Stonehouse Forest Conservation Project – FAQs
This article was last updated July 5, 2017
Where is the Stonehouse Forest?
The proposed “Stonehouse Forest” is located in Barrington, abutting the popular Stonehouse Pond property owned by SELT and managed in partnership with the NH Fish and Game Department. The 1,500-acre Stonehouse Forest lies to the east of the property, with frontage on the Franklin Pierce Highway (Route 9/202), Swain Road, Merry Hill Road, and the Nottingham town line, where it abuts the once proposed USA Springs water bottling facility.
The Stonehouse Forest property consists of over 50 parcels acquired over a period of years by an European investor who at one time planned a private exotic game hunting reserve for the property. In 2015, prior to listing the property on the open market, the landowner offered the opportunity for conservation organizations to consider acquiring it as public open space. SELT began negotiating with the owner in the summer of 2015 and finalized an agreement to acquire the land in November 2015. Under the agreement, SELT must close in the fall of 2017.
Why conserve this particular property? What are the benefits of conserving this land?
- The wildlife habitat and natural resources found on the property are of statewide importance as indicated in several statewide and regional conservation plans. The property likely has many documented occurrences of natural communities and rare plant and animal species that are of high conservation concern. The importance of the natural resources and wildlife habitat is evident with the substantial commitment of funds toward this project made by LCHIP, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
- Public access for outdoor recreation: The property has and remains posted against public access and hunting, and many people in the area have longed eyed this property as an outdoor recreational gem that the public is missing out on. With the conservation of the Stonehouse Forest it will very likely become a popular site used by hunters, hikers, cross country skiers and others. SELT will work with the Town and NH Fish and Game to construct trails, parking area(s) and kiosks so that it can be more easily enjoyed by members of the public.
- The property is within close proximity to approximately 820 acres of conserved land and directly abuts the 230-acre SELT owned Stonehouse Pond conservation area and the Town held nearly 100-acre Newhall conservation easement. Also in very close proximity is the 50-acre Trickey Lot Town Forest owned by Barrington off of Swain Road.
- The property includes numerous high value wetlands and two beautiful natural ponds (Round Pond and Little Round Pond) all of which provide important migratory bird/waterfowl habitat, but also contribute to clean water to Mendum’s Pond and Swains Lake. Mendum’s Pond is a popular recreational destination and beloved by many and is part of the Lamprey River system, one of two Federally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in New Hampshire. Swains Lake is also a very popular recreational destination and its water is part of the Bellamy River system, which is the primary drinking water supply for the City of Portsmouth and several other surrounding communities. In addition, the vernal pools on the property provide important breeding habitat for numerous amphibians and reptiles.
- The property includes interesting and scenic geological features such as large glacial erratics (boulders), a small cliff face, and ledge outcrops all of which provide important denning habitat for numerous wildlife species.
Who will own the land?
Under the proposed project structure, the Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire (SELT) will own the land subject to a conservation easement. The conservation easement will prohibit development of the land will allowing compatible forestry, habitat management, and recreational uses. The easement would be held by the NH Fish and Game Department and the Town of Barrington would hold a Third Party Right of Enforcement. This arrangement minimizes the Town of Barrington’s long-term commitments to the property. As the holder of a Third Party Right of Enforcement, Barrington may choose to, but does not have the legal obligation to, enforce the conservation easement should NHFG fail to do so.
As the owner, SELT would be responsible for management decisions subject to the limitations of the conservation easement and trail and access maintenance. SELT’s current practice has been to make payments to Towns in lieu of taxes equivalent to the current use tax bill.
NHFG would be responsible for monitoring the conservation easement, and if necessary, enforcing it through legal action against SELT or the person that violated the easement terms.
What is a conservation easement?
