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SELT: Stonehouse Forest Grand Opening

This article covered the grand opening of Stonehouse Forest in Barrington, New Hampshire on October 19th, 2019.

There was a warm welcome of applause at Stonehouse Forest’s Grand Opening. For the past two years, the site of Stonehouse Forest has been active with SELT volunteers, who sometimes refer to themselves as “goats”, to create trails and get ready for the Grand Opening that was on October 19th, 2019. They closed escrow on the property in late December 2017 and then started working with private consultants. NH Fish & Game had a new tool to ensure that the trails they were about to create were friendly to the wildlife. This meant locating the trails away from water bodies, where wildlife often feed and graze.

“It’s about celebrating Stonehouse Forest”, said Brian Hart, the director of the project. He added, “It’s not a secret anymore…”, which was evident by the more than 100 people that showed up for the event.

SELT serves 52 communities in southeastern New Hampshire, including 99% of New Hampshire’s Coastal Watershed. Their mission is to protect and sustain the significant lands in our communities for clean water, outdoor recreation, fresh food, wildlife, and healthy forests.

According to Duane Hyde, there are about 11 miles of trails on the property now. This allows people to do all-day hikes at the property. He said he didn’t use to see anyone out there, but now that there are parking lots, he’s seen groups of 3-4 people walking through often.

At the grand opening event, there were three separate hikes of varying difficulty, one of which we covered which was based on the archeology at Stonehouse Forest. There was an intermediate hike, in addition to a more advanced hike to the cliffs of Stonehouse Pond and Black Gum Swamp, also called Tupelo. The Tupelo trees are very old, and some are very large. The oldest they’ve found was 460 years old when Shakespeare was born.

The swamp was designated exemplary by the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau. The name “Stonehouse Pond” comes from the granite cliff. The whole landscape was shaped by glaciers. It’s possible to see scratches that run parallel to where the glacier retreated historically in some locations on the property, such as the tops of the cliffs.

SELT partnered with the Town of Barrington and NH Fish & Game to create the trails. They’ve spent around 2,000 volunteer hours between 9 volunteers to create the trails. SELT also maintains other properties, such as the Tucker French Forest, Piscassie Greenway in Newfields, Burley Farms in Epping, as well as the Mast Road Natural Area in Epping.

SELT recently acquired 2,000 acres in New Durham near Merrymeeting Lake. There will be a grand opening for that as well, in around 1 ½ years. Stonehouse Forest is around 1,700 acres. Duane Hyde said, “They missed a great opportunity, but the opportunity is still here!”, noting that Stonehouse Forest will be open during the winter. SELT is currently looking for someone to volunteer to plow the parking lots during the winter.

Stonehouse Forest is open for hunting of Deer, Moose, and Turkey during hunting season.

Sam Reid, a SELT official, said, “We need more people to come out here.”

Archeological Hike

When SELT acquired the land, they discovered archeological sites using the Independent Archeological Consulting, LLC according to spokesman Jacob Tumelaire. He said it’s likely the property was used for small camps by Native Americans, as there haven’t been any villages found on the property. Jacob said, “It’s interesting to figure out why they were here.” He’s been doing this type of work for 15 years now.

The owner of the property before SELT purchased it tried to turn the land into a game preserve, and when the Town found out what he was doing, they put a stop to it. There was a stone staircase where we met for the start of the event which had been put in by the previous owner, who was from Europe.

Independent Archeological Consulting, LLC identified archeological sites containing pre-historic items. They had to ensure that there were no historical sites where they put the parking lots and signage around the property.

We hiked around ¼ mile to a site where there had been a barn and house at the top of a hill. There was a well that had to have been hand dug. The cheap cost of the land was likely why the site was built on. The trees are relatively young around the clearing, suggesting it was cleared off and used for farming.

A stone that would have been at the entry to the house has a “J” engraved into it. Jacob said they may have been sheep farmers. According to a Census document, a person named John lived in the house with his brother. It shows up in the 1856 map, but they don’t yet know what year the site was built. Counties are working to digitize historical records, so they may find out in the future.

Jacob said if they were looking for a pre-historic site, they’d set up a grid and execute in 8-meter intervals, which would be a Phase I-B survey. He said Phase I’s happen for most projects, whereas Phase II’s are less common, and Phase III studies rarely ever happen, where artifacts are analyzed to find out what’s there or even to move burial sites. He said a Phase III dig is much bigger, in a 2’ x 2’ grid square, with the grid being 60’ x 60’ big, and they may dig down up to 18ft. Phase II digs can find if there were thousands of years of artifacts that haven’t been churned up.

They’ve used drones and ground-penetrating radar to study the area. With both, you really need to know what you’re doing, according to Jacob. The ground-penetrating radar is used to find burial sites, for example. He said, “You can have all of these theories, but it’s when you put the shovel in the ground that you find out.”

Jacob’s company assesses land to comply with State law regarding archeological sites. The sites can be registered with the National Registry of Historic Places if it meets certain criteria. With the discovery of artifacts, if the landowner isn’t going to disturb the site, they will usually just leave the site alone. Jacob said that builders usually think archeologists want to discover something cool and make them stop working – when they’re there to help landowners and developers.

They have not found Native American sites at Stonehouse Forest yet, but they have done a very little testing, and it can be quite expensive to do the testing. Stone tools and pottery are really the only things they can find to establish that Native Americans were at a site. There are two Euro American burial grounds at Stonehouse Forest, but they haven’t found any Native American burial grounds, at least yet.

“I’m just glad people are interested in archeology…”, said Jacob.