While rushing home from Hanover to get ready for the October 2nd Sunday Stroll (we had planned to hike up the Kodak trail on Mt. Cube) Ann, my wife and hiking buddy, said, essentially, that the days ingredients of rain, cold, and fog with ample dashes of trail mud, slippery rocks, and leaves was a perfect recipe for something you’d rather see in the movies. And, with her mind made up, that’s where she went, to the movies.
I, thinking of myself as being sterner stuff, donned rain gear and drove to the gate at the end of Quintown Road. As I suspected Ann was right; no one else joined me to braved the weather. Since I was there and the rain little more than a heavy mist I decided to walk up the road past the AT crossing to see where it went. As I reached the start of the trail I paused and couldn’t resist; quickly I hiked up to the Eastman ledges and found a muted landscape below which soon faded into the low clouds. That was far enough.
As I started down I was happy that I’d gone; there is something special about such days on a mountain – intense quiet, a peaceful alone-ness and a rare feeling of having left the world behind, however briefly. That short hike, in Robert Frost’s words, had “given my heart a change of mood and saved some part of a day I had rued”.
Come hike with us some Sunday; it’s good for body and soul.
Roger Hanlon, UVLT Trustee & Sunday Stroll leader
Roger leads friends of UVLT on hikes in and around the Upper Valley to share his appreciation for the beauty and goodness of our lands. If you’d care to join him keep an eye on our calendar or contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the past year, as UVLT celebrated its 25th anniversary, I spent some time considering the boldness of UVLT’s founders, marveling at the confidence of their vision, remembering a time when land trusts were a new, untested idea. But vision is only half the story… it takes sustained effort, energy, and generosity to create an organization. The force that shaped UVLT from an idea into an institution came in the person of Lilla McLane-Bradley.
Lilla didn’t do this single handedly of course. In fact, she attracted and mobilized others. Her enthusiasm was contagious. A person who responded to her request for advice was likely to receive a compliment in the form of an assignment. Very few people could say no to Lilla.
I first met Lilla in 1987. I was a new mother and newly returned to the Upper Valley, happy to be hired by UVLT for a part time bookkeeping and secretarial position. Lilla was in her mid 60’s, packing up her Occom Ridge home and preparing to move to Kendal, where she was one of the earliest residents. She would soon become the chair of UVLT’s Board of Trustees, taking over from founder Donella Meadows.
I had recently helped my grandmother prepare for a move from her longtime home, and I expressed sympathy to Lilla regarding her upcoming relocation. She made it plain to me that she saw the change only in positive terms. “I’ll be able to spend my time on the things I enjoy,” she said, “keeping up a big house is just not what I want to do.” Instead, she poured herself into good works – land conservation, affordable housing, women’s issues, mental health, philanthropy, education and politics.
When Lilla retired from leading the Board of the Upper Valley Community Foundation she was given a scrapbook honoring her work with many non-profit organizations and causes. This was UVLT’s page.
Lilla had a wellspring of optimism and energy that inspired and confounded her friends and colleagues. As Board chair, she called UVLT’s office nearly daily, usually in the early morning, to share ideas that had come to her overnight. Her stream of consciousness formed a ‘to do list’ that would have been ridiculous for anyone but Lilla. She could simultaneously network, advocate, organize, fundraise, and perform any necessary volunteer function. She cheerfully set impossible goals, persuaded the rest of us that we could reach them, and then was delighted that we were able.
Lilla loved being outdoors and walked or skied every day she could. Living in town, she was passionate about the availability of trails and open space for all. As a UVLT Trustee, she insisted that every conservation project be evaluated in terms of appropriateness for public access. To this day, the “Lilla question” endures as we review and select potential projects. With over a third of our 425 conserved properties containing trails or other access provisions, UVLT is recognized nationally for its recreation and conservation accomplishments.
During Lilla’s tenure on the Board, UVLT established its endowment, began relationships with the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and Vermont Community Foundation, and started a planned giving program. Lilla learned everything she could about land trusts, even travelling to national professional conferences. She embraced major projects in Hartford (Brookside Farm/Hazen Trail) and Norwich (Farrell Farm/Starlake Village) that required significant local fundraising. In our photos from those days, Lilla is usually in the center of the crowd. She’s not holding forth – that wasn’t her style – rather people are near her because she is fun to be with. The happiest face on every hike, raising her glass to toast someone else, or reaching across the table for another group of letters to sign, Lilla lived her life fully engaged.
Lilla’s success as a fundraiser flowed naturally from her passion for life. She didn’t select causes on the basis of their feasibility, she simply acted on what she knew was right. And asking for help was a logical consequence of caring, of seeing a need. She was dogged and she was fearless.
Lilla profoundly impacted many of the Upper Valley institutions and relationships that we take for granted today. In the 24 years I knew her, she ran circles around those of us a generation (or more) younger. She proved, without a doubt, that there is never an excuse for not trying, that “showing up” is what life is all about.
When I was hired to follow Tim Traver as UVLT’s Executive Director, Lilla invited me to join her for drinks and dinner at Kendal. Over the course of several hours she introduced me to one friend after another. “We’ve just hired Jeanie to lead the Upper Valley Land Trust,” she would say, “and I am so excited.” I knew this blessing from Lilla was one more gift to UVLT. With her confidence behind us, nearly anything was possible – and I was the luckiest of all.
Laurel encouraged student Ryan Cilbreth’s work to establish trails at Starr Hill & was glad her neighbors could enjoy the natural area. In 1991 at UVLT’s fifth Annual Meeting, Laurel’s leadership was honored & she was thanked with this photo of Ryan at Starr Hill.
