The Piscassic Greenway Turns Ten
Ten years ago this April, SELT, the Town of Newfields, and Trust for Public Land (TPL) completed a monumental effort to acquire the Piscassic Greenway. People rallied to save the land and its resources: drinking water sources and riparian areas along the Piscassic River; oak woodlands and myriad wetlands; links to other conserved land; and public access for low impact recreation.
Today the Piscassic Greenway in Newfields and Newmarket encompasses 444 contiguous acres that include the original 316 acres, the 69-acre Cole Farm (also conserved in 2005), and the more recently conserved 59-acre Tucker property. Visitors explore the trails, look for wildlife, find quiet places, or go for vigorous exercise. Phil Auger, SELT’s property manager, is pleasantly surprised at just how many people visit the Greenway. Newfields residents especially seem to relish their proximity to the Piscassic Greenway.
Rebecca Watts, who lives on Old Lee Road, says the Greenway is an integral part of her physical and emotional health. About 4-5 times a week she walks, runs, or skis the trails. Sometimes she encounters other people, but just as often she meets wildlife on the trail. “On my early morning runs I’ve watched owls fly silently into the trees above my head, seen porcupines trundle along the trail unconcerned, and once I saw a fisher draped across a limb looking down at me warily,” says Watts. “The Piscassic Greenway is my favorite and most enduring part of living in Newfields.”
People venture onto the Greenway on foot, snowmobiles, skis, fat tire bicycles, snowshoes, horseback; with and without dogs; alone, in pairs or in groups. The main gateway to the Greenway is via the Mraz Trailhead at a small parking lot off Bald Hill Road. From there, the 1.2-mile Mraz Loop Trail passes through a meadow, crosses a wetland, and winds through rolling woods into the heart of the Greenway. This winter I watched Northeast Passage staff push a disabled young man from Newfields on a kick sled across the snow on the Mraz Trail. The Greenway is accessible to people of all levels of abilities.
Many visitors also enter from the Rockingham Recreational Trail, where the yellow-blazed Byrne Trail runs north/south through the Greenway and provides access to other trails. Annette and Charlie Pettengill live in Newfields along the Recreational Trail and visit often. Annette says, “The Greenway has added a whole other realm to our quality of life in Newfields. We walk, bike, snowmobile, or hunt and always see or hear something interesting: a whippoorwill’s call, coyotes crossing the trail, snakes curled up in a rocky communal den, sunlit forest floor, or the bobcat that sat at the top of our driveway then ambled off down the trail toward the Greenway–it is a special place.”
In 2005, this special place was slated for 102 house lots and condo complexes and two miles of paved roads winding through the woods. It was expected to generate 250 more car trips per day on Halls Mill Road. The developer was nearing final approval for the proposed subdivision. Fortunately, just in time, SELT, the Town and hundreds of donors intervened and the land was conserved, for all to enjoy as open space.
Mike Price lives next to another entrance at the end of Halls Mill Road. Besides the personal joy that he gets from walking on the trails, Price thinks everyone in town still feels that conserving the Greenway was a good decision. He credits fellow resident Michael Sununu for a great presentation in 2005, highlighting the economic benefits of conserving the land versus allowing a large subdivision and convincing voters to overwhelmingly support a $2 million town contribution. At the time, Sununu said, “The cost of school and municipal services will be greater than any new tax revenue we could raise. In the long run, the investment to keep this open space will save us money.”
The sentiment that it was the right decision rings true for Steve Shope, the Newfields Conservation Commission chair. “The Greenway continues to be a great benefit to our community and the region providing an opportunity for people, including families, to get outside, in the woods, in nature.”
On one of my own recent visits, I met a young couple at the Mraz Trailhead. They had walked two miles from their Newmarket home to check out the trails for the first time. I oriented them to the property before they set off excitedly through the meadow to explore the Greenway. In time, they too will compile their own unique Greenway stories.
By Ellen Snyder