A conservation easement is a legal document that establishes a set of limitations on the future use and development of a property. Conservation easements generally prohibit additional residential, commercial, and industrial development and activities (such as new houses, mining, and extraction activities) while allowing compatible uses such as agriculture, forestry, and non-commercial outdoor recreation. A conservation easement is perpetual and binding on the current and all future owners. A conservation easement is granted by the landowner and accepted by a qualified non-profit organization or government agency who then agrees to monitor activities and uses of the property and enforce the limitations in perpetuity.
Would public access be allowed?
Yes. One of the major benefits of conserving the Stonehouse Forest is that the conservation easement would guarantee public access. At one time this land was slated as a private exotic game hunting reserve by its Italian owner; therefore the Stonehouse Forest has been posted against public access for decades. Under the conservation easement, public access and uses fall into three categories – guaranteed, at landowner’s discretion, and prohibited.
Guaranteed: Land is required to be open for public access and can’t be posted against:
- Pedestrian uses like walking, hiking, birdwatching, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, etc.
- Hunting and fishing, except landowner can post safety zones around existing residential buildings or during active management activities like trail building or timber harvesting.
- Snowmobiling will be allowed on certain trails within the property, to be determined in consultation with local snowmobile clubs and NHFG.
Landowner’s discretion: Certain public uses may be allowed at SELT’s discretion, including horseback riding, mountain biking and backcountry camping.
Prohibited: Off-highway recreational vehicles (ORHVs or ATVs) are prohibited by the conservation easement due to the significant resource impacts they create. SELT may use such vehicles for land management purposes.
It is important to note that the conservation easement only restricts the 1,500 acre Stonehouse Forest property and the easement will not limit or otherwise restrict allowed public uses of the publicly-owned Class VI (unmaintained) Marsh Road that bisects the property and Swain Road, which abuts the property to the north.
Will there be a trail system for public use? Who will be responsible for maintaining the trail system?
Yes. The conservation easement will allow SELT, as owners, to use the existing woods road network and construct and maintain trails and information kiosks at trail heads in locations identified through the management plan developed for the property. SELT will have the ongoing responsibility to manage, maintain, and repair the trail system it creates. This work is completed with staff, volunteers, and contractors.
What is the total project cost?
The total current budget is $3.447 million. This includes the following costs:
|Purchase price of land||$2,800,000||Negotiated purchase price; less than appraised fair market value|
|Transaction costs||$192,450||Property survey, legal, title, hazardous waste review, appraisals, etc.|
|Project management||$86,150||Consultants, habitat studies, and staff time|
|Capital improvements for public access||$50,000||For initial trails, parking area(s), kiosks, and related work|
|Conservation Easement Stewardship Fund||$35,000||Payment to NH Fish and Game for easement stewardship|
|Land Management Fund||$283,600||To support SELT’s long-term ownership and management of the property|
The purchase price for the land was negotiated by SELT with the owner and represents the low end of a range of value determined by an independent licensed appraiser hired by the landowner. To verify that this price is consistent with the current real estate market, SELT has commissioned its own appraisal to be completed by an independent, state licensed appraiser. However, based on a recent appraisal of a conservation easement for a similar sized property (the 1,114 acre Harvey’s Kennard Hill Forest in Epping and Nottingham), SELT fully expects that the pending appraisal will confirm the value of the 1,500+ acres of land is equal to or greater than the purchase price. Once received, the appraisal will be shared with the Town of Barrington. Please note that the appraisal of the conservation easement on the Harvey’s Kennard Hill Forest determined that the conservation easement alone was worth $2,780,000 and that property is similar in terrain, wetland percentage, wetland configuration and actually has less useable road frontage than the Stonehouse Forest.
How was the purchase price determined?
The purchase price for the land was negotiated by SELT with the owner and represents the low end of a range of value determined by an independent licensed appraiser hired by the landowner. To verify that the sales price is consistent with the real estate market, SELT commissioned its own appraisal by a different independent licensed appraiser. SELT’s appraiser determined the fair market value of the property to be higher than the agreed upon purchase price.