It takes a village, or City: Community stewardship of Mt Jasper in Berlin, NH

Mt Jasper is an unassuming summit that defines the northwestern viewscape of Berlin, NH. This

gentle and quiet summit, just over 1,000 ft in elevation and sitting in a 200 acre piece of open forestland, is within walking distance of downtown Berlin, and in the longstanding North Country tradition of public access on private land, is heavily used by the community (recent data collected by NH Fish and Game counted over 500 hikers in one week). It is a wild and quiet green space in contrast to the urban development of Berlin. One can walk from Main Street with brick storefronts and concrete sidewalks into the deep quiet green of Mt Jasper in less than 10 minutes.

Mt Jasper is owned by the City of Berlin, and is on the National Register of Historic Places, but has remained undeveloped and unpromoted save for snowmobile trails and a network of undesignated and unmarked roads and trails. Yet in community documents such as the development of the recent Master Plan, it was identified as requiring some degree of ‘protection.’ In today’s dynamic world of conservation, recreation, and grassroots organizing, we prefer the term ‘stewardship,’ indicating a level of community engagement, education, and ownership of the management process. In the past few years, thanks to partnership work led by AMC Trails, the community has taken steps towards local stewardship of the summit.
White Mountain Ridge Runners snowmobile club building a trailhead parking lot, to be shared with hikers.

Stewardship is a concept, and in every situation expresses itself uniquely once that concept is translated into on-the-ground-work. In the case of Berlin and Mt Jasper, ‘stewardship’ had to take its own course, develop its own voice. This is the approach of grassroots organizing, and it has yielded an extraordinary result.

So, what does ‘stewardship’ mean in this case? It means a hiking trail built and maintained by Berlin’s Jobs for America's Graduates (JAG) program. It means a natural resource and management plan developed by a subcommittee of the Berlin Planning Board. It means a new parking lot built by the White Mountain Ridge Runners Snowmobile Club, along with a new hiking trail that co-shares part of the snowmobile trail. It means a series of interpretive signs depicting the natural and cultural heritage designed by local artists. It means infrastructure such as kiosks and benches built by the Enriched Learning Center, an alternative educational program for at-risk youth. It means developing a set of stewardship principles unique and tailored to the community and to Mt Jasper itself, and has set in motion long-term stewardship of the summit and surrounding land.

Local artists working on interpretive sigange for Jasper
Upcoming work this year includes building a second hiking trail, along with a trailhead kiosk and signage, as well as continuing to develop the first hiking trail. With any luck, the processes of City government will accept the recommendations and management plan for Jasper developed by the Jasper Subcommittee of the Planning Board. Among these recommendations is a recommendation that the parcel be for non-motorized use (excepting current snowmobile trails during the winter months).

The Mt Jasper Stewardship Project has been ongoing for almost five years, and is an example of the slow growth of grassroots community work. The project is one of true and theoretically unlikely partners (such as snowmobile clubs and alternative educational programs), but the common theme is a love of the mountain and what it represents.

To read more about local coverage of the Mt Jasper work, check out the Berlin Daily Sun here and here, and the White Mountain Ridge Runner’s blog here

A new trailhead kiosk, built by the Enriched Learning Center in Berlin

Labels: ,