New addition would add to Binney Hill Preserve

  • Members of Northeast Wilderness Trust and Friends of the Wapack volunteers help erect a new kiosk at the Binney Hill Preserve in New Ipswich on Friday, Oct. 16. Courtesy photo—

  • Members of Northeast Wilderness Trust and Friends of the Wapack volunteers help erect a new kiosk at the Binney Hill Preserve in New Ipswich on Friday, Oct. 16. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Members of Northeast Wilderness Trust and Friends of the Wapack volunteers help erect a new kiosk at the Binney Hill Preserve in New Ipswich on Friday, Oct. 16. Courtesy photo—

  • Members of Northeast Wilderness Trust and Friends of the Wapack volunteers help erect a new kiosk at the Binney Hill Preserve in New Ipswich on Friday, Oct. 16. Courtesy photo—

  • A map of the 535-acre Binney Hill Preserve. Courtesy photo—

  • Binney Pond is located on a piece of conserved land between the Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve and the Wapack Wilderness. Photo by Daryl Burtnett, courtesy of Northeast Wilderness Trust

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/5/2020 12:34:50 PM
Modified: 11/5/2020 12:34:38 PM

The Northeast Wilderness Trust has spent more than a decade strategically working to protect hundreds of acres of uninterrupted forestland within an approximately 6,000 acre block along New Hampshire’s southern border.

After the purchase of 488 acres in 2016, the Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve was created to serve as a bridge between surrounding protected forests including the Watatic Mountain State Wildlife Area in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, the Wapack Wilderness in New Ipswich and Rindge, a 1,428 acre parcel of land conserved by the Hampshire Country School through an easement agreement with Northeast Wilderness Trust in 2008, the Binney Pond Natural Area, also in New Ipswich, and, further north, the Wapack National Wildlife Refuge in Greenfield.

Earlier this year, Northeast Wilderness Trust was able to add to the Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve with the purchase of 47 acres known as the Sawtelle parcel, thanks to Shirley Sawtelle and many dedicated supporters.

Now, Northeast Wilderness Trust has the opportunity to add another strategic plot of 15 acres to the preserve through the acquisition of a piece of land owned by Virginia Steel, which would bring the preserve’s total number of acres up to 550.

According to the Northeast Wilderness Trust website, “Though small in scale, the Steel Addition is large in impact. The land abuts the eastern edge of Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve, on the northern side of Binney Hill Road. For its small size, the property boasts an impressive amount of ecological diversity. A small wetland occupies the lowest elevations, forming the headwaters of a small stream. A second headwater stream skirts the southern boundary along Binney Hill Road. Red oak and American beech offer up acorns and beechnuts in the fall to hungry wildlife. Sign of moose, deer, porcupine, and coyote have been found on initial site visits to the property, and it is likely that other wildlife like bobcat and bears also frequent this land. Since there are no visible signs of past logging, the forest has a good head start on its way to becoming old-growth.”

“It’s got quite a mix of things,” said Sophi Veltrop, outreach coordinator for Northeast Wilderness Trust. “So even thought it’s small, it’s so crucial. It would change the character of the preserve.”

Veltrop said Steel attended a talk on the Wildlands & Woodlands initiative last winter, and was inspired to protect her family’s land, subsequently connecting with the trust. The Wildlands & Woodlands vision calls for 70 percent of New England’s forested land to be permanently protected by 2060, with 10 percent of those forests conserved as wilderness. According to the trust’s website about the proposed purchase of the 15 acres, Steel said, “I hadn’t known about Binney Hill, so it was remarkably good news that this land is important to protect.”

“That’s when the opportunity blossomed,” Veltrop said.

To purchase the plot of land, which is to the right at the end of the drivable portion of Binney Hill Road in New Ipswich, Northeast Wilderness Trust is fundraising the purchase amount of $108,000, $89,000 of which remains to be raised. Veltrop said the cost of the 15 acres is less than its value, which means “(Virginia)’s also contributing to it in a way.” Veltrop said the hope is to have the fundraising campaign wrapped up by the end of 2020 or early next year.

The money raised will not only be used to purchase the property, but also fund the stewardship program, Veltrop said, which helps keep a close eye on the preserve “to make sure the land is staying in the way it’s intended.”

Mike Przybyla, trail master for the Friends of the Wapack, said the mission of the Friends is to protect the trail, one-plus miles of which goes through the preserve.

“The nice thing about the preservation of the site is that it’s both sides of the trail,” Przybyla said. He said that any land acquisition that includes the trail is so important to ensuring that the trail has the right to exist.

“So we make sure that there’s something written in the deed that puts a permanent protection of the trail,” Przybyla said. While the Steel Addition doesn’t include a section of the Wapack Trail, he said that any preservation of land surrounding the trail is crucial to its future.

Paul Willis, a volunteer monitor of the Wapack Wilderness with his wife Vickie for the last dozen years, spends a significant amount of time in both the Wapack Wilderness and Binney Hill Preserve. His monitoring duties only requires a once a year walkthrough and report, but since it’s practically in his backyard it’s become a great spot to get out and enjoy the wild.

“Having big areas like that are vital to being in nature,” Willis said. “We go out there just to be out in the woods.”

Through his relationships with Northeast Wilderness Trust, Willis also keeps an eye on the Binney Hill Preserve through the use of game cameras, although its not in an official capacity. The cameras were set up to check for unauthorized use of the land, but what he’s captured through the footage is much more rewarding.

“The variety of people that use the Wapack Trail, you would be surprised,” Willis said. “It’s gratifying to see it gets used by so many different people. It speaks to the importance of having places to go.” And the wildlife that goes through that area – moose, deer and coyotes to name a few – is another important reason to preserve wild areas.

“It really has validated what has been done,” Willis said.

Having moved to the area 23 years ago, Willis said he got involved with the conservation movement and has realized how many people are interested in the mission to protect.

“Having this in our backyard has always been important to us,” he said. “People really value the wild.”

And having the Wapack Trail go through the corridor simply enhances the hiking experience, Willis said.

For more information about the Binney Hill Preserve, visit https://newildernesstrust.org/proj ects/binney-hill/. For information about the Steel Addition, visit https://newildernesstrust.org/projects/steel/.




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