Open Space Committee, Town of Peterborough, New Hampshire

The Thomas Easements

Thomas Land Conserved in Peterborough and Greenfield

Landowners Liz and Steve Thomas and the Peterborough Selectboard took time out from the ice storm aftermath on December 19, 2008, to sign conservation easements that permanently conserve 375 acres in Peterborough. An additional 53 acres across the line in Greenfield also were placed in conservation by the Thomases.

     After the signing, Liz Thomas took off her "landowner hat" and rejoined her fellow Selectboard members Joe Byk and Barbara Miller in ice-storm duties that included cooking meals and sleeping at the local storm shelter at South Meadow School.

     The day's planned field trip on the land and celebratory lunch had to be postponed owing to the ice storm, but Open Space Committee Chair Ed Henault said that celebration definitely was in order for the second largest conservation initiative in town history.

     His committee had ranked the Thomas property on East Mountain Road as among the top 10 conservation priority parcels in town. "They are priceless, in a natural resource context," he said. Henault explained that on the town's scoring system they ranked high for shoreland on a key Contoocook tributary, wetlands, open field, forest and farmland, scenic road frontage, wildlife habitat, location in an outlying part of town, size, and linkage to existing conservation land. "There's not much else you can score," he added.

     As a bonus, said Anne McBride of the Monadnock Conservancy, the land hosts a stand of black gum trees. The Monadnock Conservancy is the regional land trust that will hold the easements, thereby accepting the legal responsibility to ensure that their conservation values are protected and their development restrictions are honored.

     McBride explained that black gums (Nyssa sylvatica) are the oldest trees in the state. The Thomas trees are the only known black gums in Peterborough. "They're a more southerly species," McBride said, "and finding them in the state is a rare treat. For the Thomas land, it was icing on a wonderful cake. It's been a pleasure for the Monadnock Conservancy to work with landowners so committed to passing their land along for future generations, and so aware that those generations include wildlife."

     Liz Thomas explained that the decision to conserve their family land was shared by her children and grandchildren. "Adding to our great pleasure today is the fact that the land joins the Wapack National Wildlife Refuge – wonderfully wild land that was conserved by my parents one generation ago."

     That donation of 1,672 acres by Thomas's parents established New Hampshire's first national wildlife refuge. The gift stipulated that the land remain, in Liz's father's words, "in a state of wildness…where man is a visitor who does not remain."

     Thomas expressed her family's gratitude to both Peterborough and Greenfield for helping to make the easements possible. "Somewhat to our surprise, we discovered that giving up development rights can be costly. All four properties had to be surveyed and appraised, and the land trust's expenses had to be met."

     Through assistance from Peterborough and Greenfield conservation funds, the Thomases' expenses were met. By unanimous votes of the Peterborough Conservation Commission, Open Space Committee, and Selectboard, $21,598 was approved, and Greenfield's Conservation Commission approved $6,716 in support of the 53-acre parcel in Greenfield along the Peterborough town line.

     The Monadnock Conservancy secured an additional grant of $5,000 from a fund set up to assist conservation easements in towns surrounding Mount Monadnock.

     Francie Von Mertens, co-chair of the Conservation Commission, explained that Peterborough is among many towns that are stepping up to meet landowner expenses involved in conserving land identified as high priority natural resource land. Said Von Mertens, "Landowners are giving up the right to develop their land – and to profit from that development. It makes sense that the town is an active and enthusiastic funding partner."

     At the easement signing, Selectboard Chair Barbara Miller was very enthusiastic in thanking the Thomases for continuing a strong tradition of landowners conserving their land in Peterborough. The Thomases are the 33rd family to place conservation easements on their land, with a new total acreage of some 3,500 acres of privately held land now under permanent deeded conservation.     "The Selectboard recognizes that open space is a precious and invaluable resource that is in need of protection," Miller said. "Our thanks to the Thomases, and to the Conservation Commission and Open Space Committee for their continuing collaborative efforts to achieve the town's master plan goal of keeping 25% of the town in permanent open space."

     Miller said the Selectboard intends to have a deferred celebration of the easement at its meeting tonight, complete with "a little bubbly" (sparkling grape juice).

Liz Thomas and a black gum tree on the Thomas Property. A natural resource inventory of the Thomas properties found many exemplary natural communities including a black gum swamp. Black gums are the oldest trees in New Hampshire—and rare in the Monadnock Region.

Neighbors and town committee members were among the many who gathered to celebrate the Thomas easements. Most joined a trek to the distant black gum swamp, a hike that involved bushwhacking for the most part. (June 2009)