The Southeast Land Trust acquired over 525 acres of forestland and wetlands along the federally-designated Wild & Scenic Lamprey River in early 2011. These lands, subject to a conservation easement held by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, represent the Land Trust’s second largest ownership and the culmination of over two years of work.
Located in Epping, the land falls within a conservation focus area identified in 2005 by the Southeast Land Trust as a top priority for our work. The property represents the highest co-occurrence of natural resource values within the area, with significant wetland resources, including more than 350 acres of diverse wetlands that include streams, extensive vernal pools, Red Maple floodplain forest, Black gum basin swamp, pitch pine-heath swamp, and over 3,200 feet of frontage on the Lamprey River. In addition, the acquisition includes over 150 acres of upland hemlock-hardwood-pine forest.
The property, previously owned by NH Public Golf Courses, Inc. was – as you guessed – considered at one time as a potential site for an extensive golf course and related residential and commercial development. However, its location on the Lamprey River and proximity to thousands of acres of conservation land in Epping, Exeter, and Newfields conserved by the Great Bay Resource Protection Partnership, made its protection a top priority for local, regional, and state conservation organizations. Its protection will help connect a vast corridor of conservation land stretching to the Piscassic Ice Pond in Newfields. Where the soils and site conditions are appropriate, public access opportunities will be provided for passive outdoor recreation including hiking, skiing, fishing, and hunting.
“Because of the many public benefits, this land was a conservation priority both regionally and statewide,” notes David Viale, Land Protection & Stewardship Specialist with the Land Trust. “Conserving this land will help protect the water quality of the Lamprey River, preserve critical wildlife habitat, and ensure that large blocks of open space will remain undeveloped and available for passive recreation and enjoyment by the public.”
In 2008, with landowner permission, several conservation groups met to discuss how they might work together to conserve the parcel. The diverse wetland habitat and the property’s restoration needs made the property a good candidate for funding from the federal Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). The WRP is administered by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and is a voluntary program offering landowners the opportunity to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property.
While the WRP program provided an opportunity to secure funding to purchase a conservation easement, the landowner also wished to convey the underlying fee ownership. Further, additional funds were needed to cover associated project costs and the long term management and stewardship of the land.
To secure the remaining funding, the Land Trust reached out to long-time conservation partner, the Lamprey River Advisory Committee (LRAC), for their help. The Lamprey River Advisory Committee was formed in 1991 and serves as the local management advisory committee under the state Rivers Management and Protection Program and the federal Wild & Scenic Rivers program. The LRAC is comprised of appointed representatives from each of the four towns within the Wild and Scenic River designation (Epping, Lee, Durham, and Newmarket), and focuses on protection of the ecological, cultural, and historic resources of the river.
LRAC had long sought the protection of the NH Public Course property, and agreed to provide key funding to match the WRP application and to support the long-term management of the property.
“The Lamprey River Advisory Committee identified this parcel as one of our highest conservation priorities” states Sharon Meeker, chair of the LRAC land protection committee. “Protection of this property is a major victory and we were pleased to partner with the Land Trust to make it happen”.
“This new property will continue to be a focus of the Land Trust for several years, as we work to restore the property’s wetlands and reverse damage done by unauthorized users,” explains Viale. Illegal off-road vehicle use has created new trails, rutted wetlands, and damaged sensitive habitat. In addition, Birch Road, an unmaintained dirt road in Epping, has been illegally widened onto the property by users, beyond the road right of way. The Land Trust will be working with the Town and NRCS to block illegal access points, retire inappropriate trails and woods roads, and restore wetlands functions to the property.