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SELT kicks off campaign to protect Mount Molly and expand Birch Ridge

September 24, 2020
NEW DURHAM — Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire (SELT) has announced the Keep Merrymeeting Clean initiative, a new effort to conserve 1,100 acres in and adjoining the Merrymeeting Lake watershed by protecting Mount Molly and expanding Birch Ridge Community Forest. To accomplish this, SELT has begun a $1 million fundraising campaign, the centerpiece of which is a matching gift challenge that will instantly double all gifts made by Oct. 26.

In 2018, SELT worked with the Merrymeeting Lake Association and Moose Mountains Regional Greenways to create the 2,000-plus-acre Birch Ridge Community Forest, which is currently being managed for watershed and wildlife habitat protection and the creation of a new public trail system.

This year, SELT is looking to expand this effort with the expansion of Birch Ridge and the conservation of Mount Molly.

"We can't control when opportunities present themselves," said Russ Weldon, Board member of the Merrymeeting Lake Association and owner of Merrymeeting Marina. "This is an amazing opportunity to build on our past success to protect Merrymeeting by conserving another 10 percent of the watershed."

Before the 2018 Birch Ridge project, just 4% of the lake's watershed was protected from development. If successful, Keep Merrymeeting Clean will increase the protected watershed to 29 percent, helping preserve the forested ridges that sustain Merrymeeting as one of the cleanest lakes in New Hampshire.

Inspired by the success of the Birch Ridge effort and driven by their love of Merrymeeting, the Collins family has pledged to give 500 acres on the flanks and top of Mount Molly to SELT. The "Collins Family Forest," as it will be called, will ensure continued public access to miles of hiking trails and scenic vistas of the lake.

On the other side of the lake, two properties adjoining Birch Ridge Community Forest are at risk for development. These tracts total over 640 acres of prime forestland and critical watershed, plus three miles of snowmobile Corridor 22, more hiking trails, and wildlife habitat. Recognizing the risk, SELT reached an agreement to purchase them for their appraised, fair market value.

The cost to protect Mount Molly and expand Birch Ridge totals $1.5 million. These costs include the purchase of the tracts adjoining Birch Ridge as well as transaction costs, capital improvements, and long-term stewardship funds for both Mount Molly and Birch Ridge. Stewardship funds are especially important, because they support ongoing maintenance for public access, scenic views, and wildlife habitat.

To date, the US Forest Service has awarded this initiative $485,000, leaving just over $1 million remaining to be raised to protect Mount Molly and expand Birch Ridge. All gifts given toward this effort by October 26, 2020 will be matched dollar-for-dollar.

"We're fortunate that a group of donors have dug deep and agreed to match all gifts and pledges to this effort," says Brian Hart, Executive Director of SELT. "Every gift of any size will be match so we encourage all those interested in seeing these lands conserved, to give and have their gift doubled. The benefits of these lands include scenic views, water quality, trails, and wildlife that can be enjoyed for generations to come."

Donations via credit or debit card can be made online at keepmerrymeetingclean.org. Checks can be sent to SELT at PO Box 675, Exeter, NH 03833 with "Keep Merrymeeting Clean" in the memo field. Donors interested in making a pledge or giving securities or via an IRA distribution may also contact Brian Hart at bhart@seltnh.org or 778-6088.

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