On December 16, the Upper Valley Land Trust and landowners Graham Colditz & Patti Cox conserved over 250 acres of scenic and productive land on South Road in Canaan, NH. Like many properties UVLT has protected, this land has deep roots in history. Every property has a story but the story of this land is particularly special. Its journey from early settlement in 1766 to its conservation in 2011 is traceable with an unusual amount of detail and continuity.
A large tract within this now-conserved property was granted to a gentleman named Thomas Miner in 1761 as one of the original 62 grantees named in the Town Charter from King George III to Governor Benning Wentworth; ultimately, Thomas Miner became one of the first people to permanently settle in that part of New Hampshire. Tired of life in the city, Miner gathered up his family in 1766 and left Norwich, Connecticut to head north to his land in Canaan. He described his thoughts of the new lands and the opportunities that stretched out before them in these quotes borrowed from the book History of Canaan, NH by William Allen Wallace, published in 1910:
“I’m going to get out er this, and try the bears and wolves for neighbors, and live on fish and venison…. this new road we are traveling is dotted all along with fragrant flowers, and the great trees, always stretching their long arms out before us, are calling us to our new destiny. We are started upon the long road. We are young, and life which a few months ago, seemed like an old wornout coat, now rises up all before us.” ~ Credited to Thomas Miner in History of Canaan, NH
Thomas Miner and his wife had seven more children in Canaan and lived to see the town grow around them. They are buried in the historic Cobble Cemetery which exists within the conserved property. Thomas Miner’s grave is marked with a modern headstone commemorating his military service in the Revolution; the town places a flag at his grave every Memorial Day to honor that service.
The historical farmstead has been restored by the current landowners and cattle still graze the fields. The forests are managed as a certified New Hampshire Tree Farm and streams that enter Gulf Brook and the Indian River add to the diversity and richness of the natural resources on the property. With proximity to other conserved and public lands, including Mount Cardigan State Park, this special place contributes to the traditional rural character of Canaan. Graham Colditz & Patti Cox are proud to conserve their property and ensure this land and its history remains intact as a place of inspiration and wonder for future generations.
Lesson One – Do Your ‘Homework’
You may have thought your days of assigned reading followed by a quiz were over, but if you are a volunteer monitor for the Upper Valley Land Trust you are wrong – in the best way possible.
Every good monitoring visit begins when you, as the volunteer, pick up your marbled blue monitoring folder. It feels, and looks, very official with laminated pockets housing reports, background documentation, and a map collection worthy of an explorer.
Tools of the trade: Monitoring folder, GPS, and compass.
The homework element comes in the form of one of the documents enclosed in this folder. The Baseline Document Report, or BDR, is part of the official legal paperwork that goes into a completed conservation easement. The purpose of the BDR is to provide a picture of that specific property at the time it is protected – including physical features, current land use, and conservation resources present. As a volunteer monitor it is your guidebook, painting a picture of what you should expect to see on your visit. If there are specific features of the land that could be a challenge to maintaining its protected status, the BDR will have those too and that is something you, as the monitor, should pay very close attention to. It is helpful to be aware of such things before you arrive on site in the chance that a violation could exist. Knowing what you’re looking at and potentially what you’re looking for is a good idea before you begin. Now, hopefully, the ‘homework’ is not looking all that bad. In fact, it is a chance to really ‘get to know’ the land.
Dangers of trekking with out proper navigation – vague pointing and guessing doesn’t work when you are a monitor! (Me, on Left, and my SCA crew in Arizona. This is where I got my first taste of large scale property management/monitoring.)
Lesson Two – Keep it Safe
Armed with this information, you are nearly ready to set out for your property visit – this would be the ‘quiz’ part. First, make sure someone knows where you are going and how long you expect to be there. This is a policy that UVLT staff members follow and recommend strongly to volunteers. Directions to the site are included in the monitoring folder but you will also need to know where you’re going once you arrive.
A handheld GPS unit can be acquired from the UVLT office that includes the boundaries of conserved properties, but be aware! All maps are imperfect representations of the real thing so it is best to bring along a compass in addition to your GPS and your paper maps to ensure that you are indeed tromping on conserved property and not the next door neighbor’s!
