Celebrating 25 years with Monadnock Conservancy

Local land trust organization recognizes anniversary year during its annual meeting Saturday

When the Monadnock Conservancy was founded in 1989, it was a much more modest organization than it would eventually grow to be. On Saturday, the organization celebrated its 25th year as a land trust. The anniversary coincides with the conservancy’s five-year renewal as a nationally-accredited land trust by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission.

Started by Betsey Harris of Peterborough, Bruce McClellan of Dublin and Abe Wolfe of Dublin, it originally began as a way to recognize the value of some of the projects that were being passed over by what would become the state LCHIP program, according to Katrina Farmer, communications manager at the conservancy.

“They realized the properties not being chosen were still high quality projects that should be preserved,” said Farmer in an interview Friday.

When the conservancy first began, it was a slow start, and its capacity was limited, said Farmer. Those early years were mostly about partnership building. In 1998, the organization elected its first executive director, Ben Mahnke. By the time Mahnke was ready to turn the reins over to his successor, Dick Ober, the conservancy was set to explode in terms of the amount of property it was acquiring for preservation. And it did, collecting both a large amount of acreage in that time as well as conserving some significant properties, such as the former Temple Mountain ski area.

But when it came time for the current directorship of Ryan Owens, the nation had hit a recession and there was not as much money available for large-scale acquisitions, said Farmer. So the conservancy switched gears.

“We decided the focus should not just be about amount of acres, but the quality of the property itself,” said Farmer. “Its rural character and relevance to the community.”

“There were less money available, there were less people in the position to voluntarily conserve their land, and the threat of development had slowed down,” Owens said about the switch in focus during a phone interview Monday. “So we really shifted towards trying to protect properties with the greatest community significance. Not necessarily the ones with the greatest scientific or ecological significance, but key scenic areas that the town may just be very proud of, or some small farm that’s emblematic of a town’s heritage. That really meaningful and significant direct human relevance is a higher priority now than ever before.”

Owens pointed to some current projects, including the preservation of shore land on Thorndike Pond in Jaffrey and the conservation of the Temple Town Forest, as examples that showcase that priority.

The conservancy is also starting to extend its partnerships to increase education and to help coordinate with stewards of already-conserved properties to better maintain them.

Two years ago, the conservancy developed a strategic plan that included increasing community connection to the land and developing a priority map of properties to potentially be conserved. Among those priorities that the conservancy will be focusing on is agricultural land, said Farmer, as well as increasing education on how to best manage property that is already conserved or partly conserved. The conservancy is partnering with three other organizations to conduct focus groups of owners of conserved farmland that is underutilized, as well as farmers who are interested in leasing property to farm to gauge community interest and the issues that might come with matching farmers and landowners for potential leasing of land.

Honoring the people who make it happen

On Saturday, during the conservancy’s annual meeting, local residents who have contributed to the conservancy both with their time and efforts were honored. The conservancy presented Tom and Story Wright, long-time Dublin residents, with the Philip Faulkner Award. The award is given to recognize a organization, group or individual who has a commitment to the land use planning and conservation and well-conceived community development.

When the conservancy decided to find a recipient for the award this year in honor of Faulkner, who passed away this June, the Wrights immediately came to mind, said Farmer. Tom was a member of the Dublin Planning Board and contributed to the town’s Master Plan, and also served on the Zoning Board and Dublin Lake Preservation Committee. Story was one of the founders of the Beech Hill-Dublin Lake Watershed Association and served on the Dublin Open Space Committee and was a trustee for the conservancy for many years. Though Story passed away in July, the conservancy decided to honor both her and her husband for the work they had done individually and as a couple for the town of Dublin.

The conservancy also named two Temple residents, David and Ann Repak, as their Volunteers of the Year for their work as volunteer land stewards for the conservancy, and honored Rick Church of Nelson with the Founder’s Award for his contribution to the success of the conservancy over a sustained period of time for his work on the board.

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