Nature preserve work, study to begin

MERRIMACK – You can’t say they won’t be able to see the forest for the trees.

The first trail to be cut through the Horse Hill Nature Preserve will traverse a subdivision to link the 563-acre property with the town’s Wasserman Park.

Work on the short trail will begin sometime in the spring. But before any trees are felled to create trails elsewhere in the preserve, volunteers hope to have in hand a forestry study detailing not only the variety and location of vegetation, but also information about wildlife habitats.

The Horse Hill Nature Preserve ad hoc committee recently had its first meeting. The personnel who make up the group will be familiar to those who have followed the town’s efforts to protect this large tract of forest, field and swamp: It includes the majority of the 29-member master plan committee.

The Board of Selectmen created the ad hoc committee in November to assist town staff in implementing the master plan, which calls for creating hiking trails on much of the land, while developing roughly 50 acres for ball fields and parking.

In its first meeting, the committee elected Tim Tenhave chairman, which represented a passing of the baton of sorts. The master plan committee was chaired by Debra Huffman, a resident who spearheaded efforts to protect the land, culminating in a 2002 Town Meeting vote to buy the land from a developer for $4.2 million.

Huffman, who has been closely associated with the property from the time it was slated as the site for the 110-home Greens Pond Development, will continue to serve on the ad hoc committee. Horse Hill lies in the western part of town and is bordered, roughly, by Amherst Road to the north, Naticook Road to the east and south and Peaslee and Abbey roads to the west.

Much of the land is wetlands and includes White Pine Swamp at its southern end and Blodgett Hill on the north.

Selectmen on Thursday agreed with the idea of contracting with forester Dan Cyr of Francestown for the $15,000 study. The board decided to ask the town Conservation Commission to spring for the cost.

“We’re excited to get going on it,” Tenhave said. “Hopefully, the study will determine where the right places are to do some things.”

The ad hoc committee also has divided into subgroups to explore cleanup, parking, historical resources, trails, funding alternatives and ball fields.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or