When you arrive be sure to park in a safe area and note where your vehicle is located (this can be done with the GPS). UVLT can provide you with a “UVLT Monitoring Visit” sign to display in your window, another recommended practice. Double check that you have all the gear you need and, if you haven’t already, plan your monitoring route through the property.
Each route will be different depending on the challenges that may/may not exist as well as what was done the year before. The idea isn’t to replicate the same visit from year to year, though you should take that visit under advisement. Rather, your trip is to make sure the property is thoroughly inspected with the overarching goal of your observations being to add to a complete picture of the property over time. Sometimes the land owner or caretaker will come with you and it is great if they do. These visits are an opportunity to keep in touch and maintain a good relationship with them.
“Lesson” Three – Have Fun!
Then, the adventure begins! And while every visit you do may not be action packed it will most certainly be a memorable experience. Since monitoring visits only happen once a year they are critical to UVLT’s ability to properly care for the land we have protected. Out there you, the volunteer, are our eyes and ears, and sometimes we hear some very neat stories. But even if we don’t, and the visit is quiet, it is still your excuse to take a walk in the woods, fields, and farms of the Upper Valley; with your mind and eyes open you might just come away with something better than a story.
This is the first post of a series I am writing about my experience becoming a fully trained monitor for UVLT. I came to the Land Trust with some field experience but I knew it was unlikely that the methods I had been taught would be an exact fit for UVLT’s stewardship needs – and boy was I right! I hope you will enjoy learning, laughing, and pondering with me as I collect and nurture the knowledge, skills, and abilities gained from spending time outside.
Anna Slack, UVLT Programs Coordinator, Monitor-in-Training
** If you’re interested in becoming a monitor yourself contact us! **
The Monday before Thanksgiving, folks gathered for refreshments and camaraderie to enjoy UVLT’s photo exhibit at the Norwich Public Library. The hi-light of the evening was a special reading by Vermont’s 2011 Poet Laureate Sydney Lea.
He read a lyrical essay, ‘Snowdust’, from his yet-to-be-published work entitled Now Look. His words brought a poignant presence to the photos and added something special to the evening. If you missed it you may click on the notation below to listen to the reading – introductions by UVLT Board Chair, Bob Wetzel. We hope you enjoy it and have a chance to come visit our exhibit ’25 Years of Land Conservation’ through photos at the Norwich Public Library in November and December.
“Without the efforts of the Upper Valley Land Trust and its staff and supporters…of which I have been one…we have fewer and fewer experiences of the sort I mean to render here.”
Syd Lea, ‘Snowdust’ – A Reading on November 21, 2011
A Note: Since this is an amateur recording you may need to increase your volume for the best clarity, but be aware that sounds in the foreground will be quite loud…watch your ears particularly if you listen with headphones! Thank you & enjoy!
The UVLT Stewardship Staff has seen a lot of oddities over the years while monitoring conservation easements, but nothing could have prepared us for the unusual challenge that lay in store for us after Irene made its mark in our region.
Did you know that in addition to the 412 conservation easements held by UVLT in the Upper Valley, UVLT owns thirteen properties? One of those owned properties is a 23 acre island near the New Hampshire side of the Connecticut River in Claremont. Routine monitoring of the island shortly after the storm gave new meaning to the phrase “expect the unexpected”. We might have expected the 15 foot pile of logs, trees, boards, shrubs, fence posts, and other delectable floatables piled up on the upstream end of the island. We might also have expected the upper edges of the island to be torn away by a river gone wild. What we didn’t expect to see – on the very top of that pile of logs and debris – was a 10 yard dumpster! Crazy you think? There’s more! Nestled in beside the dumpster was a 188 gallon fuel tank that came from a farm somewhere up stream! Leaving one to ponder, “Huh? How did that happen?”
Well, we did a little bit of research on both the dumpster and the tank. The dumpster had a phone number on it so we tracked down the rightful owner. Upon hearing about the dumpster location, we heard a groan on the other end of the line but received acknowledgement that it was their responsibility to remove it from the island. The dumpster came from the West Lebanon shopping area, floating 23 miles downstream through Sumner Falls and ending up on UVLT’s island. It is amazing to think of a dumpster floating one mile, never mind 23!
