Plans to conserve 260 acres
The Frye family has reached a purchase agreement with the High Mowing School to sell and permanently preserve 105 acres of farm and woodland. (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
WILTON — The town and the Conservation Commission are taking steps toward aiding the conservation of three parcels in Wilton.
Ian McSweeney is the executive director of the Russell Farm and Forest Conservation Foundation, a non-profit based in New Boston that works to preserve land in southern New Hampshire. He spoke with the Wilton Select Board during its Monday meeting about three projects he is currently involved with in town. The first, he said, is a parcel of land belonging to Les Tallarico of Wilton. Tallarico has agreed to donate an easement on his property, for the benefit of the town, explained McSweeney. The land, approximately 105 acres, sits at the bottom of a U-shaped portion of land that’s already been conserved, so it would extend that existing corridor. Because Tallarico is donating the easements, the only costs are associated with surveying the land, which the Russell Foundation will cover, and a unfunded stewardship grant.
Lynne Draper, the chair of the Wilton Conservation Committee, told the Select Board that McSweeney had approached the commission about this project, and the commission had voted to give $10,000 toward the stewardship fee, which gives the board an official interest in the property. Tallarico is a long-time member of the Conservation Commission, she added, and he has long intended to conserve that property. “It’s a way for us who have served with Les to honor the wishes of someone who had done a lot for the town,” said Draper.
Tallarico’s land is in current use, said McSweeney, and will remain so under the easement.
The two other parcels that are in the process of being conserved are connected, said McSweeney. About 105 acres of the Frye Farm on Abbot Hill Road, belonging to Gail and Gary Frye, will be sold to High Mowing School, with an easement placed on the property at the same time. As part of the agreement, High Mowing will also be conserving approximately 50 acres of their own land. About 30 acres — the current campus and athletic fields, along with some land which the school has set aside for possible future expansion, will remain unconserved.
About half of the $1.6 million needed to cover the easements on the Frye and High Mowing properties will be covered by a Federal Farm and Ranch Land conservation fund. As little of 4 percent of Wilton is farm soils, and a fair amount of that has already been developed. It’s a scarce resource in New Hampshire, which is heavily wooded and has a lot of rocky soil, said McSweeney. Because High Mowing School will be doing private fundraising and applying for grants to help raise the remaining money for the conservation and purchase of the land, the deal will likely not be complete before this summer, said McSweeney.
“Federal funds sometimes come with federal fingers on the controls,” commented Select Board member Bill Condra.
McSweeney explained that conservation easements don’t confer any rights onto the holder of the easement except the right to enforce the easement. Invested parties — those that have contributed any amount of money to the easement — have the right to walk on the land and monitor it to ensure the easement is being followed, but nothing else.
A member of the audience asked what would happen if the easement holder was no longer in operation. McSweeney said the easement restrictions would be part of the deed, and would not go away — there would just be no enforcing agency. The easement holder in the case of the Frye and High Mowing easements are part of a larger network of conservation foundations, one of whom would likely take it over in the event the foundation failed or lost interest. Non-profit land trusts also have to have a “what-if” plan that details what will happen to their held easements in such an event. The federal government, as an invested party, would have the right to step in and enforce the easement as well, he said, as would any other invested party.
Draper said the Conservation Commission was in an ongoing discussion on whether or not to become an invested party in the Frye and High Mowing easements, but said it was certainly something they had an interest in.