A monthly column in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Vision, a Mountain and a March 20 Deadline

Forest Society hopes to protect 390 acres on Mount Monadnock

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Amazing things happen when people identify an urgent need, express their vision and pull people together for action.

That’s exactly what happened in 1915 when visionary leaders from the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests looked at the challenges facing Mount Monadnock. Seeing the potential that this treasured mountain could be irreversibly changed by development, they worked with scores of folks to protect 650 acres on its slopes.

It was a remarkable story in itself, and since then, the Forest Society has gradually protected some 4,100 acres on the mountain. These publicly accessible lands -- along with tracts conserved by the state and other organizations -- are arguably among the most treasured natural assets in the region, if not the state.

They did it tract by tract, piece by piece, and all with tremendous grassroots support.

Today’s Challenge

Now the mountain faces another challenge, another opportunity, where the Forest Society’s vision needs that grassroots support again.

The Forest Society is working to protect nearly 400 acres on Mount Monadnock and has until March 20 to raise funds to seal the deal. So far, the organization has raised a little more than half of the $760,000 needed.

If successful, the project will be the largest acreage protected on the mountain at one time since 1915.

“This is a real challenge,” said Dave Anderson, the Forest Society’s director of education. “It’s an incredible opportunity, but we have until March 20 to make it happen. And in this economy, we are working hard to raise the money.”

The Project in a Nutshell

The project involves two landowners, with tracts on opposite sides of the mountain.

In the northwestern corner of Jaffrey and a little bit in Marlborough, the Forest Society hopes to purchase 335 acres from the Stowell family. This tract includes a stretch of the Marlborough Trail, one of the mountain’s nicest trails and in the late 1800s it was one of the most popular routes to the summit.

Aside from excellent habitat for moose, black bear, bobcat and other mammals that require wide ranges, the piece has remarkable forests for forest-loving songbirds and many other species. It also holds some cultural resources, like the site of a former Shaker farm with links to Shirley, Mass. Remnants of the farm, established in 1793, can still be seen.

The Stowell family has owned the land for three generations and now needs to sell.

A Hand in the Future

On the southeastern end of the mountain, in Jaffrey, the Forest Society seeks to purchase a conservation easement on 55 acres owned by Charles and Ann Royce. Charles Royce is a former manager of Monadnock State Park and a longtime, tireless and passionate advocate for conserving the mountain.

Under the conservation easement, the Royce family would continue to own and manage the land. They could sell or transfer the tract, but the Forest Society’s easement would permanently protect the land and its natural resources.

“It’s about preserving the land as both a part of the natural view shed, but also ensuring that it is available to future generations,” Ann Royce told the Ledger-Transcript last fall. “The easement will be passed on to future owners of the property, with us having a hand in that future.”

The Royce tract also has important cultural resources, like home sites of some of Jaffrey’s early settlers and a road that was once the main road between Jaffrey and Keene.

March 20 Fast Approaching

Because of the urgency of the challenge and the importance of lands, the project has attracted some respectable support. Among the contributors so far are the Jessie B. Cox CLT - Cox Family Fund, the N.H. Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (for the Stowell tract), the N.H. Conservation Plate program, the Conservation Alliance and the town of Marlborough.

“We’ve raised $430,000 so far,” Anderson said. “We’re more than half-way there. But we’ve got a hard deadline of March 20 that’s fast approaching and an opportunity to do something that’s going to help protect the mountain for future generations. It’s an urgent appeal, but I’m hopeful we can do it.”

A plaque at the base of Monadnock’s White Dot Trail honors the vision of Forest Society leaders who helped protect the mountain, Philip Ayres and Allen Chamberlain: “…May it always remain as it is today. Free and wild and beautiful. The unspoiled heritage of the past. A haven of refuge for those who seek its peace in years to come.”

Amazing things can happen when people pull together.

To learn more about this project, visit

Eric Aldrich writes from his home in Hancock.