GORHAM — Androscoggin District Ranger Josh Sjostrom, who took up his new post in the White Mountain National Forest early in December 2020, met in person with Gorham selectmen on Monday, May 10.
Sjostrom grew up in Shelburne and Gorham and said he was pleased to be home where he still has friends and family. He started his U.S. Forest Service career as a forestry technician on the Androscoggin. He most recently served as assistant field manager at the Mother Lode Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management in central California.
The chairman’s discussion with the district ranger focused on the four major trailheads in town that hikers use to access the White Mountain National Forest. Last week, town manager Denise Vallee and Sjostrom took a field trip together to see what this foursome looked like and why they’re among Gorham select board chairman Mike Waddell’s “pet peeves.”
The best of them, Waddell pointed out, is the much-improved Stony Brook Trailhead on Route 16 near the Peabody River Bridge. The parking is sufficient and the signs are in good condition. However, this important recreational amenity is not located on national forest land. Long-term, Waddell said, the underlying acreage and parking lot should be owned by a governmental body: the U.S. Forest Service, the state or the municipality.
He pointed out that there is no dedicated parking for the Mount Moriah Trail which is located at the end of Bangor Street in a residential neighborhood.
Waddell said it would be far better if an adequate-sized parking lot could be built at an alternate site, possibly on or near Route 2 or the pipeline — well away from privately owned homes. The best long-term solution would be for the Forest Service to own the underlying land at the trailhead as well as the parking lot, especially since federal funds are ordinarily available for these purposes, he said.
The Pine Mountain Trail is the “most mysterious” of the town’s trailheads, Waddell said.
The property where the trailhead is located has either just been sold or is in the process of being sold by the Gorham Land Company, he explained. The Forest Service has an easement on the trail, but Waddell says he is not sure that the Forest Service ever secured rights to the trailhead, which appears to be located in a gravel pit.
Hikers reach this site via Church Street to Promenade Street Extension to the Bear Springs Trail. Waddell urged Sjostrom to take an interest in understanding how the U.S. Forest Service can preserve hiker access to this popular hike with a spectacular view.
The district ranger said that after being on board for less than six months, he’s still learning the multiple activities that take place in the Androscoggin District. These trailheads have a long history and the Forest Service needs to research the agreements, to see what’s in place and who its partners are. These are things that the Lands’ staff in the supervisor’s office can look into, he said, in addition to talking with local people who are knowledgeable.
“It will take time,” Sjostrom said.
“We’re interested in working with you,” Waddell said. “We’re trying to minimize conflicts between ATVs, mountain bikes and hikers. Long-term, we want to keep recreationalists away from residential neighborhoods. There’s going to be some friction, but we’re going to work at minimizing it.”
Sjostrom said that COVID-19 has resulted in unprecedented recreational levels that national forest land use managers have had to handle that and he recognizes and feels those same pressures. “I’m certain we can work together and share strategies,” he said.