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Working Together To Improve Lyme’s Conservation Lands

Mar 17, 2024 06:25PM ● By Anne Richter Arnold Photos Courtesy of the lyme conservation commission and upper valley trails alliance
Much time, effort, and commitment are required to maintain conservation lands and make them safe and accessible to the public. No one knows this better than Lyme Conservation Commission (LCC) Chairman Blake Allison, who, with help from the Upper Valley Trails Alliance (UVTA), makes sure that Lyme’s public lands are preserved for the community’s enjoyment.

In its mission to conserve open spaces in town for the public benefit, the LCC manages and maintains the town’s conservation lands, which includes five nature  preserves. The LCC sponsors hikes, snowshoe walks, and educational field trips.

UVTA and the LCC have partnered since 2014 to complete a project on public lands every year. “The collaboration started with Russell Hirschler, a longtime member of the LCC. It was his impetus to utilize the group they put together, the UVTA High School Trails Corps,” says Blake. “The corps recruits as many as 50 high school–aged people and they work as teams during the summer on Alliance projects that benefit public lands in the Upper Valley.”


Making It Happen Together

Blake continues, “Many projects are beyond the engineering capabilities or time and energy of the LCC. The UVTA will team the corps with some adults, supply heavy equipment that can create trails or build bridges, and really make things happen. We are very fortunate to have this partnership. It allows us to take on upgrades to the town properties that would otherwise be very difficult for us.”

In 2014, the UVTA worked with the LCC to bring their high school crews to build a bridge over Trout Brook connecting the Chaffee Wildlife Sanctuary to Chase Beach (Lyme’s beach facility). Since then, UVTA has worked with the LCC under Blake’s leadership to make improvements in most of the conservation areas in town. Past projects include building a wildlife viewing structure in the Chaffee Wildlife Sanctuary, improving the Lower Grant Brook Trail by installing bog bridges and reroutes around wet areas, and replacing over 200 feet of bog bridges in Chaffee.

Other collaborations over the past decade include rebuilding the trailhead access and other reroutes at Big Rock Nature Area to mitigate erosion issues, replacement and installation of bridges in the Lyme Town Forest, and treadway and drainage improvements in Trout Pond Forest.

“Collaboration is part of the UVTA mission,” Russell explains. “We work in partnership with and in support of our Alliance members, including other organizations, conservation commissions, trails committees, private landowners, and others who manage trails. This concept was a founding principle of UVTA: to provide resources and technical expertise to help other groups manage, improve, and expand their trails. So, as you can imagine, it takes a willing partner with vision and resources to make it work. Blake and the LCC are just that.”

Blake adds, “Lyme Foundation’s ongoing financial support of the UVTA Trails Corps  is key. Its annual matching funding has been an invaluable component of our success in executing these projects.”


Improving Safety and Access

“I have been a Lyme resident since 2007 and have sat on the LCC as either a full member or alternate since that time,” continues Russell. “For most of that time, Blake has been the chair of the commission, and in that time, he has been an outstanding supporter of improving the trail network in the properties under the purview of the Lyme Conservation Commission to provide better access to the residents of Lyme and beyond. Blake is also a champion of balancing recreation and conservation across Lyme and other Upper Valley communities.” One of the recent projects that has made a difference to many in the community is the installation of a wheelchair-accessible trail at the Chaffee Wildlife Sacntuary.

Blake explains, “We were looking for a way to increase access to the properties. During the pandemic we saw how vital these lands were to the community, for everyone. Most trails will not accommodate wheelchairs, and Chaffee is the only one that has the topography that allows for it. Having an all-persons access trail of 1,000 feet is important so everyone will be able to enjoy these lands.”

This year’s project will be to replace the original 2014 footbridge crossing Trout Brook. The bridge was damaged in a storm in July 2017 and was repaired, but it will be replaced with a new structure that will be more complex using different technology for the stringers of the bridge.

“Each year LCC has input as to what the project will be. This footbridge is no longer safe, so it was an easy choice. Our intention is to make it wide enough so that people who access the new all-persons path can continue out onto the bridge and be able to cross,” comments Blake. 

“We are so grateful for the help from the UVTA,” says Blake. “With so many properties, there is always some deterioration due to the weather, and there is always something that needs to be done. The pandemic impacted the use of trails, and they became overused and could not handle the volume of people. This a good problem, but nonetheless we want people to use the properties and use them safely.”

What has made this partnership strong? “Blake and the LCC have been a willing partner with both
vision and funding to make the collaboration a success,” says Russell. “Plans are in place to continue our collaboration in 2024 and beyond. Working together we can do so much good for the community.”

Lyme Conservation Commission

Upper Valley Trails Alliance


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