Some hope to restore the Mahoosuc Trail to its original route in Gorham

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peakbagger

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There are lots of moving parts to this one ;) If you want the background keep reading otherwise skip way down to the link.

The Mahoosuc trail in Gorham for many years was a far more pleasant walk on a rarely used gravel road and then over the actual power house then onto the Hogan Road and then back into the woods. In combination with the catwalk under the trestle over the bypass channel of the river it was quick way to get out of town and up to Mascot Pond and had been that way since the dam complex was built in the 1920s through various paper company owners. About 20 years ago Brookfield Power went on a buying binge of former papermill hydro operations in New England and bought the then bankrupt Pulp and Paper of America (PPA) mills in Berlin and Gorham. Using another firm, Fraser Papers, they had control of, they stripped the 33 MW of hydro assets from the mills and sold the remaining mills to Fraser Papers and let Fraser run them into the ground, before Fraser itself was nearly completely stripped of assets and allowed to go bankrupt. Soon after the hydro transaction was completed, Brookfield cut off access to the Mahoosuc trail completely from Gorham and built a chain link fence with zero public notice to block access to the power house of the hydro station. Unlike the paper company days, Brookfield had little or no use for such niceties as local PR and what few employees remaining from the prior ownership were told to focus on and only on the operation of the plants.

AMC who had built and maintained the Mahoosuc Trail before the hydro dams were even built in the 1920s attempted to reestablish a route from Rt 16 to the east bank of the river to the traditional route was rebuffed by Brookfield. Somewhat concurrently, the former Boston and Maine spur that started at Waumbek Junction in Jefferson and originally dead ended in Berlin was finally abandoned by the current owners, Guilford Transportation. Not sure when the last trains went through there, but it was still in occasional use after I moved to the area in 1987. Eventually the tracks and ties were stripped. When Brookfield bought the mills they also bought the Berlin Mills Railroad a short line that had ownership of the track right of way from RT 16 in Gorham to Berlin. Brookfield retained ownership of this right of way and spun the remainder off to Fraser. This left no official public access across the river in Gorham although unofficial access was tolerated by local Brookfield operations employees. It was informal and Brookfield had no interest in making it formal. AMC had pulled a power play in the region previously against dam relicensing and the net result was that Brookfield has zero interest in allowing AMC to make a formal route across the river. For about a decade, the official start of the Mahoosuc trail started on the east shore of the river at the Hogan Road, a rough marginally maintained private road on the east side of the river. The informal access was quite a detour up river and then back down again.

Fast forward about a decade and the pulp mill in Berlin was closed and torn down, Fraser papers of NH the owner of the papermill in Gorham went bankrupt and in general the local economy hit a low point. The state of NH had in the meantime picked up the former B&M track rights to "preserve them" for future use but no activity ensued. In general, the local economy was in very poor shape with the major employment base gone and the only real chance of economic activity was tourist based. ATVs were becoming an active hobby and a major problem in Southern NH due to lack of legal places to use them. Much of the remaining mill forest lands had a one point been sold to an insurance company who was going to manage it sustainably "forever" but their definition rapidly changed to about 3 years once the ice storm of 1998 occurred. They sold much of the land in the area to a timber liquidation firm, Dillon, and one of Dillon's first targets was a large parcel of land in Jericho abutting the national forest in Kilkenny area. They give the land a proverbial "crewcut" and didnt leave any merchantable timber. Conveniently the state of NH had been collecting a surcharge on ATV licenses to expand at the time a nonexistent trail ATV trail network. in the state for riders to legally ride on. The Berlin/Gorham area needed a tourist draw and Dillon had a stripped piece of land that would not be productive timberland for 30 to 50 years, so the grand bargain was struck, the state spent the majority of money in the trails fund to buy the Dillon land in Jericho in two installments and directed state parks employees in the area to build an ATV network. Berlin kicked in an underutilized city recreation area next to a flood control dam that formed Jericho Lake. The other key to the plan was to connect the trail network to Gorham as most of the tourist based businesses were in Gorham. The state had some secondary rights to the rail bed that crossed the river and Brookfield allowed the ATV trail to be built. At the time, the Mahoosuc hiking trail was brought up, but the state Bureau of Trails was entirely focused on snowmachine and now ATV trails as they were a revenue source and had no interest in a hiking trail (much as they are today).

Fast forward another 10 years and the Brookfield local management changed somewhat as Brookfield grew to one of the biggest real estate owners in the US, reportedly backed by middle eastern oil money. A local employee convinced the local management that some good low cost local PR might be a good thing. Hydro dams use public resources, the rivers, to make money and they need to be federally relicensed occasionally and recreational access is part of the relicensing process. The employee was a mountain biker and helped form the Coos Cycling club and their initial focus was the area where the Mahoosuc trail used to run on what is a large manmade island in the river with the dam bypass canal on one side (the section of the river that can be seen next Rt 16 near the trestle) and the power canal that runs from the dam upriver to the powerhouse). Brookfield fed the club some funding and assistance and a small mountain bike network was built. The Mahoosuc Trail was informally marked through the area but it was not until about ten years ago that official blazes and signage was installed at the Trestle and over the island. The route used the ATV trail and it was an unpleasant and noisy place to walk until about 5 years ago that the trail was rerouted away from the ATV trail except for a bridge crossing over the hydro canal.

