4-13-19 Parsons-Ossipee Pine Barrens Trail

The new accessible trail in the Ossipee Pine Barrens. (JEFF LOUGEE PHOTO)

On Saturday, April 6, I carpooled to a special spring gathering at the Prospect Mountain High School in Alton called “Saving Special Places, New Hampshire’s Annual Land Conservation Conference.” It is organized by the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

It was my third year attending this event, which is in its 18th year. The last three years, the event has broken attendance records since its inception with more than 300 attending.

That is not surprising considering the format. First, people are encouraged to arrive early to network and enjoy an informal breakfast. Many organizations had booths in the hallway. Familiar faces included Will Abbott and Doug Burnell of the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust; Alex Moot, Lynn Flaccus and Sheldon Perry of the Chocorua Lake Conservancy; David White of the Lakes Region Conservation Trust; AMC Cartographer Larry Garland and more.

It was good to meet Jed Talbot of OBP Trailworks from Turner, Maine. Hikers in the White Mountains and elsewhere, including the Patagonia National Park in Chile, have likely walked on trails his company has improved and preserved.

Starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 3:45 p.m., 29 workshops were conducted by experts in various fields of natural history and conservation. After a noon day lunch, the school auditorium filled to hear a featured speaker before the afternoon workshop sessions.

This year, it was Jameson French who has had a long career in both conservation and the woodland products industry. He talked about New Hampshire’s leadership in land conservation in the past and future.

Every year, my interests as an outdoor enthusiast are easily found in the variety of workshops. The first one I attended in the morning was a popular one called “Untrammeled: The Case For Wild Nature.”

Speakers from The Nature Conservancy, the Northeast Wilderness Trust and Thompkins Conservation shared their thoughts on the importance of conserving wild nature.

This can be a challenge for local land trusts when funding for conservation often is motivated by the potential for human participation in the form of recreation, such as bike paths.

Yet, these three conservation organizations have succeeded in preserving such land — the Thompkins Conservation in South America, the Northeast Wilderness Trust in five northeast states, and The Nature Conservancy worldwide.

Untouched wilderness increases the resiliency of the land dramatically. An example given was Mount Saint Helens. Three years after its eruption, which leveled the landscape for miles around, 90 percent of the plant species were back. Seeds were protected by the depth of built-up soil and inside leveled tree trunks. This resiliency in wilderness is also true for fungal networks underground and wildlife.

An interesting description of wilderness was of self-willed land, and on creatures there as sovereign beings, with an actual power to make decisions. Back to people, the spiritual value of wilderness was also mentioned.

The next workshop I went to was about efforts to save the monarch butterfly, which has declined 90 percent in the last decade. The primary threats are GMO crops that are sprayed with Roundup, killing milkweed; deforestation in their wintering grounds in Mexico; commercial release of monarchs for events such as weddings, which may cause disease; and climate change.

What can we do here? Landowners can practice precision agriculture, leaving areas for milkweed growth. Utilities can encourage milkweed on the 10 million acres of right of way by roads.

In New Hampshire, the Department of Transportation is helping. For those who mow fields, avoid mowing the entire habitat, leaving areas for milkweed. It is best to mow before May 1 and after Oct. 1. However, a growing season mow could be between June 20 and July 20, before the generation that heads south would be born. Education is vital.

People can get involved in monarch sighting counts in their area on such sites as Journey North (journeynorth.org), Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (hmonarchlab.org/mlmp)and Monarch Watch (monarchwatch.org). The best online site for information on monarchs is Monarch Joint Venture (monarchjointventure.org).

Of interest, the old practice of capturing monarch caterpillars and watching them turn into a chrysalis and butterfly inside a jar is strongly discouraged. It disrupts the butterfly’s cycle to the point where they won’t reproduce or migrate.

The afternoon workshop I went to is where I got a suggested hike for this week. It is short and sweet.

Jeff Lougee, northern New Hampshire director of the The Nature Conservancy and Jed Talbot of OBP Trailworks presented a workshop on accessible trails in New Hampshire. The word handicapped is left out of that description, as such a trail is for anybody, including those with any sort of challenge on irregular terrain, and those who go with handicapped people.

The centerpiece for their presentation was the new accessible trail in the Ossipee Pine Barrens that OBP Trailworks constructed last summer. It is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, with a grade of 2 percent to 10 percent. It is three quarters of a mile long, with a bench halfway and an accessible observation platform at the end. It is accessible from the Route 41 trailhead on the Nature Conservancy’s Ossipee Pine Barrens.

Before Lougee and Talbot spoke, Randy Pierce got up to say a few words with his seeing eye dog Quin. Pierce is totally blind, yet has done all the New Hampshire 4,000 footers, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and done the Boston marathon. He is an inspirational speaker with a website 20/20 Vision Quest. His advice to everyone was: “Look at the world mindfully and choose what you want to do.”

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