Selectmen listen to presentation regarding Bingham Forest

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BETHEL — Selectmen listened to a presentation by a private land consultant Monday night at the Town Hall as part of a workshop discussing the Bingham Forest Management Plan for the town’s new 2,300-acre Bingham land.

Jerry Bley of Creative Conservation presented a comprehensive plan for the selectmen, laying out the information he had accrued following weeks of public hearings and research. Bley, with the aid of the Conservation Commission of Bethel, provided recommendations in several specific categories, including water quality, wildlife preservation, recreational management and development and timber harvesting.

Earlier in the workshop, Conservation Commission member Landon Fake said that “one of the difficulties in creating a management plan was trying to balance each individual category against each other,” explaining that Bley didn’t want to place a focus on timber harvesting in Bingham Forest, and place too little focus on something like water quality or recreational development. Fake lauded Bley in drafting a plan that would ensure a balance.

One feature of Bley’s Forest Management Plan was that the selectmen create an additional town committee to take on the Bingham Forest oversight. According to Bley’s plan, the board would be required to “create the ‘Bingham Forest Authority,’” which would be made up of “five members appointed by selectmen” who would ideally “have expertise in water quality, timber management, recreation development, wildlife preservation and local tourism economy.”

Town Manager Jim Doar said the plan had “a good and workable structure.”

“We’ll have to hold a special town meeting to change the existing ordinance,” Doar said. “It’ll also give us a chance to advertise the positions, and after the positions are filled, it’ll give the Bingham Forest Authority time to meet and plan out their next steps.”

Selectman Peter Southam suggested that the positions for the Bingham Forest Authority be filled with “people from different areas that have a good deal of knowledge on their subjects so they can reach a larger number of the constituency.”

Selectmen also agreed that it may be a good idea to allow Newry residents to vie for the positions in addition to Bethel residents, since part of the land in Bingham Forest resides in Newry.

Bley said he sub-contracted Morton Trails from Vermont to assist him in investigating the possibility for trail development in Bingham Forest, pointing out that John Morton, the founder of Morton Trails and former Olympian, was responsible for the creation of many renowned trails across the United States, including the ski trails in the Salt Lake City Olympics.

According to Bley, Morton and David Lindahl, a principal of Morton Trails, spent two days walking through Bingham Forest, attempting to figure out ways to develop recreational hiking, biking and ski trails throughout the land without harming the wildlife or water quality.

The selectmen’s meeting was a workshop, which means no action was taken.

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