That brings us to today's link https://www.conwaydailysun.com/berl...cle_328b7932-38b3-11ef-ae2a-0f30cd822876.html Brookfield is in the process of relicensing the dams again and one of the many facets of a licensing application is recreational access. Local folk's memories are kind of long and the Mahoosuc trail and the cut off access across the river via the traditional route has come back to haunt Brookfield. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Presumably this route was blocked off under the guise of anti-terrorism hysteria from 9/11. The reality was the hydro station powerhouse was in very poor condition that could expose the public to hazards and a chain link fence was a lot cheaper than fixing things. The ATV connector is now a major connector route to the ride the wilds 1000 mile trail network mostly north of Gorham and the towns want to make sure that access is maintained. The Cross NH mountain Bike trail is also dependent on the island to get to the Hogan Road. I think in the scheme of things the hiking trail access over the power house will get pushback from Brookfield and if push comes to shove, I could see if being negotiated away to lock in the long term ATV access on the former railbed.

BTW to those who have not visited Mascot Pond, I am always amazed how little use it gets for such easy access. It's a great spot to camp right next to the pond and despite it being quite close to town its totally undeveloped and feels quite remote. The sand beach is fairly rare for a northern NH pond. If it was hour closer to Boston I expect it would be mobbed on summer weekends. As it is, except for occasional rockhounds digging through the old mine spoil piles, its quiet.
 
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I'm sure Mascot would get more use if there were any fish in it. I'm also not sure I'm drinking water from or swimming in an acidic pond leaching various metals from an old lead mine. Seems like a recipe for unsafe water that my filter isn't doing anything for.
 
I generally recommend getting water from the brook that follows the Mahoosuc trail before the spur path to the Pond. Not sure if that type of mine has issues with long term acid mine drainage. It was a pegmatite deposit rather than the sedimentary type deposit sulfide mines that are infamous for long term acid drainage.

That issue came up as possible reason not to change Maine mining law to allow the mining of the lithium rich spodumene deposit on Plumbago Mountain north of Bethel. I think the consensus was it wasnt going to be but the permitted mine is going to have to do a lot of baseline and long term testing.

As for fish population my guess is it would not sustain much of a population and NH has not attempted to stock it like the more popular but similar "tourist" ponds, like the Carter Ponds. My guess is it is not particularly deep and only has one outlet and possibly some culverts down near Hogan road that would prevent travel of fish upstream. I have never heard of any testing to indicate that it was contaminated, and that particular stretch of the Androscoggin has been tested for decades due to far bigger known legacy of the upstream pulp and papermills.
 
I generally recommend getting water from the brook that follows the Mahoosuc trail before the spur path to the Pond. Not sure if that type of mine has issues with long term acid mine drainage. It was a pegmatite deposit rather than the sedimentary type deposit sulfide mines that are infamous for long term acid drainage.

That issue came up as possible reason not to change Maine mining law to allow the mining of the lithium rich spodumene deposit on Plumbago Mountain north of Bethel. I think the consensus was it wasnt going to be but the permitted mine is going to have to do a lot of baseline and long term testing.

As for fish population my guess is it would not sustain much of a population and NH has not attempted to stock it like the more popular but similar "tourist" ponds, like the Carter Ponds. My guess is it is not particularly deep and only has one outlet and possibly some culverts down near Hogan road that would prevent travel of fish upstream. I have never heard of any testing to indicate that it was contaminated, and that particular stretch of the Androscoggin has been tested for decades due to far bigger known legacy of the upstream pulp and papermills.

In doing a bit of research I found some testing done in 2019 that revealed the water didn't have detectable levels of anything other than zinc despite the sediment having very high concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, and lead.
 
See, the pro-hiker advocates need to take a page from today's political climate. You always start with a proposal that is completely outrageous and non-sensical and then act magnanimous by backing way off to something reasonable (well, ever so slightly less unreasonable anyway). Thus, the opening salvo should be to build a suspension bridge directly from the island to Mascot Pond. Anything other than that will be an enormous compromise.
 
Ultimately hiking trails really have no advocates in the state government. The state department of tourism will spend a lot of money putting out glossy brochures and TV buys featuring stereotypical families with stereotypical kids on various summits accessed by hiking trails and the state will gladly collect room and meals taxes from hikers but the reality is there really is no state NH advocate for hiking trails except on state lands that have a direct revenue stream like Monadnock and Franconia Notch State Park. There are state crews who can and do trail work, but they are building and maintaining trails on state lands supplanted by volunteer crews like the Cardigan Highlanders on the state-owned portion of Cardigan. The real world was that state government like the FS depended on the AMC to be the advocate for hiking trails. I will point out that of all the 4000 footers in NH the only one where bushwhacking is not legal and subject to a fine is Cannon Mountain which is state owned land run by a state park. Cannon could easily open the mountain for non ski season hiking like Loon and Wildcat but some administrators have consistently resisted this as its easier to keep the public out from seeing what is being done on what should be public land. In at least one case where the state was ripping up the slopes creating significant erosion issues, a member of the hiking public published photos of the damage and the response was to try to bust the photographer rather than clean up their act.

The state does have a Bureau of Trails which would be the logical advocate for hiking trails in the state but they are funded predominantly by surcharges on motorized recreation. What money there is in the budget is spent on motorized trails. The cross NH adventure bicycle trail is major snowmachine trail in winter and the western portion is an ATV trail. The Eastern portion is not an ATV trail due to the National Wildlife refuge which precludes ATV use and to some extent the WMNF.

Therefore, the state could really care less is if a hiking trail is blocked or abused. The only reason the Gorham Mahoosuc trail is an issue is that the town of Gorham Selectmen has at least one long term hiker with a long memory.
 
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