The year was 1987, two years after the Upper Valley Land Trust was founded. In this year a conversation began that changed the shape of a city. Mrs. Laurel Letter of Lebanon came to the Upper Valley Land Trust on behalf of herself and her neighborhood. There was land owned by the city, sixteen acres, that was enjoyed immensely by Laurel and her community but she was concerned. There were undeveloped parcels bordering this land – would the community’s common ground become squeezed by encroaching development? This was important because this was a place that, in her mind, the people of the city needed.
For the next four years Mrs. Letter dedicated her time in countless ways to secure her neighborhoods special place. Finally, in 1991 Laurel’s actions and dedication to the project paid off. That year, the Upper Valley Land Trust purchased two of the adjoining undeveloped parcels totaling 15.2 acres which it then conveyed to the City of Lebanon in the Starr Hill Conservation Easement. In 1991, Laurel Letter’s dreams came true.
This past June 2011, the Lebanon Conservation Commission took another step by placing a conservation easement on one of the City-owned parcels that had originally inspired Laurels efforts. They also included another adjoining lot, bringing the total conserved acreage to nearly 40. In light of this addition, it is time to look back, and thank again, the woman who made it possible.
What has not been mentioned in Mrs. Letter’s story is the personal sacrifice that she and husband Sid made to see the dream of protecting Starr Hill become a reality. For four years this vision was a priority to this woman, and she wasn’t shy about it. She dedicated boundless hours to researching, map making, letter writing, meetings, and fundraising to make sure the conversation that she had started would continue.
By 1991, not only had 15.2 acres been acquired and conserved, but thanks to her work the City only paid half of what the land was valued. Laurel and Sid made a major contribution, raising half of the acquisition cost by taking out a second mortgage on their home. It was “a drastic step”, Mrs. Letter admitted, drastic for folks of modest means but a step that she also saw as necessary to achieve the goal of conservation.
Laurel Letter’s story can teach us all something about the power of the human spirit and the connection we have with nature. Her actions bring the statement ‘home is where the heart is’ to life. She put her heart into Starr Hill because it was home, not just to her but to her neighbors as well. Laurel believed in something bigger than herself and her dedication is a testament to the fact that the strength of one’s character is enough to achieve something great.
Thank you, Laurel, for inspiring us.
While waiting for my eleven year old daughter, Abby, to finish band practice at Thetford Elementary School, a piece of artwork caught my eye. Second grader Mack Briglin has drawn a picture depicting Bill Hill, a place near where Mack lives, which Upper Valley Land Trust holds a conservation easement on. The drawing was part of a wonderful project given to the students by 2nd grade teacher, Regina Bradley.
“Write about a place that is special to you”, she told them.
Each child had written a paragraph about their special place and drawn a picture to show readers what their place looked like. The connection each child has to their special place drew me back to my own childhood. My cousins and I would head off through the thin strip of woods behind my grandparents’ house in Bennington,Vermont, not to the gravel pit that lay beyond the trees, but to some imagined wild desert somewhere. More likely we pretended to be Luke Skywalker wanting to get off his dusty home planet, Tatoine, any way we could. Just like Luke Skywalker, we were looking for adventure. This was my special place. Now, it is a large housing development; the woods and ‘desert’ are gone.
Fortunately, that won’t happen to Mack’s special place. About 50 years ago, Noel (Ned) Perrin, a former English Professor at Dartmouth College, purchased the farm that included Bill Hill. He fell in love with the farm, and Bill Hill along with it. In his words,
“It all began because of Bill Hill. Bill Hill is a large lump of glacial debris behind the pasture across the road. I own it. Insofar as a thing as small as a human being can own a thing as big as a hill.”
Ned set about his life as a professor, writer, and “sometime farmer”; he had a sense of being connected to the land just like the farmers before him. Reclaiming the stone walls and pastures of his farm was just a single part of his commitment to the land. I think he felt he owed it to the people who had cleared the land and made a meager living on it for generations. To honor their endurance Ned reclaimed Bill Hill and the rest of his farm as best he could. Rumor has it that Ned taught some of his graduate level writing courses at the farm. His ‘classroom’ alongside whichever stonewall he was rebuilding at the time.
Assisted by friend Ellis Paige, Ned (on right) lays the foundation for one of Bill Hill's stone walls.
Before he died Ned made sure his spot on the map would continue to be a farm and not chopped into the 44 house lots which zoning would have allowed for at the time. He put a conservation easement on his farm ensuring his “Special Place” would remain for others to explore and enjoy, forever.
When I saw Mack’s writing and art, I knew Ned would be quite pleased. His Special Place was inspiring the next generation to write about their Special Place. At the top of Bill Hill, friends placed a plaque to honor Ned inscribed with the line “Nothing Gold can Stay” from poet Robert Frost. But I wonder; is that true? Because of Ned’s foresight, Mack’s Special Place will be there forever, and generations going forward will discover Bill Hill for themselves. At the end of a passage from his essay ‘Grooming Bill Hill’ Ned describes the value of reclaiming Bill Hill and its 15 acres of pasture,
“It will be no bad legacy to leave.”
Looking at Mack’s artwork, I know Ned’s legacy will live on. As Mack says,
“Where else would wild blackberries grow?”
Stewardship Coordinator, UVLT
Seven hearty souls from Hypertherm came back to UVLT’s “Gateway” property in Norwich to check out a new fitness craze sweeping though the Upper Valley! It’s called “Invasives cross-training” .
These volunteers spent 8 hours hiking up and down a steep hill (interval training) and plowing through shin deep mud (endurance training) to pull out and cut down non-native invasive trees and shrubs such as buckthorn, honeysuckle, and barberry (resistance training). Who needs a gym membership!?
If you’d like to learn more about the history of Hypertherm and UVLT teaming up for this project please click here and here.
To learn more about why these plants are bad, check out this recent post about invasive species removal.
If you’d like a free membership to the UVLT fitness program, contact us!