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Viewpoint: There’s No Place Like Home

  • aerial photos, Monadnock region, Jaffrey, Mount Monadnock

    aerial photos, Monadnock region, Jaffrey, Mount Monadnock

  • aerial photos, Monadnock region, Greenfield, Forest Road, covered bridge

    aerial photos, Monadnock region, Greenfield, Forest Road, covered bridge

  • aerial photos, Monadnock region, Rindge, Cathedral of the Pines

    aerial photos, Monadnock region, Rindge, Cathedral of the Pines

  • aerial photos, Monadnock region, Jaffrey, Mount Monadnock
  • aerial photos, Monadnock region, Greenfield, Forest Road, covered bridge
  • aerial photos, Monadnock region, Rindge, Cathedral of the Pines

You don’t have to travel very far to appreciate how lucky we are to be living here in the Monadnock region. We are proud of our turf and its natural beauty, and we send photos to our friends and relatives to show them our thread in the American natural tapestry.

Civic pride pops up everywhere. I remember someone in a southern state saying to me, “Welcome to God’s country — red soil, green trees and a lake full of fish.”

I didn’t ask him why he was blaming God, because all I saw were miles of roadside ditches overflowing with anything that could be forced out of a pickup truck window. There were a few scraggly pines here and there, but much of the immediate area had been clear cut and the forces of erosion had sliced huge channels across the landscape, and that was the conduit for depositing that red land into the area lakes.

But there was a lesson in that exchange and that was that people everywhere do bond with their immediate natural environment, whether it be something others appreciate or not. Bonding, however, is the easy part, protecting it is another.

And protecting one’s immediate environment is, to me, the most urgent task for all of us. It’s nice to worry about penguins on Antarctica or wildebeests in the Serengeti, but our home turf must be protected first. My southern acquaintance loved his local environment, but the protection piece appeared to be running a distant second to a stringer of crappie.

Yes, we can do more than just focus locally, but all too often we get caught up in ecological issues in other areas and forget to watch out for what is happening in our own backyard.

Thirty five years ago, there was a clear geographic separation between Nashua, Hollis, Milford, Wilton, etc. Today, it has almost become one strip. Growth and development are inevitable, and it is difficult to manage that change because of the multiple authoritarian overlays that line the route. Town A has five miles of riverfront on a river that flows through Town B and supplies its drinking water. Town C has a well-connected developer who rapes a hillside for a project, a hillside in full view of Town D. Town E authorizes three big box stores right on the town line with Town F.

With these kind of seemingly vaporous pressures to overcome, about the only thing any of us has left to control is our immediate home site, neighborhood and town.

And that is an area in which many municipalities in the Monadnock region excel. They have various local boards and commissions that attempt to manage the change that is going to occur. These boards, etc., are populated by our neighbors who work with a set of guidelines that are generated at the state and local level. The local guidelines are living things; they can be, and often are, changed from time to time as other factors shift in the ongoing kaleidoscope of life.

The true New Hampshire advantage is its natural beauty. Virtually anyone visiting our region usually expresses a desire about how they would love to live here. Many have done exactly that. It would be interesting to know how many people live here by choice, and not because they were transferred here.

So here we sit in this oasis and most of us want to keep it that way. We aren’t strict isolationists; we don’t have a “last man in shut the door” mindset. But if you live here, and want to preserve what it was that drew you here, then grab an oar and help us maintain this environment.

We are fortunate to have two sizeable land trusts in the region: The Harris Center for Conservation Education and The Monadnock Conservancy. Other organizations, based elsewhere, also have a lot of protected land in their portfolios. Current estimates are that more than 162,000 acres of land in the Monadnock region are conserved and destined to remain in their natural state. For reference, 162,000 acres is roughly the size of Hancock, Peterborough, Greenfield, Jaffrey, Dublin, Harrisville, Nelson and Keene combined.

This conserved land is the habitat for all the critters that were here first. And the land itself, the forests and wetlands, mountain tops and river valleys are the ingredients that we all love. We hike through it, we hunt on it, and often we just pull over and admire it. But bonding with our environment isn’t enough; we also need to safeguard it.

In many of our schools, we have teacher-naturalists who work with youngsters at all levels to acquaint them with what is going on in the natural world right outside the schoolhouse door. These are the stewards of tomorrow and the environmental knowledge of our area children is, I am sure, significantly ahead of those from more urbanized areas.

Yes, we still have the bohunks who toss their fast food wrappers and Bud Light cans out the car window. And we have an occasional old tire thrown out into the woods. But all in all, there is a high level of environmental awareness here in the Monadnock region and that is our defense for maintaining our part of the New Hampshire Advantage.

Despite all of this, there are well-funded lobbying efforts in Concord that are continually trying to pave the way for easy development. There is another mindset in Concord that seems to think that any kind of conservation regulation is anti-American. Yet New Hampshire lawmakers usually come down in favor of standing up for our natural, God-given advantage.

So this Earth Day, let’s remember to start our environmental quest right here. Once we do that, we can, and should, reach out to other areas of the world where there are needs. If all of us do our part, we all win, and the pact between humankind and the natural world will remain solid. And we will pass on to future generations this wonderful piece of America that most certainly is “God’s Country.”

Ted Leach is former newspaper publisher and the co-chair of the N.H. Carbon Coalition. He formerly served on the national board of ConservAmerica and is currently the board chair of the Harris
Center for Conservation Education in Hancock.

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