To Preserve and Expand Bath's Urban Forest
Butler Head Preserve, a 141-acre woodland site on Merrymeeting Bay in north Bath, is now in a conservation easement held by the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust (KELT). The Bath City Council approved the easement in February 2013. In March 2014, City Manager, William Giroux, and president of the KELT Board of Directors, Jack Witham, signed the easement which is a collaborative effort under the guidance of the City of Bath (the owner of the property), the Bath Community Forestry Committee (BCFC), and KELT.
The purpose of the conservation easement is to provide significant public benefit by protecting and preserving in perpetuity: (a) the wildlife habitat and natural features of the Protected Property; (b) the opportunity for the general public to enjoy the low-impact outdoor recreational opportunities on the Protected Property; and (c) the scenic views of the Protected Property, as enjoyed by the general public from Butler Head and adjacent waters.
The process has been years in the making according to past chairman of the BCFC, Elizabeth Haskell. “This is a major accomplishment for the City of Bath and the conservation efforts of the Forestry Committee to preserve and protect the forested lands of the City. Through a grant from the Merrymeeting Bay Trust, the BCFC and KELT had a survey conducted which was vital to establishing the acreage that would be protected for future generations,” she said.
It has been ten years since a Forest Ecosystem Management Plan for Butler Head and Whiskeag Woods was completed for the City of Bath as part of a joint venture in 2007 with Maine Audubon and towns and land trusts that own forested lands. The objective of the project was to help Maine communities develop ecologically-based forest management plans for their cities and towns. “With the property protection of the easement, we can now be sure that the Plan’s objectives can be met,” said Ms. Haskell. "We are in the process now of updating the Forestry Management Plan with a state forester. This will be a major step in planning the future of Butler Head," she said.
Butler Head is a work in progress and it will be for years before the goals are reached. "The area is not quite as neat and pristine as other major hiking trails, but it’s a great situation for forestry education programs,” said Tom Barrington, a member of the BCFC. “We want Butler Head to be not just a hiking and recreation area, but also an ongoing educational facility,” said Mr. Barrington, who is the BCFC's sub-committee chairperson for Butler Head. “When people visit Butler Head, it is important to understand the dynamics of what is taking place, especially after the October 2017 storm," he added.
"The BCFC is the steward of Butler Head Preserve and it is our responsibility to plan now for the future. It is critical that we work to protect the watershed. Managing a forest is no easy task when you have to take into consideration timber management, wildlife habitat, soil erosion, global warming, invasive species, recreational use, vernal pools, and wetlands. If we are going to save the forests for future generations, we must teach the dynamics associated with preservation,” said Mr. Barrington.
A devastating wind storm downed trees at Butler Head in 2017. Merrymeeting Bay Trust donated $30,000 to the cleanup effort, but the remains will be noticeable for years.
Bowdoin College students attended an invasive plant workshop at Butler Head in October 2017. Under the guidance of the BCFC, they removed burning bush, Japanese barberry, and Oriental bittersweet.