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Stonehouse Forest in Barrington is now public land

Union Leader Correspondent

December 14. 2017 12:56AM
A European investor bought the land that makes up Stonehouse Forest in Barrington for an exotic game hunting reserve. On Monday, he sold it to a conservation group. (Courtesy of Jerry Monkman, Ecophotography LLC)

BARRINGTON — A 1,500-acre local forest with rare plant species is now open to the public.

Up until Monday, Stonehouse Forest in Barrington was owned by three New Hampshire corporations run by a man from Italy.

Giuseppe Prevosti bought 54 parcels of land over the course of decades with the intention of creating an exotic game hunting reserve in Barrington. When state officials learned of his plans to import exotic species, Prevosti abandoned the idea.

According to Duane Hyde, a land conservation director for Southeast Land Trust (SELT) in Exeter, a 450-year-old Black Gum tree, rare flowering plants and reptiles live in Stonehouse Forest, which abuts Stonehouse Pond located on Route 9.

Moose, bobcats and migratory birds also live in the forest. The land’s ponds, wetlands and streams flow into Great Bay via the Lamprey River and Bellamy River.

In 2015, SELT was offered the chance to purchase the land for conservation. Over the course of the past two years, they have raised nearly $3.5 million for the acquisition.

Hyde said Wednesday that some early commitments gave them the ability to get the fundraising ball rolling. The Barrington Conservation Commission and Board of Selectmen jointly committed $450,000 in town funds from the Conservation Fund and the Open Space Bond Fund.

Funding from state and federal sources topped $2 million. New Hampshire Fish and Game provided $750,000 in funds from the Wildlife Restoration Program and secured $1 million through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Program.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proud to support the conservation of Stonehouse Forest as a gateway for people to experience the wonders of nature and the outdoors,” Wendi Weber, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Regional Director, said in a statement.

The NH Land and Community Heritage Investment Program provided a $420,000 grant, one of its largest ever. The NH Conservation License Plate program contributed $20,000 through the NH State Conservation Committee using funds from the moose plate program.

A New York City nonprofit provided a $400,000 grant. Open Space Institute (OSI) chose the conservation project for funding because the land has specific natural features that will support plants and animals even as the climate changes.

“It’s rare to have an opportunity to conserve a property of this scale in southeastern New Hampshire, where population and development pressures are high,” Jennifer Melville, OSI’s vice president of conservation grants and loans, said in a statement.

More than 425 individual donors helped to make the conservation possible, Hyde said.

Hyde said they will be taking down the “No Trespassing” signs and working on a formal parking lot soon. They are hoping to create a connector system for local snowmobilers.

People can access the forest by foot through Stonehouse Pond, Hyde said.

“We’re trying to designate some trails so people can see and enjoy what the land has to offer and still protect the systems there,” Hyde said.

Those trails may be established by early 2019.

Hyde said there are areas of the forest where trails will not be built so animals living in the area aren’t disturbed.

A public celebration and tour is planned for next year.

So far in 2017, SELT has conserved 2,384 acres of land in Strafford and Rockingham counties, Hyde said.

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