Flagpole Hill / Timber Sale Letter

To Whom It May Concern,

          I would like to address the concerns of those who have commented on the sale and cutting of timber on Flagpole Hill in Huntingdon Borough. I thank you all for your concern and caring for the recreational trails and forest the Borough owns and hope this provides clarification for you all. The comments we received state how wonderful the trails are and how nice the forest is. We agree and will continue to see that it stays that way.

         Council did not approach the decision lightly and multiple issues were considered before the decision to hire a licensed forester was reached and acted on. The four main considerations were; recreation, wildlife, health of the forest and responsible management of taxpayer owned resources. Council is tasked with many responsibilities and one of the most important is balancing the wants and needs with the budget. To not manage the resources of the Borough properly would be a disservice to the citizens of Huntingdon.

        To understand the decision Council made to manage the forest and trails a history lesson and clarification on some statements that have been made is appropriate. First, the management plan was discussed during public maintenance or Council meetings on:

  1. June 11,  2019
  2. July 9, 2019
  3. August 13, 2019
  4. November 12, 2019 (decision to proceed)
  5. November 15, 2019 –  Advertisement in the Daily News
  6. November 22, 2019 – Advertisement in the Daily News
  7. December 10, 2019 – Bids opened
  8. December 17, 2019 – Bids awarded

        The minutes from the public meetings are available as well as copies of the advertisements that were placed in the Daily News. Some people have commented that the process was not transparent; however, every meeting was open to the public.

       The trails and forest are wonderful, as everyone has stated; this is in large part due to the forestry management plan which the Borough has had in place since 2001. In June of 2001 Huntingdon Borough hired a Land Management Specialist to create a plan for the forest on Flagpole Hill. This plan, which is public record and available, was to properly manage the resources and improve the trails. The main goals were the exact same goals which the current council has expressed; recreation, wildlife, health of the forest and responsible management of resources. The discussions in 2001 were very much the same as they are now, 19 years later. Many were opposed then, as they are now, however the comments we hear now on “how nice it is on Flagpole Hill” show that the decision to manage the forest in a responsible way, in 2001, was correct. The plan written in 2001 called for a second closely managed harvest in 15 years; that would have been 2016.

      A licensed forester with many years of experience was hired to plan and supervise this harvest while keeping the desired goals in mind throughout the entire process. A 16 month time frame for the contract was put in place to limit damage if wet weather soaked the ground and operations had to be halted. The contract also states that no skidding is permitted across drainages or Spring seeps and upon completion all roads, skid trails, and landings are to be smoothed, graded, seeded, and properly retired as directed by the consulting forester. The contract also states that existing skid trails and landings are to be used whenever possible. Every consideration was taken to improve recreation and promote the health of the forest.

         A Penn State Extension article (https://extension.psu.edu/forest-managment-and-timber-harvesting-in-pennsylvania) states “Forest management sustains and improves forest health and resilience,” and also “Forest management can improve recreational opportunities.” Realizing that “can” is the important word, we have been sure to emphasize that recreation is one of the main goals. Invasive species have the potential to be a problem, as they were in 2001, and will be monitored and dealt with if need be.

        Maintaining the trail system does involve expenses and must be balanced with the numerous other financial obligations of the Borough, to include Riverview Cemetery, which part of the land sits on. The financial gain from properly managing the forest helps offset the expense to maintain the trails but was not the main consideration. If the only thought had been financial, Flagpole Hill would be clear cut and a solar field and wind power farm placed there to lower the cost of energy to the Borough. This is gladly not the case and recreation remains a top priority with the health of the forest.

        There have been discussions about improvements to the trail system to attract Mountain bike races and draw more people to enjoy the trails as well as potential grants to connect the trails with adjacent trail systems. Every member of Huntingdon Borough Council is concerned with maintaining or adding recreational opportunities whenever possible. In the last 2 ½ years this Council has applied for numerous recreational grants and has a high priority of maintaining and adding recreational facilities. The Borough has been awarded $125,000.00 to renovate the baseball field at Blair Park and $125,000.00 to start building an Amphitheatre on Flagpole Hill, which will eventually supply parking and restroom facilities for the trail system as well. A new dog park was installed (Thank you Hughes family) as well as plans to connect the dog Park with Portstown Park via a trail under Route 26, pending PennDOT approval.

      It is the opinion of all involved that the decision to perform the managed harvest has been a transparent and open process which is in line with best practices to properly maintain forest land. We appreciate that so many people care about Flagpole Hill and will continue to provide it as a recreational area for all to enjoy.

Sincerely,

Chris Stevens
Borough Manager