Photo credits: Kate Wilcox, Perry Smith, Emily Lord, and Victor Piekarski and Gloria Switalski.

MMRG has received a 2016 New Hampshire Land & Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) grant award to conserve 115 acres at WidowMaker Farm in New Durham via a donated conservation easement.  The grant will partially fund the easement project to conserve working forest, wildlife habitat and aquatic resources in the headwaters of the Merrimack River, and historical features including dated boundary stones showing chiseled dates, a vintage orchard and a town pound.  LCHIP further recognized the significance of WidowMaker Farm by selecting the project as one of two that was highlighted at the December 8 awards ceremony in Concord.

Representing the WidowMaker Farm project at the LCHIP ceremony were landowners Victor Piekarski and Gloria Switalski, several MMRG Board, Staff, and supporters, and local and regional elected officials.  MMRG’s Executive Director, Patti Connaughton-Burns, accepted the $15,000 LCHIP grant award for MMRG.  Governor Maggie Hassan, Senate President Chuck Morse, LCHIP Board Chair Doug Cole and other LCHIP Board and Staff congratulated thirty-five different LCHIP grant recipients, who are working to conserve New Hampshire’s farms and forest or to preserve and restore historic features around the state.

At LCHIP’s invitation, Piekarski spoke about his family’s decision to conserve their land forever, for people and wildlife, through a donated easement.  Soon after settling into their home 20 years ago, he and his wife recognized an abundance of ecological and historical treasures on their land and since then have engaged in daily hikes and wildlife observations. He noted that the property boasts several historic features, including a corner stone that marks a unique common boundary point to five towns (Strafford, Barnstead, Alton, Farmington, and New Durham) and that it connects to adjacent conserved tracts.  In a heartfelt affirmation, Piekarski declared, “We love this land and we want others to enjoy it too, for a long time to come.”  He shared that the couple selected MMRG to hold the easement because of MMRG’s hands-on approach towards land conservation, guiding them through the process.  Connaughton-Burns expressed her gratitude for the landowners’ confidence and their generous donation of an easement on WidowMaker Farm, to conserve it in perpetuity.

While the 2016 LCHIP awards totaled $3.5 Million, another $2.5 Million of worthy applications were turned away, indicating just how competitive are the LCHIP grants.  Governor Hassan noted, “LCHIP is critical to protecting our natural, historical and cultural resources; for every dollar invested by LCHIP, we see a significant return on investment through the economic activity generated by those conservation efforts.”  The $3.5 Million in LCHIP awards to preserve New Hampshire farms, forests, and historic places will be matched by $20 Million in funds raised by grant recipients from other sources.

As required by the LCHIP grant, trails on the property will be open to the public for low-impact (non-vehicular) uses such as hiking, snowshoeing and birdwatching.  Hunting and fishing will also be permitted. Visitors are asked to respect the safety and privacy of the landowners.

The landowners recently opened their property on a crisp October afternoon for a MMRG guided hike and interactive presentation. Attended by 55 MMRG members and New Durham residents, the event was designed to highlight the historical and ecological features of WidowMaker Farm and how land conservation benefits the public.  The upbeat spirit of the day and how people feel that land benefits their health and well-being was documented by MMRG Board member Emily Lord in a video: “Land is my… sanctuary.” Click the photo below to view Emily’s video.

The well-managed logging trails, leading to natural and historical features, were one benefit observed by the hikers.  Charlie Bridges, retired wildlife biologist from NH Fish & Game, explained that “good access is one of the most important things that a landowner can provide for purposes of forest management, safety, and recreation.”  Piekarski described the principles of trail maintenance and forest management that he first learned while walking the property with forester Don Black. Connaughton-Burns noted that products from conserved farms and forests generate local yield taxes and provide revenue to landowners; tax incentives may also be available.  Guest Faye Lowrey reported seeing a well-engineered culvert channeling spring water under a logging trail to a marsh replete with skunk cabbages, an early spring plant that attract bears and other wildlife.  Connaughton-Burns explained that the well-managed roads prevent silt from entering streams, a benefit to fish and wildlife and downstream users of the water.

Neighbors Rod and Judy Thompson, who own conserved lands across the road, had encouraged the landowners to set up wildlife trail cameras to capture images, especially at night.  Rod chuckled: “You’d be surprised at all that goes on in the woods at night!”  Switalski and Piekarski have documented more than 150 animal species on their land and their camera has captured images of coyote, fox, deer, turtles, bob cat.  They’ve also seen otters playing in the pond, moose browsing the hobblebush, and bear munching on apples in the vintage orchard.  Bridges added, “It’s the diversity of high quality habitats that allows so many different wildlife species to live here.”

Ron Gehl, Chair of the New Durham Conservation Commission, stressed the conservation value of the property’s proximity to other undeveloped and conserved lands. Large swaths of such land, called greenways, provide needed space for roaming wildlife and for recreational trail systems.  With adjacent conserved lands to the north and south, WidowMaker Farms links the MMRG region to its southerly neighbor, Bear Paw Regional Greenways.

We are actively raising funds to cover transaction and stewardship fees for the WidowMaker Farm conservation easement project and are delighted to be 2/3 of the way to our final goal! Click here to make an online donation to the project. Or you may mail your check to MMRG, PO Box 191, Union NH 03887. Thank you! For additional information or a copy of the WMF campaign package, please contact Patti Connaughton-Burns at 603-473-2020.