Francestown takes $150K in LCHIP funds

  • Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge held a Memorial Day service Thursday to honor local veterans.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge held a Memorial Day service Thursday to honor local veterans.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Ben Haubrich of the Francestown Land Trust admires the 20-foot tall "Brennan Falls" in the woods of Francestown off of Bullard Hill Road on Wednesday afternoon.
  • Part of Brennan Brook in Francestown, an area that members of the Francestown Land Trust are close to owning and conserving so it remains suitable for wildlife and water quality protection.
  • Francestown Land Trust member Ben Haubrich walks along a trail in Francestown that follows Brennan Brook, part of the conservation land that the Land Trust will eventually own and maintain.

A multitude of animal tracks, signs of a giant woodpecker in a pecked-out tree, trails for hiking and the town’s only waterfall all proved to be conservation-worthy in the eyes of the independent state authority LCHIP, which awarded Francestown two grants for land conservation projects in town.

Francestown was the only town in the Ledger-Transcript’s coverage area to receive grant money for conservation projects. Hancock, Rindge and Wilton also applied for grants, but were denied this time around, according to a press release issued on Jan. 6 by the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, LCHIP. Thirty-nine projects in New Hampshire got LCHIP funding this cycle, including two in Francestown.

LCHIP has granted $120,000 to help two local groups purchase and conserve over 4,600 feet of frontage on Bullard Hill Road, including Brennan Brook, which is expected to cost $766,223. Another $30,000 was awarded to help buy over 1,000 acres of conservation area in northwest Francestown, for a cost of $391,716, that will connect the Dinsmore Brook Conservation area to the Shattuck Conservation area, Ben Haubrich, a Francestown Land Trust member, said in an interview Wednesday.

The Francestown Land Trust and the Piscataquog Land Conservancy, the primary applicants for the Brennan Brook project, function as a coalition and are going in on the projects together, according to Land Trust member Abigail Arnold in an interview Tuesday. She said the two groups have worked as partners on a regular basis for a number of years. Arnold wrote the grant for the Shattuck-Dinsmore project, and said it’s tough applying to LCHIP.

“We try to highlight the outstanding natural resource qualities of the project,” Arnold said. She said the application emphasized Brennan Falls and the land’s close proximity to Dinsmore Brook.

“One of the important things in conservation is to have a lot of land,” Arnold said. “You need large blocks of land, not just an acre here and there.”

On a hike through the area of Brennan Brook with Haubrich on Wednesday, he said he has seen animal tracks for almost every animal known to New Hampshire minus moose and bears. However, he did see bear-claw marks on a Beech tree, when he took LCHIP members on a walk of the land in question this fall.

“LCHIP is a fantastic program,” Haubrich said Wednesday. “It’s suitable for wildlife and water-quality protection. Both are also good for outdoor recreation.”

LCHIP will give no more than 50 percent of the project cost to applicants and those applying must demonstrate to LCHIP in their applications that they can successfully raise the rest of the project funds, Arnold said.

The Brennan Brook Project is getting very close to being fully funded and the Shattuck-Dinsmore project is fully funded, Arnold said. The Shattuck-Dinsmore project is now fully funded, with additional grants from the Fields Pond Foundation, Davis Conservation Foundation, the McIninch Foundation and the Verney Foundation, a group in Bennington.

Francestown Land Trust will eventually own both project areas once both are fully funded, and Haubrich said the Land Trust hopes to someday own conservation easements for both project areas. Easements can cost thousands of dollars, he said, so purchasing an easement for the Dinsmore-Shattuck project will have to wait, though.

The Brennan Brook property is currently owned by John and Diane Schott; the Dinsmore property is owned by Dorothy and Herman Miller.

Hancock’s Meetinghouse

One of the LCHIP grant requests that was not funded would have helped pay for a new slate roof on the Hancock Meetinghouse, built in 1820, which is jointly owned by the town and the First Congregational Church of Hancock. Members of the Meetinghouse Restoration Committee applied for a $131,500 grant, which would have covered about half the cost of the roof.

Committee member Dennis Rossiter said Tuesday that the group was disappointed, but not surprised, that their LCHIP grant application wasn’t approved.

“There’s a tremendous backlog,” Rossiter said. “The Legislature has been siphoning off this money for a number of years. This year, $4 million was available. We gave it a good shot.”

Rossiter said the town did get an LCHIP grant in 2011 that funded a study on the condition of the Meetinghouse.

The roof replacement is part of a proposed restoration project that would also include structural improvements in the basement of the building, upgrades to the electrical and heating systems, window restoration and exterior painting, and accessibility upgrades, including a platform lift between the two floors of the building. The project is expected to cost about $1 million, and the committee is seeking private donations and expecting to ask voters to approve a bond at this year’s Town Meeting.

“We have a grant committee working hard and a fundraising committee working hard,” Rossiter said. “Hancock’s a strong community. We’re sensing there’s a lot of support for the project.”

Wilton’s Abbott Hill

In Wilton, The Russell Farm and Forest Foundation put in a request for $80,000 in LCHIP funds to put towards a purchase and conservation agreement between Gary and Gail Frye and the High Mowing School.

If it had been approved, the $80,000 would have offset the $1.6 million needed to purchase 105 acres of Frye-family owned field and woodland near High Mowing. It would also have paid for the conservation of that land and 54 acres of land owned by the school.

Through grants and fundraising, the school and the Russell Farm and Forest Foundation have procured all but $400,000. But the rest is expected to be secured this spring through private fundraising and grant applications.

“We were really surprised and disappointed by the lack of funding from LCHIP,” said Ian McSweeney, the executive director of the Russell Foundation. “We were in the top three of the highest valued projects, and of those had the most secured funds and asking the lowest amount.”

McSweeney said that he has been involved in drafting a warrant article that will be presented at Wilton Town Meeting in March, asking for the funds that LCHIP declined to give. The petition has enough signatures to move forward, but has not been submitted to the town yet, said McSweeney. He added that he will be meeting with the Budget Committee before submitting the article, and it may be adjusted before being submitted to the town, to lower the asked-for amount.

“We were hoping to secure that $400,000 without asking the town for money. Because we didn’t get LCHIP, we do plan to pursue assistance through the town,” he said. “But we do plan to have further discussions, because we’re fully sensitive to the tax rate. We want to be as conservative as possible.”

Petition warrant articles must be submitted to the town by Feb. 4.

Cathedral of the Pines

Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge was one of the applicants not awarded funds by the Land Conservation and Historic Preservation Program this year.

The outdoor memorial center asked for $40,000 for a $142,909 project. Cathedral of the Pines Director of Operations Laurie Kandoll said by phone Tuesday that the center wants to update its facilities and building.

“We’re looking to renovate our Hilltop House and bathrooms,” Kandoll said. “They’re in dire need of renovation.”

Cathedral of the Pines has done a fair amount of work to its facilities this past year, according to Kandoll. Those projects included putting up a new flag pole, replacing the roof and door of the garage by the Hilltop House, putting up a new chimney at the Hilltop House after the old one collapsed, and re-pointing the bell tower by making sure the concrete between the stones was secure. The funds for these projects came mostly from the Cathedral of the Pines operating budget and general donations, though the financial services membership organization United Commercial Traveler helped fund the new flag pole.

Kandoll said that regardless of where the funds come from, Cathedral of the Pines is always in need of help. “As a nonprofit, we’re always looking for money elsewhere,” she said. “We have a lot of major projects we need to get done.”

Staff reporters Dave Anderson, Lindsey Arceci, Elodie Reed and Ashley Saari contributed to this report.

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