The Wakefield Opera House was abuzz on a Thursday evening in late September as folks gathered for Moose Mountains Regional Greenway’s (MMRG’s) first community visioning session, the kickoff event in developing a regional and strategic Conservation Action Plan: “Our Home, Our Land, and Our Tomorrow.”  Led by professional planners Dan Sundquist of GreenFire GIS and Steve Whitman of Resilience Planning & Design, the focus of the evening was an interactive exercise for participants to share special places where they live, work and play in our region.

Dan, the project lead, is a recognized GIS mapping specialist and author of numerous Conservation Plans in New Hampshire.  Steve, who frequently collaborates with Dan, emphasizes a whole system planning approach that places a focus on the value and interests of each unique place, stakeholder engagement and outreach activities.

Dan told the group that he and Whitman are in the early stages of ‘information-gathering’ and that later in the planning process they would ‘include input from the visioning session in a shared vision of conservation priorities for the region.’  Around the room, regional maps were placed on six large tables over butcher block paper.  The maps showed MMRG’s 7-town service region (Brookfield, Farmington, Middleton, Milton, New Durham, Wakefield and Wolfeboro) plus the neighboring city of Rochester, major roads, waterways, and existing conservation lands.  Each table was labelled with a different type of valued resource or focus area: wildlife habitat, trails and recreation, cultural and historical resources, water resources, environmental education, and agriculture/forestry.

Dan asked participants to choose a topic of interest, venture to that table, shed their inhibitions (“Go nuts! Write all over the maps!”), engage in conversation, and jot down their thoughts on the butcher paper.  When finished at one table, participants were encouraged to move to another topic table and share again.  With complimentary sandwiches prepared by Chef Gracie of Sheehan’s Garden, people leaned in and pored over maps to identify and protect important features that make our region a great place to live, work and play.

After more than an hour of these breakout sessions, a leader from each focus group summarized the information and the marked-up maps and notes were collected for reference.  Mark Sullivan of Merrymeeting Lake Association was at the water resources table and reported that comments focused on the importance of conserving the undeveloped, large tracts of land that surround the region’s lakes, many of which provide stunning vistas. Wendy Scribner of UNH Cooperative Extension said the wildlife habitat focus group identified important wildlife paths and road crossings where wildlife is vulnerable to increasing traffic.  Dan had noted the region’s abundant National Historic Register properties which had prompted them to add a cultural and historical focus group.  Notes at that table reflected Dan’s observations and were filled with passionate comments that Wakefield Inn owner, Colleen Nicastro, shared with the group.

Scott Drummey, New Durham Planning Board Chair, noted that the agricultural and forestry group identified many blueberry farms and hayfields. Biology teacher Lorrie Drake said the trails and recreational group focused on identifying and connecting existing hiking/X-C/mountain biking trails, using snowmobile corridors for year-round access, and finding access points to water bodies for kayaks and canoes. Cyndi Paulin, co-owner of MRP Machine Co. in Farmington, reported back from the Environmental Education group, where the conversation had centered on the importance for kids to experience nature. Paulin quoted a home schooler, “Nature can be its own teacher.”  In that group, Middleton pastor Tom Gardner stressed the importance of feeling the connectedness of all things, and supplied the telling anecdote, “If a vegetable comes from our own garden, my kids think it’s good to eat, but if it comes from a store, they frown on it.”

The 60 or so participants represented many stakeholder interests in conservation:  municipal officials and town Conservation Commissioners; MMRG staff, board, volunteers and members; local Environmental and Conservation groups and Lake Associations; farmers, foresters, educators, business owners and town residents. Attendees included long-time MMRG supporters as well as new faces. At the close of the session, John Wacker, a landscape architect and master planner from Carroll County and a board member of Green Mountain Conservation Group, expressed admiration for the job done by Sundquist and Whitman and appreciation for MMRG’s conservation work.  Anthony Coskie, a Middleton resident, waxed enthusiastic, “It was fantastic! It does our heart good to see the number of people who came out tonight and their energy and interest.”

MMRG, along with Sundquist and Whitman, will continue the conservation action planning process over the course of the year with on-line surveys, interviews, and another visioning session, tentatively set for February 11 at Middleton School.  A volunteer stakeholders group, willing to work closely with this team over the year ahead, will be identified.  The final plan will be revealed to the community as a series of maps and plan report in Summer 2017.  The public is encouraged to stay engaged with the process by signing up for MMRG’s e-news or becoming a member, at www.mmrg.info.

MMRG’s conservation action planning project is supported by funds from the sale of the Conservation License Plate (Moose Plate) through the NH State Conservation Committee grant program. MMRG is also grateful to the following sources for their support of this project: the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation, the Davis Conservation Foundation, the A
delard A. Roy & Valdea Lea Roy Foundation, and other generous donors.

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