Monadnock Conservancy completes purchase of Cunningham Pond in Peterborough 

  • The view from the town beach, south across the pond, includes significant shoreline now owned by the Monadnock Conservancy, a land trust for southwestern New Hampshire. Photo courtesy of Monadnock Conservancy. PHOTO BY FRANCIE VON MERTENS

Published: 1/17/2020 3:03:43 PM
Modified: 1/17/2020 3:02:49 PM

The Monadnock Conservancy is now a landowner on Cunningham Pond in Peterborough, New Hampshire. The nonprofit land trust closed on the purchase of 104 acres, which includes a half mile of the pond’s southern shoreline and nearly a mile of frontage on Route 101, on Dec. 6.

Cunningham Pond, site of Peterborough’s town beach on the north shore, is an area beloved for swimming and boating. Now everyone can rest assured that even more of the area will be cared for and open to the public well into the future.

“The fact that there is hardly any development at all on the pond is undeniably central to the experience people have when they swim, paddle, fish, snowshoe, or skate there,” said Ryan Owens, executive director of the Conservancy. “This is what we are preserving for everyone by conserving the land and water on the south shore.”

Cunningham Pond, once Peterborough’s public drinking water source, and its shores have largely remained undeveloped, but that started to change when 20 acres on the eastern shore were subdivided and sold as three building lots in 2017. Sensing that time was running out to save the remaining shoreline and surrounding forest, in December 2017 the citizen-led Cunningham Pond Preservation Alliance successfully negotiated a contract to purchase the remaining acreage. Soon thereafter, that group engaged the Conservancy to lead a fundraising campaign and purchase and manage the land as a public conservation area.

“People were interested in protecting this parcel for a couple of reasons,” said Anne McBride, land protection director for the Conservancy. “One, is that it would protect significant frontage along the pond. Two, residents enjoy the scenic view of this property when they’re at the town beach. Lastly, this property has long frontage on Route 101, which is one of the major gateways to town, so it also protects further road frontage development.”

The purchase includes a stone boathouse on Cunningham Pond. Because the nonprofit does not have a programmatic use for the boathouse, nor does it want to tear down the historic structure, the Conservancy will soon subdivide and sell the building and an adjacent narrow 5-acre strip of land between the pond and Route 101. However, in keeping with the conservation objectives of the project, the re-sold land will be subject to permanent restrictions on further development and residential use.

The sale of the boathouse will go toward replenishing reserve funds, which the Conservancy used to cover the purchase price and project costs totaling $1.5 million. Nearly $1.2 million had been raised in support of this project as of early December 2019. The organization is still seeking donations to recoup costs, complete initial public access improvements and support long-term management.

The Conservancy strives to protect lands that are significant to communities and to the people who live there. Peterborough residents ranked Cunningham Pond first in a town-wide survey of conservation priorities, as reported in the Peterborough Master Plan.

“It was the fact the community had brought it to us and said ‘hey we need help, this is important.’ That was the initial reason we got involved. Once we realized what was there, we thought taking a bigger role was worthwhile because it also helped us meet our strategic goal of connecting people to the land,” McBride said.

With the Conservancy’s ownership, the public will have new access to trails and open fields for walking, right down the road from the town beach. Through a partnership with the Student Conservation Association, a trail network was built this fall and a trailhead parking area will be installed on Cunningham Pond Road in the spring.

The property also features a productive hay field and an old waterfront carriage road ideal for walking, and it sits at the center of nearly 8,000 acres of permanently conserved land, including Casalis State Forest, Miller State Park, the Wapack National Wildlife Refuge and the Conservancy’s Goyette Natural Area.

“Conserving the property represents an important investment in open space, public recreation, clean water, wildlife habitat, and Peterborough’s iconic rural character,” Owens concluded.

For more information on how to make a donation, please visit savecunninghampond.org or call Ryan Owens, executive director, at 603-357-0600, ext. 103.


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