A Recreational Win-Win

This month’s “Down on the Farm” posting was on the first page of the Living section in the Telegraph. Thanks to Julie Christie and Dan Harmon!feast130117_RecAccess_pic2

Local farms give something to their communities during every season, with freshly-picked strawberries to sprinkle over ice-cream in the spring, summer’s sweet corn for the Fourth of July, and pumpkins to celebrate the fall.  And, in winter, local farms offer the opportunity for outdoor recreation, with public access to much of the open farmland when the growing season is at rest.

Imagine a group of snowmobilers, attracted to the recreational opportunities of freshly fallen snow, making tracks in the landscape of unimpeded white.  Then, later in the day, a party on snowshoes passes by, adding their unique set of tracks to the white terrain.  Finally, just as the sun begins to set, cross-country skiers leave a third set of markings in the once untouched snow as they glide by with the soft, almost silent swish of slides.  All are enjoying the trails and paths that cross over the open land made available for recreation by local farms during the winter season.

According to Trevor Hardy, of Brookdale Fruit Farm and vice president of the Hollis Nor’Easters, Brookdale has allowed recreational use of his farmland for as long as he can remember. His father, Chip Hardy, created the Hollis Nor’Easters snowmobiling club in 1970, and the land has been used for recreation ever since. “It is a win-win situation,” says Trevor Hardy. “The farmers plant their land during the spring, summer, and fall seasons, and the community gets the fresh produce. Then, in the winter, the community gets to use the land for recreation.”

And, readers may not be aware of another “win-win” situation – how public access to farmland for recreational use helps local farms lower their operating costs.   In New Hampshire, any farm that has its land classified under “Current Use” for property tax purposes, may apply for a “Recreational Adjustment”.  With this adjustment, the landowner qualifies for a reduction in their property taxes in exchange for public access to his or her land for hunting, fishing, snowshoeing, hiking, skiing and nature observation.  So, the tax reduction lowers the farmers’ operating costs, helping them to stay in business, and we get a local source for our food and access to their land for recreation.

In some areas of farmland, such as strawberry and hay fields, there is a possibility of damage from winter access.  In order to protect these areas from any damage that might occur to the soil or plants underneath the snow, the Hollis Nor’Easters maintain trails and clearly mark them so that the public knows where to go. “The most important thing that we can do to protect the actual soil of the land is to clearly mark all of the trails and ask that no one goes off of them,” says Trevor Hardy.  However, these sensitive areas do not dominate the acreage of local farms, so there is plenty of open land available for the public’s use, including not only Brookdale but other farm areas such as the Woodmont Orchard (owned by the Town of Hollis), and Beaver Brook.

Maps of local trails can be found at www.beaverbrook.org/welcome/visit-us/trail-maps-and-guides, and www.noreasters.org.

So, instead of spending money on a trip up north, with gas, toll, hotel and admission fees, consider spending your winter recreation time on local farmland.  Whether it is cross country skiing for practice, competition, or quality time with your family, snowshoeing in the afternoon so that you can watch the orange and pink pigmentations as the setting sun fills the sky, or a fun, fast-paced, thrill-filled snowmobile ride with your friends, local farmland during the winter can offer all of that.  And, in addition to being much more affordable, it benefits local business and provides opportunities for us to connect to our local communities while we enjoy winter’s many outdoor activities.


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