Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thetford Celebrates Protection of Zebedee Headwaters

On Wednesday, January 20, the Upper Valley Land Trust purchased the 27.3 acre property known as Zebedee Headwaters, on Houghton Hill Road, Thetford Hill. Under the ownership of UVLT, the parcel will be protected from future development. UVLT will continue to manage the land as it has been, for wildlife habitat, as well as for educational and recreational purposes. This purchase was made possible through the support of the Upper Connecticut River Mitigation and Enhancement Fund and the Children’s Fund, both of which are administered through the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation – Upper Valley Region. Additional funds came from the Thetford Conservation Commission and through an outpouring of community support.

Some successful fundraising efforts were led by Thetford Elementary School students, including a Christmas Eve bake sale and outreach through the social networking website, Facebook. Connie Snyder of the Thetford Conservation Commission said of the bake sale, "It was beautiful to see the kids jumping up and down hailing down cars and to see the generosity of people who brought goods and bought goods - many did both."

Zebedee Headwaters is an ecological asset to the community and is enjoyed by visitors and residents alike. The Thetford Conservation Commission created a list of a variety of wildlife species that benefit from the property, including two birds listed as species of special concern in Vermont. While the parcel is renowned by bird-watchers and wildlife enthusiasts, the large wetland on this property also serves as a living outdoor classroom for local schoolchildren. Its proximity to both Thetford Elementary School and Thetford Academy makes it a critical resource for natural science educators. In recent years, the second grade curriculum at the elementary school has included wetland and forest studies conducted on the property. In addition, a Valley Quest adventure has also been written and published for the property. Though, the quest was “closed,” while the property was marketed for sale.

Prior to UVLT’s purchase of the property, the previous owners had received development permits and placed the parcel on the market for residential development. As approved, the proposed driveway, accessing the only buildable area in the back corner of the property, would have skirted the wetland edge and required two crossings. Such development would have fragmented important wildlife habitat and degraded the connectivity of the uplands to the wetland. It would also have diminished the recreational and educational values of the property.

Nearly half of the property consists of Class II state-significant wetland communities. The wetland filters the headwaters of Zebedee Brook, and is one of only two state-significant wetlands located along this direct tributary to the Connecticut River. Development of the parcel would have increased detrimental runoff and potentially diminished the wetlands’ ability to adequately provide water filtration services. This would have been especially problematic, as this property is located between two groundwater protection areas—one serves the Thetford Hill Village Water District and the other serves the two nearby schools.

This property is adjacent to State forest lands, near other UVLT-conserved land, and its conservation increases the contiguous protected acreage of these parcels to about 150 acres. UVLT’s recently acquired 97 acre Pegjack Forest, also on Houghton Hill Road, lies about 1 mile north of this conserved block.

UVLT will host a community celebration at the Thetford Hill Congregational Church on Saturday, January 30, from 1 - 4PM. Refreshments will be served. Attendees should bring outdoor clothing for a walk to the newly conserved property (weather permitting). This event is free and open to the public.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Morning in the Field: Baseline Documentation in the Winter Months

January 13, 2010. It was a cold and early start. I was working on a relatively small project, just over 50 acres. I estimated it would take me 2-3 hours to complete.
8:00 am: Arrived, 3°, numbing cold. Glad I was well dressed. Minimized exposed skin with fleece neck warmer. Forgot my lunch. Packed an apple, almonds and tea. Decided not to wear snowshoes, boots only. Packed hand warmers for the first time. Hopefully they work. Left them out in the warm car air for 5 minutes.

8:10 am: Documented first corner. Hands very cold. Very, very cold. This must be where the expression biting cold comes from because that is just how it feels, BITING. Hand warmers are not working.

8:20 am: Documented second corner. Moving and warmed up. Hand warmers are actually working and are WONDERFUL!! It is the only thing keeping my fingers from frostbite. I must remove my hands from the warmth of my mittens to write notes for the report. While they are only exposed for a couple of minutes at a time they are numb and have lost some dexterity by the time I put them back into the warmth of my mittens. I must write quickly.

8:30 am: 3° outside still, but warm on the inside. Hot breath rises from within the fleece to warm my nose. Condensation is forming around my eyelashes.

9:00 am: Many critter trails within the woods. White tail, fox, turkey, skis, snowshoes. Clearly loved and used by a number of creatures. Numbing cold 3° in the forest, still.

10:30 am: Finally ascending a little, warming up even more. Probably reached 5° by now. Hands toasty in mittens with hand warmers. I love hand warmers. My fleece neck warmer is rigid from frozen breath. My eyelashes are heavy and coated in frozen steam, my hat, has grown thin strands of ice.

