Why Conserve Land? The Page Pond Story

John C. Edgar, AICP
Community Development Director, Meredith, New Hampshire

Why conserve land? Land conservation it is a tool that can provide multiple benefits to a community; economic, environmental, cultural, health, educational and recreational. The inherent attributes of a given project vary considerably as do the values a community places on land conservation. However, when executed strategically land conservation can enhance quality of life contributing to what makes that community a desirable place to live, work, invest or visit. Land conservation takes time, integrative thinking, patience, collaboration, public support, financial resources, volunteerism and leadership. A great example of a project that embodies these key “ingredients” is the 198-acre Page Pond Community Forest in Meredith, New Hampshire.

Three girls walk a dog on a trail near Page Pond in Meredith, New Hampshire.

In March of 2017 the Town Meeting authorized the acquisition of 198 acres of conservation land. In October the transaction was completed. This acquisition abuts 565 acres of conservation land acquired by the town in 2009. This earlier phase included a $400,000 bond issue (now paid off) which received widespread (87%) voter support. These acquisitions, together with a donated, adjoining 53-acre conservation easement comprise the 817-acre Page Pond Community Forest. The forest is uniquely positioned just east of the town’s village center and the Inter-Lakes School campus near the shores of Meredith Bay.

The Meredith Conservation Commission has spearheaded the efforts to conserve these properties and is the designated conservation steward. The Conservation Commission is a working group of dedicated volunteers chaired by Mark Billings. Mark has championed this project for over 15 years demonstrating unwavering enthusiasm, commitment and leadership. Also crucial to the town’s success has been a partnership forged with the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of land for people. TPL has provided invaluable services to the Commission including real estate negotiations, grant writing and the coordination of private and public capital fundraising campaigns (see contact information below).

Conserving Page Pond and its forested surroundings was not an altogether new idea. The 1969 Meredith Comprehensive Plan notes, “The preservation of open space and natural areas is an especially critical problem at this stage in Meredith’s development.” Looking to the future town planners at the time identified a large portion of the interior of Meredith Neck as future “Conservation” specifically recommending the use of conservation easements. The 2002 Community Plan in describing the future vision for the community states, “The longstanding environmental preservation and conservation ethic within the community will progress to an unparalleled level. Critical natural resources such as significant wetlands, undeveloped shoreline areas, scenic vistas, wildlife corridors, groundwater supplies, large forested areas and agricultural soils will be conserved through a comprehensive open space strategy. Natural resource protection efforts will complement economic development and be considered by the public as critical to a balanced growth strategy.”

Wetland along Page Brook

The 2002 plan recommended the development of a Natural Resource Inventory (NRI) to further guide and refine local decision making including future investments in land conservation. The NRI was completed in 2009. A concentration or “co-occurrence” of high quality natural resources in and around Page Pond was confirmed reinforcing and expanding upon what planners first noted some 40 years earlier.

The Page Pond Community Forest project resulted from widely held shared values and support from many governmental entities. At the local level, the Conservation Commission, Select Board, Town Manager, Capital Improvements Program Committee, Planning Board and the Community Development Department all played important supporting roles. Additionally voters at Town Meeting created and successively funded the Open Space Expendable Trust Fund, authorized long term borrowing, dedicated Land Use Change Taxes for conservation purposes, designated the property as a “Town Forest” and authorized both land acquisitions.

Equally impressive as been the effort to secure “outside funding” thereby reducing the amount of property taxes necessary to acquire the properties. Each phase of the project benefited from NH Land Conservation and Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) grants. With support from our Congressional delegation we received a critically important federal grant from the US Forest Service Community Forest Program. The Page Pond Community Forest project was the No. 1 ranked community forest project in the United States! Additional funds were received from the NH DES Aquatic Resources Mitigation Program, NH State Conservation Committee Moose Plate Program and the Open Space Institute. Successful fundraising campaigns were led by the Trust for Public Land in 2008 and 2017. These campaigns included donations from both private citizens and the business community which were essential to meeting our financial goals.

View of Page Pond

The Commission has established and maintains a network of over ten miles of marked trails accessed via a primary trailhead located in close proximity to a designated Scenic Byway. The restoration of an 1830s mill dam site is underway. The Commission is actively planning for the use of the adjoining 198-acre parcel including: the construction of an additional trailhead & kiosk, connectivity to existing trails and the existing sidewalk system, several miles of additional multi-purpose trails designed to accommodate cross-country skiing, invasive plant management, field restoration, development of environmental and historical educational materials and scenic view restoration.

Page Pond Community Forest will be conserved in perpetuity. Forever is a long time. The Commission with assistance from the Trust for Public Land is setting up an endowment under the auspices of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. The endowment will provide income to the Commission for future activities consistent with stated conservation purposes and stewardship obligations.

Finally, Professional Planners are well equipped to participate in land conservation projects. We practice in the world where ideas are developed into plans and then acted upon. We think strategically and comprehensively. We work in team environments, value meaningful public participation, facilitate consensus and can offer a wide range of technical assistance.

For more information about the Page Pond Community Forest project, please feel free to contact:

John C. Edgar, AICP, Community Development Director
Mark Billings, Chair, Conservation Commission
JT Horn, Senior Project Manager, Trust for Public Land

Please contact us with any questions.

NNECAPA Email: nnecapa@gmail.com

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