Selectmen approve potential uses for Bingham parcel

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As a trails consultant begins preliminary assessment of “trail opportunities” on Bethel’s new 2,300-acre Bingham land, Bethel selectmen Monday accepted a list of allowable activities on the parcel, including the construction of recreational trails, bridges, roads, rest rooms and other structures.

The board also approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the Bethel Water District, which allows the construction of the same facilities/structures on BWD land that abuts the Bingham parcel. The MOU will also lead to the establishment of an easement providing access across the BWD property.

In addition, selectmen accepted a baseline document report prepared by forester Sherm Small that describes, through text, maps and photos, the distribution of resources on the Bingham land.

Voters last year approved a consent agreement with the Maine Attorney General’s Office transferring the 2,300-acre Bingham land (located in Newry) from the Bethel Water District to the Town of Bethel. The agreement requires that Bethel submit a management plan in 2013 detailing how the town intends to manage the parcel for conservation of scenic and natural resources, wildlife habitat, sustainable-yield timber harvesting, other uses consistent with protection of water quality, and for low-impact outdoor recreation.

Since then, the Bethel Conservation Commission had been working on recommendations for the initial baseline report, as well as gathering information from the public on possible recreational uses.

Residents have expressed interest in such activities as hiking, mountain biking cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

After consulting recently with the Maine Attorney General’s office, Town Manager Jim Doar Monday asked selectmen to designate a list of possible uses of the land as consistent with the consent agreement. The list was compiled by the Bethel Conservation Commission.

“We are asking that these uses be considered consistent so as to be included in the management plan as future options. At this time there are no proposals for these uses,” Doar said in a memo.

Possible activities include the use of machinery to construct and maintain new and existing trails and roads; removing trees within 100 feet of Chapman Brook to establish and maintain new and existing stream crossings by trails and logging roads, as well as for narrow trails built without heavy equipment or ground disturbance, for limited distances that run parallel to streams; constructing bridges over streams; the use of mechanical equipment to groom snowmobile and Nordic ski trails; the use of structures that are typical of a state park, such as covered picnic tables, rest rooms, information kiosks, warming shelters, etc.); and the collection of user fees and donations to help cover the costs of recreational development and management.

The MOU paves the way for an easement across BWD land to provide access to the Bingham land, and also allows construction on BWD land of a parking area and trails and amenities similar to those listed above for the Bingham land.

The BWD would continue the current uses of its own land, including water quality-related and timber harvest activities.

Next steps

The BCC is continuing work to coordinate preparation of the management plan with timber harvesting and recreational uses. The town has hired land consultant Jerry Bley to write the management plan, according to Landon Fake of the BCC.

Fake said Tuesday that he, Bley and Small have been planning timber management roads “that coincide with trails, and harvesting plans that allow continuing recreational use of at least some of the property.”

Bley’s first draft of the management plan will go to the BCC and Doar Oct. 15. The BCC will review and submit it to the Selectboard in November, Fake said.

The plan will then be available on the town’s website for public comment. The final draft will be done by the end of December.

“The plan will probably recommend a phased approach to development of trails,” said Fake. “It will also recommend a structure and process for the town to use to manage the Bingham Forest.”

John Morton and David Lindahl, consultants with Morton Trails LLC of Vermont, have been retained to conduct a preliminary trails assessment of Bingham land.

Morton and Lindahl “spent two days in Bethel on the site evaluating the full range of trail opportunities,” Fake said.

He said other recent activities related to planning for the land have included a presentation by Morton Trails on the relationship between trails development and economic development; a meeting with Rick Young regarding snowmobile trails; a meeting with Sunday River General Manager Dana Bullen to discuss potential collaboration with Sunday River; and the scheduling of a site visit with Bethel Public Works Director Scott Sumner to look at the potential for improving the public access road to the Bingham land.

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