A man paddles a canoe on the Androscoggin River in the New Hampshire town of Shelburne, bordering Maine, which features Mahoosuc Land Trust properties. Jerry and Marcy Monkman photo

In my first conversation with Barbara Murphy, director of development with the Mahoosuc Land Trust, I shyly admitted to her that I knew very little about her group. 

Had never heard of it, really. My shame was great. 

Casey Tripp, of Sumner, with kids and her fiance, Jonathan Lebrun, at Step Falls in Newry. Submitted photo

Murphy, however, was unfazed. Not everyone knows about the work the trust does to preserve lands, perhaps. But most people will have reaped the benefits of those efforts at one point or another. 

At Step Falls in Newry, for instance, or Frenchman’s Hole in Bethel. 

At Puzzle Mountain, the Whitecap Preserve, Valentine Farm, Glassface Ledges and dozens of other areas contained within Mahoosuc’s roughly 10,000 acres.  

Whatever one hankers for when heading outdoors, chances are good Mahoosuc has a spot that’s just right. 

“We would like people to understand,” Murphy says, “that we conserve properties with everyone in mind: the adventurous, who want to go hiking or biking or skiing in remote places, to people who want to take walks and look at birds and study plants. We keep all of them in mind as we choose properties to preserve.”

Blueberries at their peak are picked by hikers on Rumford Whitecap. Liz Repetto photo

For 32, years, the land trust has been taking on new properties to conserve and to share with communities.  

“The purpose,” Murphy says, “is to protect land in its natural condition, as free from human manipulation and disturbance as possible.” 

A glance at their conservation history shows an ongoing evolution of projects, beginning in 1990 when Eva Schools, of Bethel, donated seven acres of land including 1,000 feet of Androscoggin River frontage to the Mahoosuc Land Trust in memory of her late husband, George Schools. The then-fledgling Mahoosuc Land Trust, in collaboration with Friends of the Androscoggin, developed the area as Schools Canoe Landing.

There has been no let up since, with new properties being added virtually every year. 

“There’s always land in the pipeline,” Murphy says. “Always. We have a lands committee that is always listening to and searching out new properties.” 

“With conserved lands of over 10,000 acres,” says Larry Ely, chair of MLT’s Stewardship Committee, “and the surging popularity of hiking and outdoor activities, we have been really challenged.” 

Within the past two years, the land trust has acquired the 493-acre McCoy-Chapman Forest, a parcel that stretches across Gilead, Bethel and Newry, and finalized the Shelburne Riverlands Project, an effort to conserve 880 acres of significant riverfront and wildlife habitat along the Androscoggin River in Shelburne, New Hampshire. 

Walking on a trail at Valentine Farm in Bethel. Susan Stratton Sayre photo

Murphy is particularly enthused about Shelburne. 

“It’s eight miles or riverfront,” she says. “There’s lowland pieces, there’s some islands and then there are upland pieces. That’s where you’re going to want to go in 2022 — we’re developing the trails this year.” 

In addition, as part of the Campaign for the Androscoggin, an effort is underway to acquire the 973-acre Tumbledown Dick Mountain in Gilead, part of the Chadbourne Tree Farm. More on this in a bit.

Elaine Levesque Palmer was one of several people who celebrated mass with a youth ministry at the top of Whitecap Mountain. Submitted photo

The MLT has a lot going on, and as Murphy predicted, I was more familiar with Mahoosuc properties than I realized. 

I’ve taken dips in the cool waters at Frenchman’s Hole plenty of times. I’ve stopped at the roadside bakery at Puzzle Mountain and my wife has entreated me to take her on hikes at various Mahoosuc hot spots over the years. 

It’s a pretty good bet she’ll get me there, too. 

Our readers, also, are plenty familiar with the Mahoosuc offerings. 

“We go to Step Falls every year,” says Casey Tripp, of Sumner. “It’s one of my favorite places to visit in the summer. It’s a bit of a hike/walk in but there are pools all along the way. You’re so hot by the time you get to the top you’re ready to just jump in.” 

And not just pools, natural water slides, which Tripp’s kids (and her fiance) enjoy splashing down at every opportunity.

Rescued owlets rest in a substitute nest in a tree on Mahoosuc Land Trust property. Mac Davis photo

Step Falls opened to the public in 2012 after the Nature Conservancy transferred the title of the location to the Mahoosuc Land Trust. In the summer of 2013, the land trust rebuilt the parking lot and the trail to the falls to improve the visitor experience. 

On the Mahoosuc website, the area is described this way: “The twenty-four-acre Step Falls Preserve includes land on both sides of Wight Brook in Newry, Maine. The brook flows over open ledges creating numerous pools suitable for wading, swimming, and sunning. The ¾-mile trail provides access to the falls and becomes steep towards the top.” 

