Foss Mountain Management

Commercial Blueberries: 

The Foss Mountain Blueberry fields have gone through many stages. 

If you are interested in the trajectory of Foss Mountain blueberries, you will find the full story below.

Foss Mountain and adjacent lands were almost completely cleared and farmed up to and including the Civil War.  After the war, farmers left for more fertile areas of the country, leaving Foss mountain pretty much abandoned by the 1880’s.

Around the turn of the century cattle drives started north of here in Jackson and ended up on Foss.  Lacking enough pasture and field acreage to support their farms and pasture young stock as well, farmers summered all but their milking stock wherever they could. 

Foss Mountain began to sprout trees and  became less attractive for livestock by the early 1920's. Cattle drives were phased out with the introduction of the automobile, trucks particularly. 

By the 1940’s Foss Mountain had reverted to blueberry bushes, juniper and gray birch. Frank French began working the Foss fields to encourage blueberries. He had a chain saw, and he kept 40 goats who ate brush but not the berry plants. Frank had a reputation for starting fires that inevitably got out of control. He hired crews to pick the berries. 

Ed Ellis of Eaton recalls working for Frank picking blueberries 1954-1957, with a crew working from late July till mid August. Frank hired a few Eaton kids but also bused in 25-30 kids from South Paris, Maine every day. Ed picked 300-500 pounds of berries per day depending on how good the picking was where they put him. All pickers were paid at the rate of 4 cents per pound. Once the picking was over, he and one other guy cut brush with loppers for a few weeks, mainly clearing areas mowing machines couldn't get. Shortly after 1957, Frank French phased out the young people and brought in adult crews (possibly migrants) to pickFrank died in 1962, and a new management era began.

Lloyd Merrifield managed the town fields for many decades, working with Cherryfield Foods of Cherryfield, Maine. These areas did not include most of the ledgy ridge or summit of Foss. He managed four privately owned fields in the neighborhood in conjunction with Foss, as well as many fields in Maine. Lloyd knew blueberries as well as anyone, and he mowed patiently around Foss’s many rocks. He walked the fields checking for insects, and worked with Cherryfield who applied fertilizer, herbicides and insecticides. When the berries were ready to pick, Cherryfield would park a freezer truck in the Lower Parking Lot. A crew would arrive ready to do nothing but pick for days until all the berries were carted away frozen within hours of being picked. Once the pickers were done, locals were waiting to come fill their pails with the blueberries left around the edges. In the fall after mowing, flame throwing tractors were used to burn the berry fields (but not the rocky ridge),  reducing insect trouble and promoting blueberry vigor.

Beginning in the early 2000’s, the hazards and increasing expense of herbicides and insecticides began to change blueberry management. The Eaton Conservation Commission began water testing surrounding springs, ponds and wells, finding small amounts of the herbicide Hexazinone. One year the sprayers were found to be operating without a NH spray license. The cost and trouble of picking on a rough and tumble mountain like Foss began to outweigh the benefits to Cherryfield. Lloyd died in 2003, and in 2005, Cherryfield announced they would no longer care for or pick Foss Mountain.

In 2006 the Eaton Conservation Commission contracted with Arthur Harvey, an experienced organic blueberry grower from Maine to pick berries on Foss. Ryan Bushnell of Brownfield, Maine apprenticed with Arthur, and picked along with Arthur in 2008. From then until 2015, Ryan was responsible for picking and mowing the fields as well. The Foss commercial fields became certified organic in 2008. During this period, Little Bluestem Grass, along with other weeds and saplings long suppressed by herbicides, began to grow in the fields. Beginning in 2016, the Eaton Conservation Commission took over maintenance from Ryan, and hired mowers and brush cutters to reclaim the fields. Ryan continued to pick and sell to the fresh, organic market. The difference between picking berries to freeze, and picking to sell fresh, is that you can pick a field clean if they are going into the freezer. If you are selling fresh, you choose the prime berries, and more berries are left in the field.

Harvesting of the berries is done every other year and general picking is NOT allowed in the fields where Ryan is picking. Picking is always allowed on the ridge at the top of the mountain.

Painting courtesy of Wendy Ketchum

The Ridge & Public Blueberry Picking: 

The ridge is open to the public for blueberry picking all summer. Some years offer more of a crop than others, weather dependent. Following the trail up from the trailhead parking lot, you will pass through some of the Town's leased fields, which will be posted No Picking. If you stay on the trail until you come out above the winding section in the big trees, there is a sign that says Picking Allowed from here up! Please pick for your own use only, not for resale, and please do not use rakes for picking. If you wander off trail looking for berries, please try and keep your feet on rocks as much as possible to prevent mini trails and subsequent erosion. 

A Robert Frost offering can be found below.

Here's a favorite Robert Frost poem for your picking pleasure:


“You ought to have seen what I saw on my way

To the village, through Patterson’s pasture today:

Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,

Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum

In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!

And all ripe together, not some of them green

And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!”

“Why, there hasn’t been time for the bushes to grow.

That’s always the way with the blueberries, though:

There may not have been the ghost of a sign

Of them anywhere under the shade of the pine,

But get the pone out of the way, you may burn

The pasture all over until not a fern

Or grass-blade is left, not to mention a stick,

And presto, they’re up all around you as thick

And hard to explain as a conjuror’s trick.”

“It must be on charcoal they fatten their fruit.

I taste in them sometimes the flavor of soot.

And after all, really they’re ebony skinned:

The blue’s but a mist from the breath of the wind,

A tarnish that goes at a touch of the hand,

And less than the tan with which pickers are tanned.”

Prescribed Burns: 

Part of managing Foss Mountain includes fire. Historically, blueberries thrive when burned, and burning also girdles saplings, slowing down their growth or killing them. Grassland bird's nesting sites are improved, as are pollinator habitats. Keeping the ridge open on Foss keeps the spectacular view, but also means countering the vitality and insistence of every sapling on the ridge that wants to be a tree! 

