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Bells ring to mark purchase of Center Harbor Woods


March 10, 2010
CENTER HARBOR — A bell ringing celebration marked the purchase of the Dane Forest into conservation land now called Center Harbor Woods.

The Lakes Region Conservation Trust, the Squam Lakes Conservation Society, and the Town of Center Harbor closed on the purchase of the 245-acre Dane parcel between Center Harbor Neck, High Haith, Anthon, and Bean Roads after a several-month campaign.

On Saturday, supporters, donators, and representatives from all three groups gathered for a celebration of the land's purchase.

Don Berry, president of the Lakes Region Conservation Trust, and Roger LaRochelle, executive director of the Squam Lakes Conservation Society, were on hand for Saturday's ceremony with members of Center Harbor's Conservation Commission and Board of Selectmen.Natt Dane was also present to represent his family, who owned the land for generations.

Berry said most of the funds for the purchase have been raised with an estimated $10,000 left. He said the property could still be purchased due to a payment schedule, which allows for time to raise the rest of the funds.

The land has been named Center Harbor Woods after conversations between those involved in the effort.

"This really has been such a community effort," Berry said. "It really was that this has been such a success story. It just seemed like a logical name for this."

Berry said the trails will likely be given names connected with Center Harbor history.

The purchase of the property also marks the 110th property put into conservation by the LRCT as well as the trust's 30th anniversary in 2009 and their move to their new offices in Center Harbor.

"It's very special for us and we are very thankful for it," Berry said.

Berry thanked the members of the campaign team by name, including Randy Mattson, JoAnn Wood, Tom Beal, Tom Kelsey, Peter Sorlien, Tony Hallsey, Fred Preston, Cindy O'Leary, Henry Ide, Harry Viens, and Belerly LaFoley

"I think all of us look forward to continuing to work together as we work on the trails," Berry said. "This has been a real satisfying experience for all of us."

LaRochelle said the project was faced with many timely challenges. The land had not really been under threat of development. The groups had to pay full market value in the property and had to deal with lingering issue from the Pine Hill conservation project. Some of the greatest challenges came from the unstable economy and questions about how the partnership between the town, the LRCT, and the SLCS would work. These included questions about who would take the lead on the project, what was the project's scope, and whether or not three different organizations could take on the project without "ruffling feathers."

LaRochelle said that all three worked together in a partnership with no one group taking the lead. Additionally the campaign team successfully received donor commitments and the land was the priority.

"It was about the land and (its) protection, not about who was doing the work," LaRochelle said. LaRochelle said those involved in the campaign learned more about the community and what it values. "Clearly this is one of those values."

Center Harbor Selectman Randy Mattson, on behalf of the Board of Selectmen and Conservation Commission, thanked the LRCT and the SLCS as well as the fundraising team for their efforts as well as those who donated. Mattson also thanked past town leaders and residents who put together a conservation fund that could be used for projects such as this,

"The Town of Center Harbor is very fortunate to have been a partner in this exciting opportunity to preserve and protect an important part of the rural character of our town and greater local area," Mattson said.

Dane also expressed his happiness with the project.

"I couldn't be more thrilled to see this happen," Dane said.

This is the 91st property conserved by the SLCS and the organization has a tradition of ringing a bell at each conservation land. LaRochelle said the large bell used by the SLCS was donated by a World War II veteran who climbed the Pyrenees as part of the French Resistance and later moved to Canada and the United States. LaRochelle said the bell's original owner gave it to the organization, saying it is a great opportunity for Americans to put land in protection.

Dane rang the bell with LRCT Vice-Chair Peggy Merritt ringing a bell Berry brought for the occasion.

Natt Dane served on the Board of the Lakes Region Conservation Trust several years ago and has continued to help the organization.

His grandfather Ernest B. Dane was the first member of his family to settle in Center Harbor. Dane gradually became a prominent citizen of the community.

"A tremendous thing to see this," Dane said. "I know he would be pleased." Natt Dane's brother Herbert P. Dane sold the land to the three groups. "He wanted to sell this land, but he was more than happy to see it go this way."

Hikes were held through the property through the afternoon up until the bell ringing ceremony at 2:30 p.m. Attendees later gathered for refreshments and a bonfire at the LRCT's headquarters on Route 25B

Maps and guides are available for the trail system through the property. Berry said many of the trails are based on existing paths and logging roads while volunteers are helping scope out other trails.

Parking is available at the current lot on Center Harbor Neck Road across from the Proctor Preserve, though more parking is planned around High Haith Road and Route 25B.

For more information on Center Harbor Woods, contact the Berry at 253-3301 or LaRochelle at 968-7900.

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