A 20-Year Retrospective
by Cynthia Siemon Wyatt
MMRG Board Member from 2000 to March 2020
Dear Friends and Members of MMRG,
As you know, Moose Mountains Regional Greenways’ (MMRG) 20-year celebratory Annual Meeting was cancelled because of the Covid-19 virus. As founding member of the organization, I was scheduled to present a slide show retrospective of MMRG, which I have now distilled into this article to impart MMRG’s 20-year success story. Knowing where we came from will help guide us on our path forward.
To begin, I’m going to take us back 30 years to 1990 when only 0.8% of lands in what is now the Moose Mountains Region was in conservation. The following year, my father Carl Siemon doubled the conserved land in the region with his donation to the Forest Society of a conservation easement on 1,500 acres of Branch Hill Farm’s working forest and hay fields in Milton Mills. At the time, this was the largest easement in southeastern NH, and the 3rd largest in the state. The same year, I moved to NH with my husband and eight- year old twins to help my father manage Branch Hill Farm (BHF). I had the pleasure of working with my father for the ensuing 10 years. During this time, we more than doubled Branch Hill Farm’s conserved properties to 3,000 acres.
In 1999, our forester Roger Leighton informed my Dad and me about a new land trust to the south, called Bear Paw Regional Greenways. Bear Paw’s mission was and is “to permanently conserve a network of lands that protects our region’s water, wildlife habitat, forests, and farmland.” This Greenway vision sparked my Dad’s and my interest to join Branch Hill Farm’s conservation lands with Bear Paw’s Greenway project. To pursue this vision, we reached out to founding members Phil Auger and Frank Mitchell, whom we knew in their capacity as Educators at UNH Cooperative Extension. Phil and Frank were happy to hear of our interest and agreed to visit us at the BHF office. During that meeting, however, they let us know that Bear Paw did not have the capacity to take on more territory beyond their established region. Instead they enthusiastically encouraged me to form a Greenway organization for our own region.
I was so inspired by the vision of forever connected corridors of conserved lands that I contacted conservation commission members and other conservation-minded people of our 6 neighboring towns. A large group of interested community members started meeting in 1999. There was enough sustained enthusiasm and interest generated by the Greenway vision that the group authorized me to apply to the IRS to become a non-profit conservation organization. MMRG received its Determination Letter from the IRS in September of 2000 – MOOSE MOUNTAINS REGIONAL GREENWAYS WAS BORN!!
I was grateful to see my Dad’s excitement about the formation of Moose Mountains Regional Greenway before he passed away in 2001. He was confident that MMRG’s work would ensure that his 3,000-acres would become part of, in his words: “forever greenways of forests, fields, wildlife, recreation, clean water and air. Perhaps these protected lands will inspire others to find ways to protect their lands – to keep New Hampshire, New Hampshire.”
One year later, in 2001, MMRG Board Member Star Kenyon informed the Board and Executive Director Brad Anderson about the 2,100-acre property near her home in Middleton that was being actively marketed for development. The listing described the property as “an excellent investment of 2,100 acres. Brooks and ponds, extensive interior road system, stunning views, varied terrain, frontage on paved town roads. 30 minutes to Portsmouth and ocean. This is the largest privately-owned tract of land close to the NH coast, Pease Trade Port, and Portsmouth.”
MMRG’s Board jumped on this opportunity and applied for a Forest Legacy Grant in the amount of $1 million dollars to protect this large tract of unfragmented forestland. Four years later, MMRG celebrated the huge landscape-scale success of what is now the Forest Society’s Moose Mountains Reservation, centered in the heart of the Moose Mountains Region. This successful conservation outcome would not have been possible without local knowledge, without MMRG willingness to take quick action, and without the collaborative help and expertise of the Forest Society to finalize what evolved to be a $2 million project.
As Jack Savage, President of the Forest Society, past Chair of MMRG, and resident of Middleton, so aptly states: “My belief is that the Moose Mountains Range is the core, or hub, of our seven-town region, which spans from Lake Winnipesaukee to the Maine border. It offers everything that makes New Hampshire—wildlife habitat, working forest, multi-use recreation and beautiful views, all while protecting water resources reaching to the seacoast. We really do have a jewel worth protecting, and MMRG has been key to that conservation effort over the last 20 years.”
By 2014, MMRG had successfully facilitated 30 conservation projects, assisting landowners with the permanent protection of over 4,500 acres of farms, forests, and wetlands. That year, MMRG’s Board decided that the Moose Mountains Region needed its own, home grown land trust, able and willing to hold land and easements in our region and to monitor them in perpetuity. In 2015, Judy and Ron Thompson entrusted MMRG with our first donated easement: a 203-acre forever wild forest on the Thompson’s historic family property in Farmington.
Since becoming a land trust 5 years ago, MMRG has successfully completed 8 conservation projects totaling 3,143 acres, including the 2,000-acre Birch Ridge Community Forest, a landscape-scale project overlooking Merrymeeting Lake in New Durham. This project was spearheaded by Southeast Land Trust (SELT). SELT now owns the Community Forest and MMRG holds the conservation easement.
MMRG helped expand our regional conservation lands from less than one percent 30 years ago to nearly 14% today. MMRG’s conservation properties combined with Branch Hill Farm properties total 11,000 acres, accounting for 50% of conserved lands in the MMRG region.
A vital part of MMRG’s success story are the many educational outreach programs that have drawn folks and families far and wide such as the Woods Water & Wildlife Festival, the Branch River Paddle, Forestry Workshops, and our MOOSIE Programs, many of which are collaborative events at Branch Hill Farm. Additionally, MMRG has provided our member towns with vital conservation tools such as the Blue Moon Environmental Assessment of Significant Wetlands and the dissemination of our recent Conservation Action Plan.
MMRG’s many successes would not be possible without our loyal members, our hard-working and dedicated board, staff, volunteers, and our partners: The Forest Society, SELT, NH Fish & Game, Natural Resources Conservation Service, UNH Cooperative Extension, and our town Conservation Commissions. We must also acknowledge with profound appreciation the many landowners who made the decision to relinquish the highest and best value of their land in order to conserve them in perpetuity.
I am thankful and honored to have been a part of MMRG’s 20-year conservation success story to help Keep New Hampshire New Hampshire.
Branch Hill Farm/Carl Siemon Family Charitable Trust
Milton Mills, NH
MMRG Region Conserved Lands
“MMRG helped expand the conservation lands in our region from less than 1% to nearly 14%”