More ATV Trails or Not at Nash Stream Forest?

State Updating Management Plan

Matt Leahy | April 4, 2016

Sugarloaf Mountain is part of the Nash Stream Forest, which consists of 40,000 acres of State-owned land north of the White Mountain National Forest. Photo courtesy N.H. Div. of Forests and Lands.

If you've never been to the Nash Stream Forest, reward yourself with a visit to this exceptional state reservation. While more remote and less well-known than its big brother to the south (the White Mountain National Forest), Nash Stream Forest offers a deeply fulfilling outdoor experience.   Those who hike or fish in its 40,000 acres will find a stunning landscape of secluded ponds, mountain peaks and other natural features that can rival many of the vistas in the WMNF. As the State of New Hampshire prepares to update the Nash Stream Forest Management Plan, the challenge facing us is how to ensure it continues to be this special place.

The Forest Society was part of efforts in 1988 that led to the State’s acquisition of the property.  Our involvement was driven by the significant impacts this area has long had on the regional forest-based economy, scenic forest landscapes, fish and wildlife habitats and public recreation. The first Nash Stream Management Plan, adopted in 1995, recognized these multiple uses and called for the Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) to oversee it with all those uses and needs in mind. 

The fundamental question is how to maintain this balance of activities without risking long-term or even permanent damage. In short, how can all the stakeholders who cherish this area avoid loving it to death?  The possible expansion of ATV use in the forest illustrates the complexity of finding an answer to this issue.  The original management plan prohibited ATV use there, but the 2002 plan update created a nine-mile ATV trail known as the West Side Connector.  Today, a technical planning team made up of state and federal natural resource agencies, working under the oversight of the Nash Stream Forest Citizens Committee, is in the process of updating the forest management plan.  The question of whether to expand ATV use will be part of this discussion.

There are two key issues relative to consideration of new ATV trails in Nash Stream Forest.  First is whether there are or should be limits to the expansion of ATV use of Nash Stream beyond the existing West Side Loop Trail.  The State acquired Nash Stream Forest to protect the ecological integrity of the working forest in one of the state’s largest self-contained, largely undeveloped watersheds.  Second, should DRED decide that more ATV trails are desirable (and not precluded by the terms of the original acquisition), NH RSA 215-A:43 will play a central role in determining what can actually happen on the ground.  This law requires DRED to conduct a two-step process, referred as a “course filter” and “fine filter” review, to evaluate any new ATV or trail bike trail proposal on state-owned property. 

Any new ATV trail in Nash Stream Forest must first be proposed, and then must clear this statutory review process successfully before it can be considered to become a permanent recreational feature.  The results of the course filter and fine filter review will help DRED craft the draft management plan.  DRED plans to propose a new draft management plan addressing these issues later this fall.  The new draft plan will then be the subject of public hearings, which will inform DRED’s final management plan. 

As the State moves forward with finalizing the plan, we hope it will also look for guidance to NH RSA 162-C:6, which governs the management of lands like Nash Stream Forest acquired by the N.H. Land Conservation Investment Program.  This statute states that the N.H. Council on Resources and Development (CORD) “shall manage the lands acquired under the former RSA 221-A  so as to preserve the natural beauty, landscape, rural character, natural resources, and high quality of life in New Hampshire. The council shall maintain and protect benefits derived from such lands and maintain public access to such lands, where appropriate.”     By following this direction, we can protect this exceptional place.

 Matt Leahy is the Forest Society’s public policy manager.