BETHEL – Budget cuts and decreased demand have forced the White Mountain National Forest to close its Evans Notch Visitor Center on Route 2 in Bethel.

The 10-acre parcel – complete with a backwoods nature trail – main building and outbuildings, could be leased long-term to a group or individual between now and the projected center closing date of Jan. 1, 2009.

That’s what WMNF Androscoggin Ranger District Ranger Katie Stuart told Bethel selectmen at a special board meeting on Wednesday afternoon in the town office.

Prior to the meeting, Stuart said she requested an audience with selectmen to give them a chance to ask her questions regarding the WMNF’s proposed five-year Recreation Facility Analysis for its 171 developed recreation sites across the forest.

The visitor center is one of those 171 sites detailed in the plan, which is part of a nationwide Forest Service effort to help better manage recreation infrastructure on national forests.

Stuart said she also wanted selectmen to understand how the Forest Service reached its decision to close or lease the center.

Stuart cited budgetary aspects, steadily declining visitation numbers to the center and increased traffic to the nearby Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce as reasons behind the decision.

But other than asking a few questions, selectmen took it under advisement, intending to return with opinions at a later meeting.

“What can we really do?” Selectman Dennis Doyon asked.

“I’d like to think it’s not a done deal,” Stuart replied.

After the meeting, Chairman Stan Howe said selectmen are concerned about how the Evans Notch center would be used.

Before leaving, Stuart stressed that the service is taking public comment regarding the plan and the Evans Notch Visitor Center until Friday, May 16. Following that, any necessary changes will be made to the program and implementation will start.

Information and details may be found at www.fs.fed.us/r9/white or by contacting WMNF Recreation and Wilderness Program Leader Marianne Leberman at 603-528-8751 or e-mailing [email protected]


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