Vital preservation -- Move is on to conserve riverfront land
State Rep. David Hess at his home in Hooksett, holds a map showing where land is that he is hoping will be put into conservation for future generations. (Ruth Mariano Photo)
Beavers are clearly part of the ecosystem of the land along the Merrimack River between the Hooksett Dam and Allenstown town line under consideration for preservation. (Ruth Mariano Photo)
It’s safe to say that most Hooksett voters have labored through ballot questions about abutters and land easements and rights of way and land descriptions that really don’t make a whole lot of sense without the aid of a real estate attorney to decipher it all.
But now Hooksett residents and businesses have an opportunity to understand and support a project that’s vital to the preservation of a key natural resource in Hooksett, an irreplaceable historic site, and a critical habitat for many species of birds, mammals, flora, and fauna.
This area covers about 125 acres, said state Rep. David Hess, who is also an active member of the Hooksett Conservation Commission. Hess is particularly eager to see that this property is preserved as it includes about 4,000 feet of frontage on the Merrimack River, an area that is now pristine and undeveloped, between the Hooksett Dam and the Allenstown town line.
“This is the last frontage of riverfront land in Hooksett of this size,” said Hess, saying that there are probably only a few similar areas between here and Massachusetts. It’s “a very extraordinary opportunity” to retain this riverfront property in Hooksett.
In fact, Hess’ interest in ensuring that this property is preserved goes back to a day in 2004 when he and a few others got together over a glass of wine at Applebee’s and came up with five target areas as priorities for conservation.
Clay Pond was the first area.
“We got about 800 acres up there” he said.
The Pinnacle was the second.
“We’ve done that,” he said with a smile).
Of the third, the current Merrimack riverfront project, Hess said, “We’re gonna do this.”
The fourth project, to protect land on Quimby Mountain, is in its beginning stages, with 100 acres conserved; and the fifth project relates to land near the Bow line.
Kelly Dwyer of Hooksett, who’s also the newly elected vice chairman of the New Hampshire Audubon Society, echoed Hess’ concern for preserving this riverfront property. In fact, Dwyer points out that this land is one of the prime wintering habitats of bald eagles.
The eagles will come down from further north, she said, because “our more northerly lakes freeze over, so they’ll winter down on the Merrimack.”
“Because it’s along a river,” she said, “it would be a natural corridor for a lot of land mammals,” including moose and deer, “so any time that we’re able to keep intact large tracts of land, it’s definitely to the benefit of the various animals that would use that habitat, especially when it does abut a water course.”
Hess pointed out that the area is also inhabited by various mammals, including mink and beaver. Ospreys and other birds of prey, said Dwyer, would also be greatly affected if this important habitat is not preserved.
In addition to its ecological importance, the land at issue also has a significant historical place in Hooksett’s history.
With the “wonderful geographic location, the river access, the historical connections and all this land can teach us,” said Kathie Northrup, chairman of the Hooksett Heritage Commission, “the Merrimack Riverfront Project
should be preserved (in its) natural state and available to us all.”
Papers issued by the Hooksett Heritage Commission point specifically to key historical sites on this land, including the E.S. Head & Son Brickyard, which was an integral producer of bricks starting around 1850. Clay pits in the 1900s reached 20 feet below the ground’s surface, according to historic Heritage Commission records, supplying bricks filling 25 railroad cars per day. Bricks were also sent down the river in barges, serving the millyards down the Merrimack.
They supplied all the bricks that made the Amoskeag Millyard, said Hess, and were the primary source for industrial revolution development in the area. Other key historical sites there include the Head Railroad Station and old railroad beds from the Suncook Valley Loop and old Portsmouth & Concord Railroad.
Projected use for the site
In fact, those rail beds are anticipated as perfect sites from which to create a trail system in the property, said Hess, with trails running along the riverfront with scenic overlooks. It is his hope to connect these trail systems with the Heritage Trail and Head’s Pond Trail, providing “a loop trail system” that runs along the rail system covering about 2½ to 3 miles.
“From what I hear from the Conservation Commission,” said Jeff Scott, Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 292, “they’d like all kinds of trails, signage, a kiosk and improvements to the property so that the public can come along and enjoy the property and enjoy the river and perhaps get some information along the way.”
Scott is familiar with the process because his own son, Ken Scott, performed many of those same tasks for his Eagle project at the Head’s Pond Trail, which appeals to Hooksett’s hikers, runners, walkers and mere meanderers.
With a series of benches and informational signage on the trail, Head’s Pond Trail is an example of how this Merrimack River land could be preserved for all to enjoy.
How much is it all going to cost?
Hess’ response is simple: “The cost to the taxpayers in terms of property taxes is zero.”
By partnering with the Forrest Society, the New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP), private investors and foundations, and getting grants from other third parties, the Conservation Commission is aggressively pulling together the necessary money to purchase the land at issue, the total cost of which is approximately $468,000. Hess said that there are already purchase and sale agreements pending, with the two primary landowners involved.
Further, there is one anonymous donor who has offered a match grant, he said, for up to $20,000. Right now, private donations of $1,600 have been applied to that matching grant. The Conservation Commission is hoping for more private donations to get to the $20,000 number to maximize the matching grant, as well.
From here, the Conservation Commission is looking for private investors and local businesses to help. Monetary donations are always appreciated. Construction, sand and gravel, or other businesses can help with restoring the old trail beds into hiking trails. Hooksett’s Boy Scouts are looking at this as an opportunity for some of their young men to work on Eagle projects, perhaps as early as this coming spring.
“If they’re looking for people to build the trails,” said Scott, “adults would have to do heavy lifting work, but a certain amount could be done by the Scouts themselves.”
As with Head’s Pond Trail, an Eagle Scout candidate could coordinate a plan for an informational kiosk, benches, and signs pointing out the ecological and historical areas along the trails.
The important thing is that Hooksett needs to become involved. If residents pull together as a community, this pristine land could be saved for wildlife and people alike to embrace well into the future.
“We have P&Ss on these properties with tentative closing date of December of this year,” said Hess. “We have to finish a survey, which is about 98 percent done.”
some of the pending grants are contingent upon applications and funding. The more private funding he can acquire before the closing, the more the future of this program can be ensured.
To help, Hess said to to call him or Jodi Pinard at the Hooksett Heritage Commission at 668-8019, or Michael Speltz of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests at 224-9945.
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