11:30 am: Field work complete, 8°. Entered the warmth of a home with a roaring woodstove. I spoke with the landowner. She sweetly offered tea. Warm by the fire! Thought about staying but I would have had to take off layers if I wanted to be warm later. No time. I am off to monitor Protected Properties. At least I get to use skis. That will really warm me up.

Submitted by Amber Boland, UVLT's Conservation Mapping and Field Specialist

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Turning Over a New Leaf in 2010

As we look forward to a new year, there is an opportunity to reflect on events of the past. Last year, as 2008 turned to 2009, the future seemed uncertain and frightening. As 2009 progressed there were further challenges as joblessness increased, homes lost, retirement savings diminished and state and federal deficits grew.

Today, in 2010, many of these challenges remain. Families, businesses and governments have less money to spend, while many costs continue to rise. Diminished resources force us all to prioritize and focus on those things that are most important.

Even in the face of these difficulties, the end of the year can be a time for hopeful and optimistic actions. At the Upper Valley Land Trust, we have been cheered as landowners and communities came together to make permanent decisions to conserve key aspects of our region’s landscape in the waning days of 2009. In just the single month of December 2009, seven landowners in the Upper Valley demonstrated their belief that protecting and stewarding the landscape of their region is a top priority. They have done this by donating conservation easements to the Upper Valley Land Trust. These agreements will protect their land from future development and ensure its sustainable management in perpetuity.

More tangibly, a terrific wild blueberry patch, hiking trails, and picnicking area were protected as part of a new town forest in Unity; a sugarbush in Strafford will remain productive for years to come; a Tree Farm managed for songbird habitat in Lyme will persist; and in Hanover, woodcock will continue to enjoy some of the best habitat that the region has to offer. The generosity of Upper Valley landowners, their friends, neighbors, and broader communities, made all of this possible.

Though our economy fluctuates due to forces outside of our control, these special places will remain. Without careful planning for the future, working landscapes, recreational resources, and scenic open space could be lost forever. The New Year seems like an appropriate time to celebrate the forward thinking, generosity, and hope exemplified by many of our neighbors and friends.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Town of Unity Celebrates Gift of Conserved Memorial Forest

Laura Ryan feels strongly connected to an 83.5 acre parcel of land that has been in her family for more than 250 years because of the many memories and family stories this land holds. Due to her connection to the property, Laura Ryan, and her husband, Walter, generously granted a conservation easement to the Upper Valley Land Trust to preserve the land forever. Immediately following this donation, the Ryans transferred ownership of the property to the Town of Unity. Together, these gifts created “The Nathaniel & Ina Thurber Memorial Forest,” named in honor of Laura Ryan’s parents. The Memorial Forest will be managed sustainably by Unity’s Conservation Commission for low-impact recreation, agriculture and working forestland. The deed signing occurred at the Town Offices where Selectmen and others were on-hand to give warm thanks to the Ryans for this special gift to the community.
Asked why she chose to donate an easement to UVLT, Laura Ryan explained, “I grew up there; I didn’t want to chop it up anymore than it had been.” She also mentioned that she still enjoys the property, for example, “I try to get up there every few years to take my grandchildren kite flying.”

As is the case for much of New Hampshire’s landscape, The Nathaniel & Ina Thurber Memorial Forest was cleared, farmed, and now much has returned to forestland. Over the years, cattle, sheep and horses have grazed the land. Unity’s Conservation Commission plans to maintain some open fields in order to preserve scenic vistas, which stretch both north and south from the property. In the warmer months, these open fields offer picnicking opportunities, and the forested portion of the property is popular during hunting season. Historically, the forest was also used for maple sugaring, and a stone foundation of a historic sugar house is believed to be located on the conserved property.

The Conservation Commission will develop a Forest Management Plan prior to forestry activities, as required by the conservation easement. The Commission also plans to maintain the recreational trails that traverse the property for the public’s enjoyment. Former forester, and Chair of the Conservation Commission, Stan Rastallis said at the closing, “There’s a pretty good system of trails—it’s a matter of maintaining them.” He also said of helping with the project, “It’s been fun being in the woods again.”

Due to the generosity of the Ryans and the support of the Town and the Conservation Commission, UVLT will now ensure that this property will forever remain a part of Unity’s working landscape, and available for public enjoyment of its scenic values and recreational opportunities. This project is UVLT’s second in the town and the parcel is located within two miles of 350 acres of other public or town-conserved lands.