The dumpster’s companion was more problematic. No owner name, no identifying plates, and no one to take responsibility for the tank and the remaining fuel oil inside. After a conversation with the NH Department of Environmental Services, it appeared that since UVLT owned the property, we also “owned” the tank, like it or not. We had to figure out what to do with Irene’s donation to UVLT so we put our minds to work.
Financially, UVLT is a very lean organization, particularly in this economy. We don’t have the luxury of contingency funds or loose cash. But, we do have friends that care deeply about the river and the surrounding working landscape. And thanks to those friends, the tank was successfully removed from the island without spilling one drop of fuel.
How did we do it?
• UVLT staff contacted Claremont Fire Department which conducted on-river training and determined that the tank had about 15 gallons of fuel in it.
• UVLT staff made a reconnaissance run to the island and found: a log and debris pile that was slippery and inconsistent, but stable; a tank with two open vent pipes but appeared to be intact; and the closest shore consisting of a very mucky bottom with a steep slope up to the forested floodplain.
• Aerial photo review showed the closest river access point was ¾ of a mile upstream.
• UVLT confirmed that the NH Dept of Environmental Services agreed to remove the oil from the tank if we got it to shore.
• UVLT contacted the Student Conservation Association (SCA) to recruit a couple of volunteers.
• UVLT called a trustee who owns a pontoon boat (!) and who had been known to say “In life one must always do that which one has never done before when the opportunity arises!”
• UVLT called a local farmer (and abutting UVLT landowner) to inquire about use of his tractor.
Day of Action -October 24, 2011
• On a grey October morning , at 28 degrees and warming, UVLT brought a boat, armed with pry bars, ropes, straps, rubber vent caps, come-a-longs, waders, hammers, wrenches, and some nervous laughter to the island.
• The vents were capped, the tank was freed, and it was slowly lowered to water where it was strapped to the side of the boat for slow trip upstream.
• At the boat ramp, the tank was plucked from the water by our local farmer’s front end loader.
• Two days later, NH DES removed 15 gallons of kerosene and cut open the tank to remove sludge from the bottom.
• The tank was sent to the salvage yard and scrapped!
Just another day in the life of UVLT stewardship……
Huge thanks go to Lew Shelley and Josiah Downey from SCA; Gary LeClair, farmer and good guy extraordinaire; Ray Reimold, NHDES; Claremont Fire Dept; Rick Roesch, Captain and man of wise words; and all the UVLT staff who have to watch the UVLT stewardship staff have all of the fun…
Vice President, Stewardship
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!
On the Sunday before Labor Day five of us climbed Blueberry Mountain in the Benton Range. It wasn’t a perfect day for a hike. It was muggy and cloudy with a forecast of some thundershowers, but, no lightning or thunder was seen or heard; either would have turned us back.
Though the weather and the seasons change the nature of a hike’s reward, there always is one. We walked in conversation punctuated by moose track sightings and gathering huckleberries. At the top, the distant summit of Moosilauke showed darkly through clouds that softened the view and intensified the quiet. In those moments there was a sense of being separated from the world.
Unfortunately our time was limited and however peaceful we were, we needed to start back. We left reluctantly but with the certainty that we would carry our reward for body and soul on with us. Join us some time; I think you’ll enjoy it.
J. Roger Hanlon, Trustee & Sunday Stroll Leader
Note: I had been told that the trail was to be closed because of a newly started timber operation. The trail may have been closed the rest of the week but on this particular Sunday there were no signs regarding a closure. Due to a washout on Long Pond Road the gate was closed to vehicle traffic adding 1.6 miles to the hike. A sign at the trailhead gave notice of the timber operation and the trailhead and the lower part of the trail had been bulldozed into a road. The trail leaves that newly created road on the right where a yellow trail blaze is clearly seen. Since conditions may change over time take this into account should you choose to climb Blueberry Mountain yourself someday soon.
As Hurricane Irene passed through our region she left an unmistakable mark on our landscape. UVLT’s trails and campsites remain open but they are in a largely unknown state; most have not been evaluated and therefore we recommend that if you are out to be mindful that damage may exist whether in the form of wash-outs, downed debris, and poor footing conditions. Be alert, be safe, and if you are out on the trails or at a campsite, we would love to know the conditions you find. Please contact us! Thank you!
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