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January 09. 2013 10:19PM

Amherst to buy prime piece of Grater Woods for conservation

AMHERST - Town officials have agreed to buy a prime parcel of Grater Woods conservation land, which will stay preserved and help maintain Amherst's rural and scenic charm.

On Monday, the Amherst Conservation Commission and the Amherst Board of Selectmen approved a deal to buy the lot on the town's easternmost border. "The vote by the two town bodies was the final piece in a three-part deal to preserve Grater Woods, a mix of forest and field that abuts 500 acres of protected land in Merrimack and 100 more (acres) in Amherst," says a release by the Amherst Land Trust, a private conservation group.

The Amherst Land Trust voted to spend $110,000, while the conservation Commission voted to spend $125,000 on the land buy.

According to Jim Hendrix, trustee of the Amherst Land Trust, trustees previously approved the purchase of two other abutting lots. Monday's vote, he said, is a huge victory for conservation, education, recreation and overall quality of life in Amherst, as it will allow for contiguous acreage throughout three parcels.

"With these three parcels linked together in Grater Woods, we will now have 1,000 acres of contiguously preserved land," he said, noting the conservation parcels include property in Amherst, Merrimack and along the Bedford border.

Combined, the three new parcels total 28 acres of prime property, with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services rating the soon-to-be acquired land as having the '"highest ranked wildlife habitat" in the state, according to the release. The acquisition - once finalized - will add a new piece connecting a corridor of undeveloped habitat that extends from Merrimack to Pulpit Brook in Bedford, explained Hendrix.

"For wildlife, this will now provide a large corridor for travel, for food and for breeding," said Bruce Beckley, member of the Amherst Conservation Commission and a trustee. "It is a three-town effort to protect a natural watershed and forest. It really is the biggest area of undeveloped land in this location."

"We've eyed this property for at least two decades, and we are grateful to the Grader family for giving us the chance to buy it," said Sally Wilkins, chairman of the Amherst Land Trust.

Preliminary plans have been established to possibly build a parking lot on Grater Road in Amherst to allow patrons an area to park their vehicles while hiking or cross-country skiing on the 12-miles of trails throughout the Grater Woods property in Amherst.

From some of the trails, there are views to both the west toward Pack Monadnock and to the south.

In Merrimack, Grater Woods is a trail system that evolved between a partnership with the town and the school district in 2006. The trail system there is about 4,700-feet long, which includes an outdoor classroom often used by students at Merrimack Middle School.

The trails, which were originally developed as logging roads, have been deteriorating over the past years, as portions of the property in Merrimack have been damaged by all-terrain vehicles.

Conservation officials in Merrimack are trying to reestablish some of those trails so that emergency vehicles will be able to access portions of the property in case of a problem. Funding for the Amherst property is through a combination of efforts.

The Amherst Land Trust will nearly exhaust its treasury and spend $110,000 on the initiative, purchasing two of the three parcels for a combined 23 acres.

Meanwhile, the Conservation Commission agreed to spend $125,000 from the conservation fund on the third, five-acre parcel.

Beckley is hopeful that all of the funding will be finalized and the purchase will be closed within the next two months.



khoughton@newstote.com


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