Hiking trails, habitat closer to protection

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MASON TOWNSHIP – Public access to two hiking trails, forest resources, wildlife habitat and water quality may soon be protected here.

Maine Republican Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins announced Thursday morning in a report that the Senate Interior Appropriations Committee had included $6.4 million in federal funds for land and wildlife projects in Maine in the Interior Appropriations bill.

Of that, $550,000 will go toward the White Mountain National Forest purchase of a 664-acre parcel, which includes the Haystack Notch and Miles Notch trailheads within the Caribou-Speckled Mountains Wilderness. The Mason Township property is located southwest of Bethel off Flat Road.

“It’s the only piece of land picked up east of Montana” in the 2008 budget, WMNF district Ranger Katie Stuart said by phone early Thursday afternoon from the Androscoggin Ranger Station in Gorham, N.H.

“We’re still hanging on pins and needles and hoping that people will now contact Snowe and Collins and (U.S. Rep.) Mike Michaud to voice their support if they’re interested in it,” she added.

The Interior Appropriations bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.

In December 2006, the Trust for Public Lands bought the property from landowner Lloyd Poland, who wanted to subdivide it and create camping sites on it, Stuart said.

Even though the former paper company land was cut over in a style Stuart called “liquidation logging,” people hiking the trails will enjoy the solitude of a “walk-on-the-wild side.”

“It’s still a marvelously beautiful piece of land surrounded on three sides by the White Mountain National Forest. The lower portions of it are important wood turtle habitat. This will provide the public with key access to the wilderness,” Stuart said.

She and assistant recreation Ranger Dave Neely said both the Haystack Notch and Miles Notch trails are low use, because they’re not loop trails, which are more popular.

To hike straight through on them, people have to park a car on the Mason Township side, and another car on Route 113 (also called Evans Notch Road), about 6 miles south of Route 2 and Gilead.

Stuart said the Haystack Notch Trail from the Mason property to Route 113 is 5.4 miles, whereas the Miles Notch Trail leaves from the same spot to the Red Rock Trail, a distance of 2.4 miles. It then travels along Great Brook Road for another 3.2 miles.

“Even though they’re low use, they’re quiet places and, sometimes, we need to strive to protect these places,” Neely said.

“Walking into Evans Notch, it’s a whole new view. It’s a wonderful trail with interesting features. Because it enters the heart of the Caribou-Speckled Wilderness, we’ll be maintaining an undeveloped, primitive experience of solitude,” Neely said of Haystack Notch Trail

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