Merrimack Conservation Partnership Announces 2018 Land Transaction Grant Awards

The Merrimack Conservation Partnership (MCP) announced the 2018 recipients of its fourth round of Land Conservation Grants, which help underwrite conservation projects that protect the ecologically important Merrimack Valley Watershed region of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. In the latest grant round, the MCP awarded grants totaling $100,000 to eight projects that will conserve a total of approximately 902 acres of land. The total value of the land to be protected in the latest grant round is conservatively estimated at $5 million.

In 2010, the Merrimack was identified by the US Forest Service as the most threatened watershed in the nation in terms of projected loss of private forest land over the next 20 years. The two-state region of the Merrimack Watershed spans a total of 2.1 million acres and 3,275 square miles of which 54% is in NH and 46% in Massachusetts. The Merrimack River starts in Franklin, NH and flows through eight of NH’s largest cities, then continues into Massachusetts to its mouth at Newburyport.

Launched in 2012, the Merrimack Conservation Partnership is a collaborative effort of more than twenty private organizations and public agencies working on land conservation in the Merrimack Valley Watershed. The partners share a vision of conserving (on a strictly willing-seller/donor basis) the region’s most ecologically significant forests and the key connections between them for wildlife passage and human recreation.

The Merrimack Conservation Partnership Land Conservation Grants program underwrites transaction costs—appraisals, surveys, title research, staff time, etc.—on conservation transactions that protect land identified in the Merrimack Valley Regional Conservation Plan.

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Below is a list of the grant recipients and a brief description of their projects.

Epsom and Deerfield Town Forests, Epsom, NH

Applicant:  Bear-Paw Regional Greenways
Acres to be conserved:  289
Protection Method:  Donated Conservation Easement
MCP Grant Award: $20,000
Estimated Total Project Costs: $347,500

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Bear-Paw Regional Greenways and the Epsom and Deerfield Conservation Commissions (ECC and DCC) are working in partnership to purchase and permanently protect 289 acres of forest in Epsom and Deerfield, New Hampshire (190 acres in Epsom and 99 acres in Deerfield). The properties will be owned by the towns as forests and protected by conservation easements held by Bear-Paw. The entire area is ranked as Tier 1 in the 2015 Wildlife Action Plan and is a conservation priority in the Merrimack Valley Conservation Plan, TNC’s Resilient Landscape report, Bear-Paw’s conservation plan, and the towns’ master plans. The properties are directly connected to conservation lands already owned by both towns and will be open to the public and the conservation easement will include a requirement that the property not be posted.

Abbottville Farm Easement, Epsom, NH

Applicant:  Francestown Land Trust
Acres to be conserved:  40
Protection Method:  Purchased Conservation Easement
MCP Grant Award: $5,851
Total Project Costs: $219,915

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FLT is seeking to protect from adverse development 39.8 acres of open, agricultural land in Francestown. This property represents one of a dwindling number of parcels in the Francestown area that contain prime agricultural soils and have remained in agricultural use. The parcel contains 20 acres of prime farmland soil and 10 acres of farmland soil of statewide importance. Seventeen acres are currently maintained as pasture for cattle grazing and hay production. The property also contains 22 acres of managed forest. The southwest corner of the property is within 200 yards of the South Branch of the Piscataquog River. The property directly abuts three other parcels currently under conservation, is contiguous with over 800 acres of conservation land, and contains 18 acres of WAP Tier 2 habitat. The open fields and forest are visible from the second NH Turnpike. The current view shed when driving into Francestown from the south and east is currently a largely agrarian landscape that most residents value and wish to preserve.

Robert French Preserve, Weare, NH

Applicant:  Piscataquog Land Conservancy
Acres to be conserved:  205
Protection Method:  Land Purchase
MCP Grant Award: $15,000
Total Project Costs: $300,000

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This 205-acre project on the western boundary of Weare is a fee purchase, with a warranty Executory Interest held by the Land & Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) and 3rd party enforcement by NHDES via the Aquatic Resource Mitigation Fund (ARM). It contains 4,600 ft. of stream & 36 acres of wetlands and is part of a 6,790-acre unfragmented forest, with 88 acres designated as Tier 1 and 74 acres as Tier 2 in the Wildlife Action Plan. NH Audubon Society’s connectivity model indicates 157 acres as high priority for wildlife movement. The tract shows extensive wildlife activity, with fresh signs observed during site visits of bear, bobcat, moose, coyote, beaver, and turkeys. The property is easily accessible from existing and well-used trails on PLC’s Ferrin Pond Preserve and from Mountain Road.