The view from top of Glassface Ledges in Rumford. Bob O’Brien photo

For Elaine Levesque Palmer, of Rumford, it’s all about the Whitecap Preserve, which is right there in her own neck of the woods.

“I have hiked several trails in this area but Whitecap is by far my favorite,” Palmer says. “I have hiked it in the summer and in the winter on snowshoes. We hosted an exchange student from Brazil, who had never experienced winter or snow and brought him up on snowshoes. What a way to break him in to the cold winters of Maine.

“If you hit it right, you can pick some yummy wild blueberries near the top,” Palmer says. “The trail is well marked and groomed. The view at the top is beautiful. Bring a picnic lunch and relax and enjoy the 360 view. It’s pretty open and can be quite windy. Having led a youth ministry group at our parish in Rumford, our pastor planned a hike with the kids and adults and celebrated Mass at the top. It kinda gave us the feeling of being a bit closer to heaven.”

Meanwhile in Bethel, Cynthia Marquis Parent, of Minot, visited Valentine Farm for a hike on Tuesday.

“Saw a great horned owl and nest,” she said later in the day. “And a moose. Very nice walking trails.”

Swamp milkweed and a butterfly on Mahoosuc Land Trust property. Mike Murphy photo

Also popular among hikers is Whitecap Mountain Preserve in Rumford where two trails wind to the summit. 

“The two trails merge just before reaching the summit,” according to the Mahoosuc web page. “The remaining distance along the ridge to the summit is marked by cairns, orange ribbon flags, and paint blazes. Many points along the hike provide breathtaking views of the surrounding area: the Mahoosuc and White Mountains to the west, Mexico Hills to the east, and Androscoggin River Valley to the south.” 

With the Land Trust’s emphasis on conservation, the Mahoosuc properties have also proven popular with bird watchers and other wildlife enthusiasts.  

A portion of Step Falls in Newry. Jake Burgess photo

In late 2020, the MLT began its first harvest in the recently acquired McCoy-Chapman Forest, a 500-acre tract about five miles west of Bethel that runs from the banks of the Androscoggin River to the flanks of the Mahoosuc Range.

That acquisition, which offers year-round recreation, comprises land donations from a family that practiced sustainable harvesting for more than two centuries.

The McCoy-Chapman Forest, according to the MLT team, is “a new way of thinking about forest management.”

Running through the forest is Chapman Brook, which author Catherine Schmitt describes in gushing tones.

“Chapman Brook is a conveyor of life, altering organic matter into forms of food that supports a network of insects, fish, wildlife, and birds,” Schmitt writes. “The headwaters of the brook provide a continual supply of fresh, clean water to larger rivers and lakes, critical to many of our native fish.” 

The Mahoosuc Land Trust is the ultimate work in progress, it’s developers eyeing the next deal even as they complete the latest one. 

So what’s next?  

Behold the Tumbledown Dick Mountain Project, the MLT’s plan to preserve a 978-acre parcel that sits within 15,000 acres of forestland near the Gilead, New Hampshire line. 

“That is a property that just speaks vastness,” Murphy says. “It’s a rock climber’s go-to. It’s next to thousands of undeveloped acres so we will start a campaign for that in 2022.” 

Cynthia Parent, of Minot, went for a hike on Tuesday at Valentine Farm in Bethel. While there, she spotted a great horned owl and this moose. Submitted photo

To do what they do, the Mahoosuc Land Trust relies heavily on donors, members and volunteers. They also rely on the many people who have donated vast swaths of land for mainly altruistic reasons — for some donors, the main motivation appears to be an in interest in having their property looked after in perpetuity.

When John and Martha Chandler, of Laconia, New Hampshire, donated land to the group to create the Chandler Family Woodlot, they explained this way:

“Our wish to preserve deep family roots in the land, especially in Maine, and to ensure a healthy environment for interaction of wildlife and humans, as well as sustainable use of forest and field, found a true partner, protector and friend in Mahoosuc Land Trust.”

Whatever their reasons, the generosity of the land donors is by and large a boon to anyone who seeks to enjoy the unspoiled outdoors wherever they can find it.

If you’re one of those people who, like me, is always moping around wanting to do something, but having trouble coming up with a plan, the Mahoosuc catalog of recreational properties is a pretty good place to start. 

Me? I had my mind made up on my very first destination before this story was a third finished. I’m with Tripp’s fiance on this one. 

Natural water slides at Step Falls? 

Oh, yeah. I’m in. 

This map shows Mahoosuc Land Trust conservation lands.


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