Hikers enjoying the community forest Sarah Weafer

BETHEL — Big news came Bethel’s way on June 18. After five years of work, a 978-acre community forest has been established two miles from the downtown area.

“It feels pretty good to be finished with the acquisition,” Mahoosuc Pathways (MPW) Executive Director Gabe Perkins said.

MPW initially came up with the idea of a community forest, but quickly realized it would need some help.

Other partners with MPW were the Trust for Public Land and Northern Forest Center. MPW had already been involved with the Trust for Public Land and Northern Forest Center through MaineWest, which is a partnership of regional/local organizations who look for ways to “enhance community well being in Western Maine.”

“We could not have done it without the partners,” Perkins said.

The establishment and ongoing development of the forest hopes to have a positive impact on Bethel’s recreation and economic development in the area.

The goal is to have multi-use trails on the land for year-round use. The trails can be used for hiking, walking, cross country skiing, mountain biking, fat tire biking and other outdoor activities. A snowmobile trail also passes through the forest and will remain open for use in the winter. Snowmobiles will be the only motorized vehicles allowed on the trails.

One of the first access points of the trail is on the right past Coleman’s Concrete on the North Road in Bethel. Another access point is on the Locke Mountain Road, which is off the Daisy Bryant Road (which is off the North Road).

“The property now has close to 13 miles of roads,” Perkins. “We’re going to try and use those as much of those as possible.

Perkins said some trailblazing will be done to work around some of the roads that are not in good enough shape.

The goal for this summer is to try and get a route identified.

“We want to get people out on the property and give them a place to go,” Perkins said. “Right now it’s kind of a big blank slate.”

This summer signs will be added directing people where to go. The roads will also be fixed and a gravel parking spaces will be made.

Tree planting and trail building is expected to start in 2020.

Perkins said the work will be done by many different groups of people. He wants students from Region 9 to assist with forest work and plans to hire contractors for other work such as trail building.

The project is the largest conservation project in the history of Bethel, according to Perkins.

There will be a dedication ceremony on Friday, Aug. 9.

Another opportunity for people to experience the forest will be on Saturday, Sep. 14,  for the Mahoosuc Ridge to the River challenge.

Perkins was appreciative of all the support he got from his staff as well as the locals who donated their time and money to the project.

He’s excited for people to get out and explore all the forest has to offer.

“I can’t wait to see people out there enjoying it,” Perkins said. “This is Bethel’s community forest, we’re doing this for everybody.”

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