In November 2006 the Southeast Land Trust, in partnership with the Town of Newfields, acquired the 69-acre Cole Farm on Bald Hill Road. It was the dream of many to see this land protected.
For landowners Vernon and Ruth Cole, their goal was to see the land they loved protected and kept undeveloped. Vern came to Newfields after being severely wounded both physically and emotionally in the World War II. During one early meeting with the couple, Vern informed Trust board member Phil Auger and Executive Director Brian Hart that “If I look down from heaven and see a bulldozer on my land, I’m coming back”. One couldn’t help and believe that this 88-year old, Purple Heart recipient, with his booming voice, vise-like handshake, and barrel-chest, would be back, and that you wouldn’t want to be on the bulldozer. The passion in his voice spoke of his love for the land, even if he did not express it in those words. Sadly, Vern died a few months after that memorable meeting, and Phil quietly pledged that Vern’s dream would be fulfilled.
“Through the years he became very attached to his land because he loved to grow crops, cut firewood and take long walks in the woods,” notes Auger. “On occasion he confided that it provided him with a peaceful quiet place to help forget. This land is special because it has tremendous natural resource features in and of itself and because it ties in so critically with the adjacent Piscassic Greenway. These considerations aside, this project is such a wonderful accomplishment because of what this land meant to Vern Cole.”
With its scenic hayfields, open water, emergent and forested wetlands, and productive forestland, the Cole Farm offers a variety of habitats that will support many common and uncommon species. It also provides the ideal public access location to the Piscassic Greenway, via the Will Mraz Memorial Trailhead on Bald Hill Road.
The farm is an odd-shaped parcel that intrudes into the center of the Piscassic Greenway; its acquisition enlarges the block of land owned by the Trust to nearly 400 acres. In fact, the Trust manages the Cole Farm as part of the larger Piscassic Greenway, creating a comprehensive plan for the enhancement of wildlife habitat, sustainable forestry and agriculture, and appropriate public recreation.
When neighbors learned of the possible sale of the farm, Will Mraz was the first to call. He expressed a strong desire to help protect the Cole Farm. Just a few weeks after that conversation, Will suddenly passed away. His family, inspired by his joy and hope for the future of the Cole Farm, decided to have memorial gifts directed to the land trust for the property. Over the next few months, gifts poured in from around the country. Will’s children raised money too, selling ‘Will Power’ rubber bracelets in school. For their birthdays, Will’s son Curtis and his friend Adam requested donations to the land trust, in lieu of presents. In total, over $12,000 in gifts were made to help achieve Will’s dream. As his sister Sarah wrote upon hearing of the success, “I just can’t tell you much it means to see this dream of my brother’s come true.” In October 2008, the land trust honored the memory of Will by dedicating the trailhead on Bald Hill Road in his name.
In addition to the memorial gifts, a variety of funding sources came together to make these dreams come true. The Town of Newfields contributed $130,000 in funding from the Conservation Fund and agreed to hold two separate conservation easements on the land. The project also received a $320,000 grant from the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program. The Trust received an additional $500,000 in private gifts, with generous leadership contributions from the Otto Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Al and Katharine Merck, and Cyrus and Bobbie Sweet. We thank them for their extraordinary generosity and continuing support of our mission.