ridge Community Forest, consisting of Moose Mountains Regional Greenways (MMRG), Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire (SELT), and Merrymeeting Lake Association (MMLA), invite all who care about conserving the proposed 2000-acre Birch Ridge Community Forest overlooking Merrymeeting Lake to participate in a community visioning forum on Thursday, November 1 at New Durham Elementary School, 7 Old Bay Road, New Durham.  The Community Visioning Session is designed to be fun, informative, and interactive, where participants can learn more about the Birch Ridge Community Forest and help create a shared vision of how to best use and manage this land for the benefit of the community.  A concurrent on-site Children’s Program, ‘Kids Map Their Special Places’, will be available for school age children. Refreshments will be served beginning at 6:00 pm and children should be dropped off at that time. The Visioning Session will run from 6:30 until 8:15 pm. There is no charge for participating but pre-registration is required.

The Partnership is working to acquire, conserve, and steward Birch Ridge as a community forest. Based on a model developed by the Northern Forest Center, a ‘community forest’ promotes conservation, community, and economic development through community ownership and management of land. A Community Forest Steering Committee made up of a diverse group of interested individuals is guiding the process of engaging the community to develop a community-informed and supported management plan for Birch Ridge. New Durham and area residents will have opportunities to share their knowledge of the property and to get to know the land better, as well as to express their goals and desired outcomes for the proposed Birch Ridge Community Forest with respect to recreation, access, wildlife habitat, and water quality.  This inclusive public process will include a survey of New Durham residents, several outings on the land, and this Community Visioning Session on November 1.

Steve Whitman of Resilience Planning & Design will facilitate the Visioning Session. As a professional planner, Steve uses whole system planning approaches that emphasize stakeholder engagement, outreach activities, and the values and interests of each unique place.  After a brief introduction to the Birch Ridge project, the heart of the Visioning Session will be themed breakout tables with maps and question prompts where you may discuss the topic and leave comments. Table themes will include the future of the existing cabin on Birch Ridge, recreational uses of the property, other community needs related to the property, wildlife considerations, water quality considerations, and educational opportunities. You are encouraged to visit at least four of the six tables.

MMRG Executive Director Patti Connaughton-Burns is excited about engaging the community in the Birch Ridge Community Forest project. Says Connaughton-Burns, “Birch Ridge has been a local and regional priority for conservation for more than 10 years due to its importance for water quality, scenic views, wildlife, and recreation. The proposed Community Forest has the potential to be an incredible asset to the Town and region. I hope people will come out for this Visioning Session to tell us about the special places you know on Birch Ridge and share your ideas and dreams for the future of this land. This is your chance to participate in the Community Forest planning process! And the concurrent Children’s Program gives a chance for families with children to be able to join us for the evening as well.”

The Children’s Program, ‘Kids Map Their Special Places’, will be available on site for up to 15 pre-registered school age children whose parents, grandparents, or other care-takers are attending the Visioning Session. Trained educators and approved MMRG staff and volunteer chaperones will encourage kids to find creative ways to explore on paper what they love to do outdoors or play an animal guessing game.

The Visioning Session is free and open to the public but pre-registration is requested by noon on Wednesday, October 31. Please register online at http://seltnh.org/events-page/ or call SELT at 603/778-6088.

The Partnership is currently raising funds to complete the purchase of the property and steward it forever. SELT is preparing several grant applications and recently received the competitive Community Forest grant from US Forest Service.  Patti gave an update of the local fundraising efforts at the end of September: “Thanks to an extraordinary challenge campaign, every donation will be matched, dollar for dollar. The fundraising momentum is already very encouraging!”  More information about the Birch Ridge Community Forest and Partnership is available at www.seltnh.org/birchridge. Donations to save and steward Birch Ridge Community Forest may be made to any of the three partner organizations: Moose Mountains Regional Greenways online at www.mmrgnh.org/donate/ or by mail to MMRG, PO Box 191, Union, NH 03887; Southeast Land Trust online at www.seltnh.org/birchridge or by mail to SELT, PO Box 675, Exeter, NH 03833; Merrymeeting Lake Association online at http://mmlake.org/ or by mail to MMLA, PO Box 468, New Durham, NH 03855.