Forester defends 'shocking' Whitaker tree cut

Debris from the recent clear-cut of dead and dying trees covers the ground near the powerlines in North Conway's Whitaker Woods, seen here on June 11.

Debris from the recent clear-cut of dead and dying trees covers the ground near the powerlines in North Conway's Whitaker Woods, seen here on June 11. RACHEL SHARPLES—Conway Daily Sun staff photo

By DAYMOND STEER

Conway Daily Sun

Published: 06-14-2024 1:36 PM

Stumps instead of trees and open spaces instead of forest-lined trails. This is what greeted a local resident following the recent salvage cut in Whitaker Woods, which he calls “shocking.”

But the town forester defended the cutting in the town-owned recreation site, saying the logging was necessary for public safety.

The 13-acre tree cutting, which was approved by the Conway Conservation Commission, was in the works for months. The goal, said Town Forester Tim Nolin, owner of Forest Land Improvement tree service of Ossipee, was to take down red oaks affected by two years of spongy moth infestation and drought, and then sell the timber.

Khiel Logging and Chipping of Denmark, Maine, did the work. They submitted the high bid in terms of what they would pay the town for the harvested timber.

In March, David Weathers, selectmen’s representative to the conservation commission, briefed selectmen about the project and warned that it would not be “aesthetically pretty” but “it has to be done for safety reasons.”

In April, Nolin, along with Town Manager John Eastman, Deputy Town Manager Paul DegliAngeli and Nat Lucy, chair of the conservation commission, led a public walking tour.

The logging operation began May 15 by the power lines off Kearsarge Road and continued southwesterly along the Conway Scenic Railroad tracks to Oak Street. The woods were open to the public but signs warned walkers away from the sites of the logging.

So it wasn’t until recently that North Conway resident Curtis Detzer saw what the loggers had accomplished.

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Detzer, who works as an airline pilot and is a former North Conway Community Center board member, told the Sun in a letter to the editor that what he saw saddened him. “It is truly shocking to see the extent of the clearing that has been done,” said Detzer. “Was this the plan or was there a misunderstanding as to how much was to be cleared? I personally take some responsibility for not being informed and active until now, which is too late.”

Reached Wednesday, Detzer, asked what he’d have done differently, said he would have attended the meetings in the run-up to the project. Detzer, who said he has been running, biking and skiing in Whitaker Woods for over 30 years, said, “I don’t know if I would have had any sway, But I think what they did was way too much.”

Detzer sent the Sun a photo from the Gradual Trail in Whitaker that was published in Wednesday’s Phone it In section on page 2.

Lucy understands the appearance of the logged portions of the woods might take people aback. “It’s a bit of a shock to those that are used to all the trees, but all the dead trees were a shock to us,” he said. “I think we are pretty pleased with what they did.”

On Monday, Nolin told the Sun that “all the cutting is done for certain, and we’re just kind of working the last of the wood out, and then we’ll start the cleanup process with an excavator.”

Both Nolin and Lucy praised Khiel’s work on the project.

The loggers left oaks that had a chance to survive, said Nolin.

The Sun also spoke to Misty Delavan of Conway near the Kearsage entrance at the woods. She and her family members ski, snowshoe, bike ride and run in the woods.

“A lot of the clear cutting has taken away the natural beauty and enjoyment of whatever woods that a lot of families come to enjoy,” said Delavan. “So it’s really sad, actually, to see all what they’re doing in here.”

With the dead trees removed, Lucy said there is a now a good view of the Ledges and the Moat Mountains from the middle of Whitaker Woods.

Lucy also said that some large pines were taken down that were starting to block the view of Mount Washington.

With the cutting completed, next comes trail cleanup with an excavator to smooth areas the loggers crossed and remove stumps and so on.

Nolin confirmed that the dead and dying trees still had value.

“The rot that’s occurring hadn’t gotten to the point where it was no longer saleable,” said Nolin. “Not only would the town have lost that money, but they would have been paying money to clean up the mess as it fell in the trail system.”

Lucy told the Sun it will be a few weeks before the commission gets a tally on the timber value that was salvaged. The goal of the project was to enhance public safety and not to make money but to at least cover the cost of the logging operation.

“It’s not a timber lot, it’s a park,” said Lucy. “The priority was to manage the park correctly. And make sure that trails are left intact and not have a bunch of trees dying and blowing or falling over for the next 10 years,” he said.

Weathers told selectmen Tuesday that Nolin is optimistic about the revenues. Weathers said he looked at Whitaker Woods on Monday and said the loggers did a good job. He added that Whitaker Woods does “does look different” but public safety is a plus.

Asked how many trees were cut, Lucy said he’s not sure the trees were counted. He expected the loggers will be done by Friday, give or take a few days, depending on weather.

The loggers used a feller buncher to take down the trees. Then they used a forwarder to haul the trees out.

The loggers also removed branches and had them chipped for biomass plants. Some chips will stay at Whitaker and be used to maintain the trails.

“So the end product we’re really pleased with because they really did a selective cut of the dead and dying trees and then picked up most of the brush,” Lucy said Tuesday. there’s a certain amount of biomass left on the ground but when there’s a years growth it’ll certainly get hidden.”

The logging took about a week longer than expected due to a mechanical breakdown and a day lost to weather, said Nolin. Still, the project was completed on time.

“The public was very cooperative in terms of rolling trail shutdowns, and, frankly, the people that I talked to, in there during it seemed to understand why it was happening,” said Nolin. “I didn’t get a lot of negative feedback.”

Reporter Tom Eastman contributed to this article.