New 980-Acre Community Forest in Bethel Serves Economy and Community

Bethel Residents Establish Community Forest with Help from Nonprofit Organizations

June 19, 2019

The Trust for Public Land, Mahoosuc Pathways, the Northern Forest Center, and the Bethel community today announced the protection of 980 acres of forestland in Bethel. Located only two miles from the village center, the new Bethel Community Forest will support community and economic development in the Bethel area.

 “Since we were founded in 2011, we have wanted to realize the community held vision of connecting Bethel village to Sunday River Resort with a year-round multi-use trail system,” said Gabe Perkins, Executive Director of Mahoosuc Pathways. “The partnership with The Trust for Public Land and the Northern Forest Center and the landowner, coupled with the inspiring community planning process, shows that we’re ready to deliver on our goal while being good stewards of the Bethel Community Forest. We can’t wait to share these special places with the people who love Bethel and the outdoors.”

“This project is truly a milestone for the Western Maine community,” said Betsy Cook, Project Manager for The Trust for Public Land. “This new community forest will advance the triple bottom line by growing the local four-season tourism economy, protecting local forestland, and uniting the community around a new shared resource.”

The Trust for Public Land facilitated the purchase of the property for $2.25 million from STAG Properties, LLC, and immediately transferred it to Mahoosuc Pathways, a local nonprofit organization that will be the long-term land owner. The Trust for Public Land, the Northern Forest Center and Mahoosuc Pathways have worked together with Bethel residents for the past two years to create the Bethel Community Forest.

“The Bethel Community Forest unlocks public access to the adjacent town-owned Bingham Forest, creating a 3,500-acre block of conserved land next to Sunday River Ski resort,” said Perkins. “This significant, publicly accessible acreage will attract visitors from throughout the region.”  Mahoosuc Pathways worked extensively with the local community on advocating and planning the formation of Bethel Community Forest. 

Julie Renaud Evans, Program Director at the Northern Forest Center, led a committee of dozens of local residents to plan how the community would use the property and manage it. Local decision making is a key tenet of the Community Forest model, along with permanent conservation and ensuring the benefits of the property serve the community.

“The new community forest will provide important support to the Bethel area’s growing tourism economy and create a recreation hub for all types of trail uses, including close-to-home hiking, biking, and skiing opportunities,” said Renaud Evans. “Most communities need some assistance to see all the potential of their Community Forest and to understand how to manage it for decades to come.”

The combined forest areas also will serve the local community by providing a large natural area for outdoor education and promote healthy living with easy access to non-motorized outdoor recreation. If not for The Trust for Public Land and collaborating partners, it is likely this land would have been sold and developed.

The Trust for Public Land and the Northern Forest Center have between them helped nearly 40 communities acquire forestland for local benefit based on the Community Forest model they developed.

“Bethel has long been a destination for outdoor enthusiasts due to its pristine environment and countless recreation opportunities,” said U.S. Senators Collins and King in a joint statement. “By preserving nearly 1,000 acres within the town, the Bethel Community Forest will not only benefit current residents and visitors to the area—it will invest in Bethel’s future.  This land will expand Bethel’s vast network of hiking, skiing, and biking trails while allowing the forest products industry to continue the sustainable harvest of timber.  We congratulate the entire Bethel community on this exciting project that will help preserve Western Maine’s stunning beauty for the enjoyment of all and support the region’s economy for many years to come.”

Funding for this project was provided by The U.S. Forest Service Community Forest and Open Space program, The State of Maine’s Land for Maine’s Future Program, The Open Space Institute’s Community Forest Fund, The Betterment Fund, The Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, The Quimby Family Foundation, and more than one hundred generous individuals, companies, and foundations.

About the Partners

The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Millions of people live near a Trust for Public Land park, garden, or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year. To support The Trust for Public Land and share why nature matters to you, visit www.tpl.org.

The Northern Forest Center is a regional innovation and investment partner creating rural vibrancy by connecting people, economy, and the forested landscape. Center programs enhance the lives of people that love, rely on, or benefit from a healthy Northern Forest.

Mahoosuc Pathways is dedicated to connecting communities through the development, maintenance, and promotion of a multi-use trail recreational system in the Mahoosuc region.

 

 

 

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