Shelburne Riverlands map

This updated map of the Shelburne Riverlands project properties, that were just purchased by the Mahoosuc Land Trust, shows how important these islands and shorefront parcels are to the town of Shelburne. (MAHOOSUC LAND TRUST MAP)

SHELBURNE — An ambitious program announced by the non-profit Mahoosuc Land Trust less than a year ago to permanently conserve nine mainland parcels and 30 islands along an 8.7-mile stretch of the Androscoggin River has become a reality.

The $780,000 property purchase was finalized Friday and the deeds registered in the Coos County Courthouse in Lancaster.

The closing of the 861-acre Shelburne Riverlands project was handled by Andrew Dean, a partner at Cooper Cargill Chant P.A. of North Conway and Berlin.

Bayroot LLC sold the acreage being managed by Wagner Timber Management of Lyme. The parcels were previously owned by Mead/Westvaco Corp.

Funds for the conservation project came from a number of sources, including two programs operated by the state of New Hampshire. A $761,668 grant was awarded by the Aquatic Resource Mitigation program of the N.H. Department of Environmental Services. This project was selected to receive monies earmarked for the area because of its merits, highlighted in a required comprehensive wetlands assessment researched and written by three scientists.

“The Shelburne Riverlands feature a series of outstanding wetlands intimately related to the Androscoggin River,” wrote ecologist-botanist Brett Engstrom in his overview.

“Floodplain forests predominate, including types of conservation importance. Also featured are oxbow channels, scrub-shrub, emergent marsh, and a variety of river channel types. These wetlands serve important functions in terms of wildlife habitat, floodwater storage, sediment trapping, as well as recreation and education," he said.

The project also received a $125,000 grant from the far-better-known Land and Community Heritage Investment Program.

“We are truly appreciative of the significant investments of LCHIP and ARM,” MLT Executive Director Kirk Siegel, who works out of Bethel, Maine. “The wild and scenic nature of this section of river makes it a favorite of paddlers and anglers, while the wetland resource is outstanding.

"The dollars from the ARM Fund Program were particularly appropriate for the Riverlands project, given its important wetland values," he said.

Additional support came individuals and businesses, including Brookfield Renewables, plus a $200,000 grant from the Randolph Area Conservation Opportunity Fund, a donor-advised fund of the N.H. Charitable Foundation.The project also inspired some Shelburne residents to donate 19 more acres, increasing the total to 880 acres.

MLT has also worked closely with The Conservation Fund, a national non-profit conservation organization. “The Shelburne Riverlands contains enormous and critical conservation, recreation, and community values,” said the fund's Sally Manikian of Shelburne.

Shelburne residents and landowners will guide management of the Riverlands through a special advisory committee that the trust will create. In addition, MLT will work with the Shelburne Trails Club to enhance public access and connect to the existing Shelburne trails system, that includes sections of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

The Shelburne Riverlands project is very close to the southeast edge of the Upper Androscoggin River watershed.

Published in 2018 by the Appalachian Mountain Club, “The Ecological Atlas of the Upper Androscoggin River Watershed, 2nd Edition,” is packed with information, including a synopsis of its history. “The area covered by this Atlas is the wilder northern part of the watershed, including parts of Coos County in New Hampshire and Franklin and Oxford Counties in Maine,” write lead authors David Publicover, Kenneth Kimball, Catherine Pappenwimer and Doug Weihrauch.

“It covers the watershed upstream of the confluence of the Androscoggin and Webb rivers in Dixville, Maine … This is the Great North Woods — a land of vast forests and undeveloped lakes, where moose roam and loons call out across the misty waters. It is the land that echoes with ghosts of old logging camps and wild beasts such as wolf, mountain lion and lynx — an area rich in history and holding much promise of the future.”

Turning to the years when the paper industry was a major part of the economy, the authors recall: “Downstream at both Berlin and Rumford the growing paper industry introduced new stresses to the river ecosystem. In addition to waste generated from logging, sawmills and municipal sewer systems, developments in pulpwood processing now added sulfur to the list of effluents being dumped directly into the Androscoggin River. The amount and toxicity of waste was increasing and would soon test the limits of the Androscoggin. Log drives … damaged riverbottoms and shorelines and added large amounts of sediment and organic debris to the river.”

The last long-log drive on the Androscoggin took place in 1937. Pulp wood continued to be floated downstream on sections of the river until 1964.

“Over the last several decades … conservation efforts have shaped the pattern of land ownership and use in the watershed,” the authors say. “Today there is increasing recognition that the ecological, social and economic future of the Androscoggin River watershed is intimately tied to how we treat the land."

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