Wendler Property, Berlin, MA

Applicant:  Sudbury Valley Trustees
Acres to be conserved:  36
Protection Method:  Land Purchase
MCP Grant Award: $5,484
Total Project Costs: $370,175

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Sudbury Valley Trust will permanently protect the Wendler Property through fee purchase and by placing a Conservation Restriction, held by the Town of Berlin, over the property. The 36-acre Wendler Property abuts the Town of Berlin’s 58 acres of conservation land as well as two State protected farms to the north. This complex of conservation land sits just across the road from SVT and the Town of Berlin’s 40 Caves Conservation Area, which totals 241 acres. All together this creates a contiguous conservation area of 334 acres. The property is also located in the heart of an area that is recognized by the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program as Priority Habitat of Rare Species. The Wendler Property could offer trails suitable for hiking, horseback riding, skiing, and biking as well as plenty of opportunities for hunting and environmental education programs. The property is very easily accessed from Peach Hill Road in Berlin; and an existing cart path on the property allows for easy installation of a parking area and trail.

Clyde Pond Conservation Easement, Windham, NH

Applicant:  Town of Windham Conservation Commission
Acres to be conserved:  61
Protection Method:  Land Purchase
MCP Grant Award: $19,768
Total Project Costs: $2,046,450

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The Town of Windham will purchase two adjacent parcels (the Clyde Pond property) and will hold fee simple ownership of the property. The property will be protected through a permanent conservation easement, held by the Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire (SELT). If funding is received from the NHDES Drinking Water and Groundwater Trust Fund, the State will likely hold a third party right of enforcement. The primary purposes of the project are low-impact recreational and educational use of the property and drinking water protection. The Town therefore will reserve the right to create and maintain trails for low-impact outdoor recreational purposes and the right to withdraw groundwater on a sustainable yield basis. The public will be encouraged to use Clyde Pond for passive recreational uses such as hiking, birding, snowshoeing, nature walks, and trail running. Its location next to schools and existing conservation land makes it a prime location for recreation and education. The WCC plans to use the property for educating about drinking water and to install a kiosk. There is an opportunity to connect to existing trails at the schools.

Cobblers Brook Reservation, Merrimac, MA

Applicant:  Essex County Greenbelt Association, Inc.
Acres to be conserved:  23
Protection Method:  Land Purchase
MCP Grant Award: $6,864
Total Project Costs: $192,175

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Greenbelt will acquire an approximately 23-acre inholding to Merrimac’s largest open space, the Town Forest, allowing us to create our first reservation in Merrimac. Cobbler’s Brook Reservation will allow Greenbelt to expand the adjacent Town Forest, provide new parking and access, add much-needed signage, and create additional public trails. In exchange for Town funds for the acquisition, Greenbelt will grant Merrimac a permanent conservation easement on the 22.9 acres, further ensuring its perpetual protection. Cobbler’s Brook winds its way through mature woodlands and boggy wetlands filled with wildflowers and wildlife on its way to the Merrimac River, bisecting this parcel which shares two boundaries with the 300-acre Town Forest. This unspoiled property holds the promise of new public access to the western side of the Town Forest and will allow the opportunity to create a new footpath that will lead visitors to views over a serene beaver pond and of a heron rookery nestled in the adjacent Town Forest land.

Van Bokkelyn-Kinney Hill Farm, South Hampton, NH

Applicant:  Southeast Land Trust of NH
Acres to be conserved:  143
Protection Method:  Purchased Conservation Easement
MCP Grant Award: $20,000
Total Project Costs: $637,100

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The Van Bokkelen Kinney Hill Farm will be permanently protected through an Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) held by the Southeast Land Trust (SELT) with expected funding partners such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Mooseplate Program, landowner donation, and private foundations. The ALE conservation easement deed will seek to protect the long term productivity of important agricultural soils on the property and will include language designed to protect other conservation benefits such as open space, wildlife habitat, and water resources. Protecting the Van Bokkelen Kinney Hill Farm does not provide direct conservation connectivity but there are several tracts in very close proximity. The Kinney Hill Farm is part of the Back River watershed which eventually flows into the Merrimack River.

Cunningham Pond, Peterborough, NH

Applicant:  Monadnock Conservancy
Acres to be conserved:  99
Protection Method:  Land Purchase
MCP Grant Award: $7,032
Total Project Costs: $1,501,701.88

looking across cunningham pond from town beach

This project is a rare opportunity for the Monadnock Conservancy to purchase in fee 99 acres on Cunningham Pond, in Peterborough, NH. A former town public water source, Cunningham Pond and its almost entirely undeveloped shores are consistently ranked a top conservation priority by the Town of Peterborough. The town’s public beach is located on the north shore, directly opposite the land to be purchased in this project. The property features one half-mile of frontage on the south shore of the Pond and nearly one mile of frontage on NH Route 101, making it an important scenic gateway to the town for drivers arriving from the east. It includes a productive hay field managed by a local farmer and more than 85 acres of forest. The Conservancy intends to keep this property as a permanent conservation area that is open to the public. There is already an old carriage road along the shore and the Conservancy intends to build a parking area and a trail network.

For more information about the MCP Partnership, please contact Brian Hotz at (603) 224-9945 or bhotz@forestsociety.org.

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