‘Tree Farm of the Year’ awarded

Crotched Mountain Rehab: Recognized for outdoor recreation opportunities

The land atop Crotched Mountain is perhaps best known as the home of a leading center for the treatment and education of people with disabilities. But it’s also the site of 1,247 acres of woodlands that last week was recognized as the 2013 Hillsborough County Tree Farm of the Year.

The Hillsborough County Conservation District presented the award to the Crotched Mountain Foundation, honoring the foundation for providing outdoor recreation opportunities, maintaining the land’s natural beauty and diversifying the habitat for all species. The land, which is in Greenfield, Francestown and Bennington, has been a certified tree farm for 27 years.

The foundation was also recognized for its innovation and use of the property for activities including accessible outdoor hiking and kayaking, maple sap collection, hawk watching, and blueberry picking.

“What sets us apart is what we were able to do to relate the conservation land to the mission of the organization, to support people with disabilities,” said Michael Redmond, senior vice president and chief operating officer at Crotched Mountain Foundation.

A strategic planning process began in 2004, according to Redmond.

“We began to think of the forest as a place of recreation, one that would be open to everyone,” he said. “We learned more about the land, and in 2005 we created a recreation master plan.”

The master plan focused on accessibility.

“We realized the land contained a diversity of natural habitats that could be used in different ways,” said Redmond. The land offers opportunities for picturesque views of the region, education, sporting, and family bonding and the foundation wanted to tie these activities together with a series of trails that are accessible to all.

Over the years, through community philanthropic efforts, the foundation raised $500,000 to create the first two miles of built trails, which were constructed from 2007-10. The trails were constructed to meet the U.S. Forest Service’s accessibility standard. Opened in June 2011, the trails are the longest mountain-based fully accessible trails in the country. They offer views of Mount Monadnock, an abandoned beaver pond, and space for the school’s maple sugaring program.

“Everything in the forest is open to the world. Everyone can enjoy the outdoors, just need to make accommodations for people to do that,” said Redmond.

In order to protect the land forever, the foundation created a permanent endowment. “We applied for a grant through the U.S. Forest Service legacy program, by winning the national competition we were given a grant of $2 million to keep the land a permanent conservation space,” said Redmond.

The land was placed under a conservation easement in the fall of 2012. Under the easement, the majority of Crotched Mountain’s campus, including the accessible trail system, will be forever conserved and open to the public for hiking, fishing, hunting and more, according to a press release.

“We want to be good neighbors and protect our assets for perpetuity, sustainable forestry practices is one way to do that,” said Redmond.

In a recent press release, Bob Todd, forester of the conservation land for the past 33 years, said, “The administration at Crotched Mountain has a wonderful land ethic, and they truly believe in ensuring future sustainability of the land, conserving and using natural resources wisely, and creating an environment for all to enjoy for years to come.”

One of the techniques that the foundation uses is a sustainable forest program that improves growth and maintains harvesting potential, according to Todd. The foundation has also installed a wood chip fire energy facility that heats the complex and saves money.

“The land contributes to the local economy by providing forest products and has a drip irrigation disposal that makes use of sewage,” said Todd.

Studies have shown that if brain injury patients have access to the outdoors, they heal sooner and more successfully, according to Todd.

“I like to say it’s both a hospital and a school without walls, as Crotched Mountain combines traditional healthcare and rehabilitation therapy with the healing power of nature,” he said.

Now that the first trails are complete, the foundation has moved on to other activities including hiking, snowshoeing, and hunting. These will create opportunities for community building, according to Redmond.

Future plans are to stick with the foundation’s recreation master plan, which calls for outdoor camping, restoration of water front, and the building of more trails. The foundation hopes to be able to raise enough money to make these goals come true.

“This spring we are hoping to participate in turkey hunting season, deer hunting in the fall - wheelchair accessible,” said Redmond.

Kerry Rickrode, district manager, Hillsborough County Conservation District, said, “Crotched Mountain are respected cooperators with us. They focus on forestry efforts and improving their land. They do a great job.”

Redmond is confident that the master plan will move forward and continue to help improve the community.

“We worry about health of the surrounding community, the quality of water and air,” Redmond said. “We are a forward looking organization. We like to think we are a model for others.”

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