BERLIN – The planning board last week gave its blessing to a proposal for a high elevation hiking trail to Mount Jasper and a new parking lot at the old Cates Hill landfill that would serve both hikers and snowmobilers.
The proposal grew out of the work of the Mount Jasper subcommittee and Larry Gomes, assistant trail master for the White Mountain Ridge Runners Snowmobile Club.
The Mount Jasper subcommittee, headed by Sally Manikian, backcountry resource conservation manager for the Appalachian Mountain Club, has put together a natural inventory and management plan for the 203-acres the city owns including the summit of the 1,584-foot high mountain.
That plan, prepared by Watershed to Wildlife, Inc., of Whitefield, will be presented for public comment on June 13 at city hall auditorium at 6 p.m.
The plan recommends establishing a high-elevation hiking trail to the summit, which offers spectacular views of the city. A high-elevation trail from Cates Hill would allow access to the summit for people not able to hike up the recently constructed trail from the Berlin High School parking lot.
A proposal put together by Gomes and Manikian, identified two possible locations for a high-elevation trail. One would start at the Hillside Cemetery. But the trail preferred by Manikian and Gomes would start at the old city landfill, which has been closed for years. While a trail from the cemetery would be shorter, Manikian noted possible conflicts with traffic moving through the cemetery and the lack of winter parking there.
The proposed hiking route from the landfill would be about a mile long but would be more gradual. It would follow the existing snowmobile trail that runs along the eastern side of the landfill to connect to an existing hiking trail that goes up the north side of Mount Jasper.
The pair recommends building a new parking lot at the old landfill that would be used by both hikers and snowmobilers. The existing snowmobile trail would be re-routed slightly to use the new parking lot. That will require permission from Barry Kelley to cross a section of his property but it would have the added bonus of moving the trail onto a drier section of land.
Manikian said the big advantage of the proposal is the creation of a new parking area, with space for 10 to 12 vehicles, that would be used by both hikers and snowmobilers. City permission is needed to move the chain link fence surrounding the landfill to accommodate the parking lot.
Community Development Director Pamela Laflamme said the subcommittee is seeking the planning board's support for the recommendation and then will present the proposal to the city council.
Planning board member David Morin said his only concern is maintaining the integrity of the landfill. He said he has no objection to the proposal, which he said would increase public use of the area. He said the snowmobile club has proven to be a good neighbor.
Laflamme said the subcommittee will review the proposal with the public works director and with the state Department of Environment Services. She said there is a big buffer area around the landfill and the new parking area will not allow access to the landfill itself.
Manikian said subcommittee is recommending the property not be open to ATV use. She cited the comments of state archeologist Dr. Richard Boisvert who spoke to the subcommittee about the historic value of the rhyolite site on the property that was used by the Native Americans to make tools. Part of the property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Boisvert expressed his concern about motorized access to the area. Mike Eastman, a local expert on the Akenaki culture, also meet with the planning board in March to talk about the sensitivity of the site.
Manikian said the Berlin High JAG Program and the Enriched Learning Center will be spending three weeks this summer on trail work on Mount Jasper. The JAG students built the lower trail and Manikian said the two student groups could work on the new trail as well. The Enriched Learning Center students will focus on erecting a kiosk at the base of the existing trail. Manikian said she is also working with Eastman on interpretive signage for the trail.
The planning board reviewed the draft management plan for the Mount Jasper property at its March meeting and made some recommendations. But overall, the board expressed its support for the plan.