Step by Step: Brentwood Manages Town Land for Wildlife & Recreation

Rob Wofchuck
Split Rock wildlife clearing

I had the privilege of attending the 2015 NH Coverts Project training program and 5 years later, I finally completed my NH Coverts project. It took 5 years, not due to procrastination or laziness, but because it was a town project with many aspects. On October 4th, 2019 it was the official opening of Brentwood’s Split Rock Conservation Area.

Brentwood’s Conservation Commission had been working towards managing some town-owned properties for recreation and wildlife habitat. That may sound like an easy task, but there is a lot to consider when making management decisions, especially on town-owned lands. The Commission must balance multiple uses and important natural resources in their decisions: protecting drinking water, keeping forests healthy, maintaining important wildlife habitat, providing a place for people to enjoy the outdoors.

For over 5 years, the Conservation Commission has been working to improve the use of this property for both residents and wildlife. In 2015 the Conservation Commission hired Jeff Littleton of Moosewood Ecological to write a stewardship plan for the property that would guide the decision-making process. The task was to analyze the property for recreational opportunities and natural resource values and come back with a plan on how the town could maximize the use of this property. The full report can be found on the town website on the Conservation Commission page under Files and Documents. Additionally, wildlife biologists from UNH, including Taking Action for Wildlife’s very own Emma Tutein, toured the property with the Conservation Commission and added their comments and suggestions.

The Conservation Commission’s goal for the project was to improve this great town asset and here is an update of what we have accomplished.

First, a selective logging on both parcels was completed in September 2017 with the help of licensed forester Charlie Moreno. The goal of the logging operation was to improve the forest health, improve and create new habitat for wildlife and produce revenue for the town. Some people believe that a healthy forest is one that is left alone and never touched, and there is something to be said for that approach. However, selective cutting provides two important benefits -improved space and light for healthier trees and diverse wildlife habitat. Cutting out the weaker, deformed, damaged and diseased trees allows the stronger, more desirable trees to flourish. The approach will be to manage the town property for the long term and leave trees that can grow and become a valuable source of recurring revenue for the town for the next 100+ years. After all expenses, the town received $2,084 which was placed in the Conservation Fund to go towards other improvements on the property.

Split Rock after logging

A look at the Split Rock Conservation Area after logging took place in 2017.

A four-acre wildlife opening was created to provide shrublands and young forest habitat which is a rare habitat type in New Hampshire - it is more common to have mature forests. Yet many wildlife species – including birds, snakes and small mammals – need the cover of shrubs or young forests for protection and a place to raise their young. Other smaller wildlife openings were also created on the property. While the wildlife opening did not look pleasing to some right after the logging, it has now turned totally green and is filled with shrubs and other vegetation. The goal it to produce more of these openings during subsequent loggings to create a forest that is diverse in terms of age and type of habitat.

Second, we have improved the recreational opportunities on these parcels. For the past two years, we have worked diligently with the Brentwood Trails Committee to locate, cut, clear, and mark a new trail system throughout the entire property. We have had several trail workdays to cut logs, clear slash left from the logging and rake the debris off the trails. The trails are now cleared and well-marked with blazes and welcoming to users for hiking, biking, birding and more.

Third, the Highway Department installed a small parking area off South Road at the trail entrance to allow for 3 or 4 cars to park off the street. There will still be room for a few cars to park on the shoulder of South Road, but it was important to have some parking off the road to make it easier and safer.

Split Rock two years later

Two years after the logging operation.

Fourth - What good are trails if you do not know where they are and where they go? Now that the trails have been laid out, we have created a map of the entire property and constructed two kiosks. These kiosks were built by two Scouts as their Eagle Scout projects. The kiosks are located in the parking area at 211 South Road and the field entrance off Haigh Road. A new trail map has been produced and can be found on the town website under the Conservation Commission page.

Lastly, as mentioned above, Little River separates the two parcels so if you want to hike the entire property, you previously had to get your feet wet crossing the river. However, a new bridge has now been constructed over Little River so that you can easily access both sides of the property. We had an incredible turn out on several weekends from dozens of volunteers to help build this new bridge.

As you can see, this has been a community wide effort and we are very excited to get the news out on this terrific town property so that it can be enjoyed by all.  

By Rob Wofchuck, Brentwood Conservation Commission & NH Coverts Project Volunteer
2020 Spring Taking Action for Wildlife Newsletter