A conservation celebration for Page Pond and Forest
|Mark Billings shares a laugh as the TPL hands out commendations. Sarah Schmidt. (click for larger version)|
July 15, 2009MEREDITH — After years of work and a nail-biting conclusion, supporters and volunteers of the effort to conserve the Page Pond and Forest took an afternoon off to celebrate.
The only talk of subdivision of Page Pond was in the congratulatory cake, cut into pieces and handed out to attendees at the event.
"This is the after-party that hopefully lasts for hundreds of years," said Mark Billings, co-Chair of the Capital Campaign Committee for Page Pond. "It lasts every time we hike down the trails."
Near the Page Pond property entrance on Quarry Road, supporters and volunteers gathered under a big tent at Moulton Farm to celebrate. The Trust for Public Land, a non-profit group that assisted volunteers and the Meredith Conservation Commission in purchasing the land, distributed copies of their quarterly magazine. In it, an article on conserving land in tough times uses the Page Pond effort as an example.
"If you boil it down to what we're about as an organization, it's about the relationships between people and the places they care about, to provide access so people can spend time there," said TPL President Will Rogers, giving the celebration's keynote address. "Your coming together is a wonderful example of a strong community, something to talk about and inspire others (looking to conserve land) as I go around the country."
The Page Pond and Forest project was first presented to the board in September of 2007, though project campaigners have pointed out that the tract of land was first identified for conservation possibilities during a Master Plan update some 40 years ago.
The cost of purchasing the 567 acres of land from its current landowner, The Wilds of New England, was originally set at $2.6 million.
Over $1.85 million had been raised by November of last year, through a combination of private donors, a $400,000 bond approved by Meredith voters in March, $350,000 of existing funds allocated by the Meredith Board of Selectmen and Conservation Commission, and a $400,000 grant from the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program.
The deadline for closing on the property was extended from September of 2008 to Jan. 12 of this year, and the price reduced to $2.25 million. A loan from the TPL closed the gap in January, to be repaid with a selective timber cut from the property.
"At the last minute, we were close, but we couldn't close the deal," said Conservation Commission Chair Don MacFarlane. "The selectmen gave us the flexibility to be a little creative and close the deal."
Billings recounted all the fundraising he had done for years in Meredith and around Lake Winnipesaukee, along with co-Chair Carol Gerken and other volunteers on the committee.
"Hi, I'm Mark Billings – I'm your neighbor – Can I talk to you for a few minutes?" recited Billings, recalling his door-to-door introduction, fundraising for the Page Pond property purchase.
Billings remembered how he had first heard of the Page Pond property back in 2001, and began thinking that it needed to be conserved. He recalled that a group of about two dozen families in Meredith decided that if the property was going to be developed, "it was going to be developed from a land usage standpoint."
The Meredith Preservation Association then sat down with the selectmen and the TPL, Billings said, years before the campaign began, when they "started to think about it."
"It became game on, one final chance to get this done," said Billings. "This (effort) truly defines the public-private partnership and a community with a heart and soul."
Selectman Chair Peter Brothers also noted the significance of the purchase, and thanked those who had taken part. The effort took on special meaning, he said, since it began in good economic times, and finished in poorer ones.
"The sunshine was much brighter when we started," said Brothers. "Then, the economy took a dip. We were successful, able to rally our resources, and got creative. We've got the gateways to Meredith pretty well covered. I'm very happy to be standing here. The Town of Meredith can see the forest from the trees."
The TPL handed out plaques of commendation for those involved in the Page Pond effort. After the reception, many of the attendees split into two hiking groups – one to hike to Page Pond itself, and another to hike to the 19th century saw mill on the property.