To learn more about Foss Mountain prescribed burns, read below.

On May 9, 2023, thanks to US Fish and Wildlife, Star Tree Wildfire Protection LLC burned roughly 70 acres on Foss. Funding was given to keep habitat for the Yellow Banded Bumblebee and other pollinators. John Neely and two others of the USFS assisted with the burn. Eaton volunteers sat all day at the winter parking lot and explained why the road was closed to vehicles and hikers. Thanks to all who made this possible. We never dreamed so much could be accomplished in one day!

 Weather conditions for safe and productive burns are hard t0 come by, and our previous burn took place in late April, 2021. Detailed and arduous preparation for this burn began in 2018. The Wyden Agreement allows the US Forest Service to partner locally to burn, in order to protect and restore wildlife habitat and to reduce the risk for natural disaster due to heavy fuel loads.

The White Mountain National Forest Service successfully burned a portion of Foss Mt on April 28, 2021. Several Red Flag days were announced before the burn date, as well as a light rain in the morning. April 28th was damp and cloudy. About 16 people were involved, including District Ranger Jim Innes, Burn Specialist and Fire Boss John Neely, 2 Volunteers from Center Conway Fire Department, Dick Fortin from the Eaton Selectmen and ECC, and other WMNFS firefighters. The WMNFS brought one tanker truck, one ATV with tank and one UTV with tank. Center Conway brought their UTV with tank as well. The USFS had prepared fire lines, laid hoses along the southern edge of the desired burn area, and filled a cistern off the trail going up to Brooks Pasture with gravity feed from the brook. A pump, laid out hose and a UTV was situated at the fire pond in readiness.

The potential burn area was Brooks Pasture, the lower leased field running from the stonewall paralleling the lower section of the trail to the old trail, and all of the ridge running south to the stone wall separating the McKenzie/USVLT parcel. This southern most section was left unburned to allow the blueberry crop for 2021. In retrospect, burning south of the old trail would have been wise, as there is much brush and few berries in that section.

Brooks Pasture would not light at 11, so the crew ignited the front field from the north end and burned it down to the old trail. Two UTV’s were in position to hold the line, as well as the USFS tank truck which supplied water and was parked near the old parking lot. The crew encouraged fire up to the west toward the summit of Foss, held the fire at the old trail, then diagonally to the summit, then diagonally down to the north east from the summit. The fire concluded around 4:30 or 5 pm.

In 2011, the Eaton Conservation Commission, volunteers from the White Mountain National Forest and local fire fighters burned parts of the leased fields at south end of the Foss ridge.  

Cherryfield Foods biannually burned the lower Foss fields up until the early 1990's with flame throwing tractors and ATV's carrying water tanks.Prior burns on the ridge and the fields were by Frank French back in the 1940's and 50's, some of which got away from him. (See Summers on Foss by Nella Braddy Henney, edited by Joyce Blue)

The Trail up Foss:

The trail was built in 2014, following a logging operation to encourage pine, and cut trees back from the blueberry fields in Brooks Pasture. The log landing became the new parking lot, since the old lot wasn't even on Town land. Off the Beaten Path built the trail, showing great sensitivity, expertise and efficiency. 

Below is more trail history and upcoming plans.

Prior to this, the path ran up an old stream bed in the middle of the fields along the road. It had become eroded, posing danger to hikers and needing rerouting or restoration at great cost. Trail building is expensive, and maintenance is needed often. Please stay on the trail, or step on rocks if you wander off to pick berries whenever possible!

The Eaton Conservation Commission is in the planning stages of rerouting the section of trail that goes up the steeper slabs, just beyond where you come out of the woods. Financial assistance gratefully accepted!

Foss Mountain's popularity is a challenge to trail health, and we do appreciate your consideration.

Foss Mountain Partners:

It takes a village, and we are fortunate enough to have a knowledgeable, dedicated and wide support base. Thank you to everyone who makes Foss Mountain's past, present and future a priority and contributes to its ultimate success.

Please take a moment to read the list of partners below and give them your support –  

they help make the Foss experience possible!

Cheese Louise - restaurant and food truck started by local North Conway youth donated a portion of of their July specials to add to our 2023 fundraiser. 

Davis Foundation

Green Mountain Conservation Group

LCHIP - Land & Community Heritage Investment Program: LCHIP contributed to the USVLT, enabling them to protect the 99 acre McKenzie parcel at the south end of the ridge.

NH Charitable Foundation

NHCF Pequawket Foundation Advised Fund  - provided a grant in 2023 for the repair of the Foss Mountain trail

NHCF Deans Family Fund - joined the Pequawket Foundation in helping restore access to the summit of Foss in 2023

NH Fish & Game

NRCS - Natural Resource Conservation Service: In NRCS has offered grant money to enable the ECC to "pop rocks" out of Brooks Pasture and the fields along the road north of the old trails. These rocks are dumped off a side hill from Brooks Pasture

UNH Cooperative Extension: Olivia Saunders and others at the UNH Cooperative Extension Service have spent hours helping the ECC on Foss. Olivia has launched studies, received grants, helped us spread sulfur, checked pH, and endlessly brainstormed ideas of how to manage blueberries in a rapidly changing world.

Upper Saco Valley Land Trust: One day a sign appeared on the south end of the Foss ridge saying "Build Your Dream House Here!" The 99 acre McKenzie parcel was bought by the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust in 2010. USVLT then created an easement in collaboration with Eaton for this parcel, and generously gifted the land to the town.

White Mountain National Forest

In 2023, US Fish & Wildlife and Star Tree Wildfire Protection burned roughly 70 acres