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Center Harbor moves forward with major conservation purchase


September 30, 2009
CENTER HARBOR — Town officials and two local conservation groups are going forward into the process of purchasing a 245-acre parcel of undeveloped land for conservation.

The Conservation Commission held a public hearing on Thursday regarding the proposed use of town conservation funds to purchase the Dane Property.

The 245-acre parcel of land is located between Center Harbor Neck Road and the area of Anthon, High Haith, and Bean Roads. It is between 600 to 920 feet above sea level and located between two current pieces of conservation land. The Herbert P. Dane Trust currently owns the land.

Don Berry, president of the Lakes Region Conservation Trust, said he land has been in the sights of his group and the Squam Lakes Conservation Society for the past five years. Studies have shown the land to be a habitat for several varieties of mammals and amphibians, most notably the four-toed salamander. This is the northernmost location for four-toed salamanders in the state, showing the land has been indeed untouched.

The property is also considered prime recreational land with an existing 1.3 miles of trails and a half-mile of snowmobile trails. Plans for the land include adding an additional 1.1 miles of trails for hiking, walking, cross-country skiing and other activities. Organizers have also gotten a favorable response from the State Trails Bureau and the Moultonboro Snowmobile Club in their plan to maintain the snowmobile trails.

"It's a large tract that has significant scenic value to it," Berry said.

The land is also in close proximity to the 120-acre Pine Hill conservation land and the 47-acre Proctor Hill Sanctuary maintained by the New Hampshire Audubon Society. Berry said the purchase of this land would create a continuous tract of conservation land that is 413 acres.

"(It is) really a unique opportunity, I think, for our organizations and for Center Harbor to preserve some recreational habitat (for) outdoor education and scenic land for us and for future generations," Berry said.

The town and conservation organizations learned the parcel of land was up for sale and the current property market created a favorable opportunity for its purchase.

"This is truly an exciting and winning opportunity," said Roger Larochelle, director of the Squam Lakes Conservation Society.

The Lakes Region Conservation Trust and the Squam Lakes Conservation Society are working with the town and several other organizations to help get the land for conservation.

"This is the purest sense of collaboration," Larochelle said. "This is the first time we've worked closely with a town to preserve property."

The Dane Trust agreed to a purchase price of $735,000, which is fair market value for the property. The project will also require a full survey and other transactions at a cost of around $4,000 and around $35,000 for stewardship. Plans also include putting in eight modest-size parking lots at trailheads, which will cost around $15,000.

Total project costs will be around $825,000. The LRCT and the SLCS have entered into an option agreement with the Dane Trust with an initial payment of $10,000 with a deadline of Dec. 18 to exercise the option agreement.

Funding plans include selling a nearly five-acre tract of land on one corner of the property owned by the partnership for around $200,000. The town of Center Harbor will contribute $200,000 from conservation funds that town officials say have yet to be used.

The remaining $425,000 will be raised through donations and there has already been $160,000 raised in pledges, making 58 percent of the total already raised or pledged.

"If we can approach 80 percent and have a much more public campaign we can pull this off," Larochelle said.

A campaign team has been assembled and the campaign has had major support from the Pew Charitable Trust. The Pew Trust will contribute 20 percent to the campaign for every private donation given through its organization.

When the land is purchased, it will be owned by the LRCT and the Squam Lakes trust and the town will have conservation easements. The SLCS will release its rights to the property after closing and will hold the conservation easement along with the town of Center Harbor.

"That way the town is literally buying its conservation easement to protect this property," Larochelle said.

There are additional discussions being held with two other property owners regarding a field that abuts the parcel that could possibly add around five more acres.

Residents in attendance largely supported the effort.

Resident Beverly LaFoley said she has walked through that area before and found the area to be beautiful.

"It's a great value and I'm excited about it," LaFoley said.

Resident Karlene Schwartz said she has found vernal pools on that land. She said the pools are an important resource as they are habitats for amphibians that eat mosquitoes, saying heavily developed property has changes in drainage that disrupt this habitat and create more mosquito issues.

"This is a really good chance to do something positive in that direction," Schwartz said.

Board of Selectmen Chair Charley Hanson said the Board voted unanimously in favor of the project during their last meeting.

"We strongly support this project," Hanson said. "It's a great, great opportunity to have a collaborative effort to come up with a really nice package."

The Conservation Commission voted unanimously in favor of proceeding with the project.

"This is extremely exciting to the Conservation Commission to do this," said Commission Chair Bruce Bond.

This project will be the first time Center Harbor has helped purchase land for conservation.

For more information contact Berry at 253-3301 or Larochelle at 968-7900.

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