February 23, 2012 — Town forests have been staples in New England communities for generations. Abundant in timber while preserving diverse wildlife habitat, the forests provide revenue, jobs and recreation.
But back in 2007, the 735-person town of Albany, New Hampshire was one of only a handful of municipalities in the state that did not own its own forest.
Situated at the eastern gateway to the White Mountain National Forest, a full 85 percent of the town was part of the national forest. The town only owned a half-acre of its own land.
With the help of the Open Space Institute and The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a determined group of citizens pieced together a patchwork of funding to protect and create the Albany town forest. Acquired at the beginning of this year using a grant from OSI’s Community Forest Fund as one of its funding sources, the 302-acre parcel will play an important role in sustaining a vibrant local economy.
“From the beginning,” said Gregg Caporossi, a TPL project manager, “this project has been about the town of Albany and its desire to be sustainable. For the people here, that comes in a variety of forms.”
With substantial stands of northern hardwoods, red oak, hemlock and white pine, the town of Albany now has a sustainable asset that will provide a renewable source of revenue. The forest also sits on one of the largest aquifers in the state and will likely be tapped as a future source of drinking water for town residents.
The forest property is at the junction of two national scenic byways, the Kancamagus Scenic Byway and the White Mountain Trail, which together feed access to the White Mountain National Forest. The property includes a mile and a half of frontage on the Swift River, a top fishery and recreational resource in the region.
Albany residents may soon be able to grow their own food on plots carved out within the forest, and wind power may one day be a possibility on site as well.
In addition to creating the town forest, the terms of the acquisition set aside about 7 acres that will be the site of a future Albany town center, which holds great potential to link the community with its newly owned land.
“When the citizens started talking about this project, it became really evident that one of the things they were missing was a real center to the town,” Caporossi said. “Now, with this acquisition they have a great location for a new town hall and it’s in the middle of the town forest.”
Even more important than the economic impacts or a new town hall, says Steve Knox, a previous member of the Board of Selectmen and the current chair of the Albany planning board, are the effects the acquisition process had on Albany townspeople.
“We saw this as an incredible investment for the town,” said Knox, who describes a genuine sense of community that grew out of the project. “We also wanted the townspeople to have a major say in future decisions regarding the uses of the forest.
“But the most important thing is that people in Albany really got caught up in the idea that this forest is ours. Over a long, four-year process, the town really came together for this.”