December 15, 2023

Why Our Local Land Trust Matters

Why Our Local Land Trust Matters

The pandemic can be blamed for many things, not the least of which has become the extraordinary pressure on rural regions and communities by the surge of newly full-time residents in what resembled a mass exodus from cities and more populous areas. While this trend was mirrored across the country, the mountain regions of New England, as well as upstate New York, saw some of the greatest in-migration, a trend that has not yet abated. The reality is that this heightened interest in rural living has actually been going on for some time, and with it has come the further development and subdivision of great swaths of our once wild and scenic land. Other problems have emerged from this surge of people as well, including a lack of affordable housing for a huge segment of the population, further dividing the haves and the have nots in painful, wildly disproportionate, and unsustainable ways. 

Land, of course, is finite, and even though New Hampshire and Maine are the two most forested states in the nation, a closer look at other regions quickly illustrates how quickly it could all change. A perennial problem in many desirable wild places is that pressures of generational growth in families, coupled with increased land values and the accompanying taxes, is that old parcels of land and property often have to change hands. It is in this moment of dissolution that so many historic parcels of land have undergone dramatic divisions, and the resulting developments are often a far cry from the rare beauty of what once existed. And as the sages have long said, once it’s gone, it’s gone

Over 100 years ago, the Weeks Act was passed, a seminal moment in New Hampshire history which ushered in the preservation of public land for common use and which created the National Forest movement.  In more recent years, land trusts have come into being to take conservation work down to the individual, even retail level.  Here, landowners can forever conserve their desirable properties by giving, or sometimes selling, certain rights to the Trust as a legal shield against the undesirable and unwanted future development of natural resources. Land trusts help landowners create permanent protections, while often opening the land to careful and thoughtful public use as well as long-term stewardship. The rapid growth of land trusts in New Hampshire over the last 30 years is a testament to both the landowners’ generosity and goodwill. It also displays an understanding that our future depends heavily on how we protect and conserve our finite natural resources, today.

Here in the Mount Washington Valley, we are celebrating 23 years of the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that will soon pass the 12,000 acre mark of land conservation. Started by volunteers in 2001, our local land trust now employs a professional staff and actively seeks new parcels of land to add to its ever growing portfolio of protected land. Included are hillsides and forests, wild rivers and streams, as well as farms and fields – all of which make up the wilderness that locals cherish and visitors have been drawn to for centuries. These special places are often sources of clean water as well as serving as wildlife corridors, and of course they welcome wholesome outdoor recreation of all sorts and in all seasons.

By educating residents and visitors about the importance of our natural treasures, USVLT partners with other local organizations, such as Tin Mountain Conservation Center, the Appalachian Mountain Club, local schools and organizations, as well as other regional and national land trusts and conservation  organizations.  By taking the local lead in keeping our valley as wild as possible, it helps to ensure that our region will continue to be a true natural treasure long after we are gone.  A treasure that will welcome thoughtful public use through determined stewardship in boom times, as well as quieter periods when public pressures on the land often subside.

Please take a moment to learn more about the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust even as they celebrate land protection projects anew.  Thanks to them, our Valley will still look like it does today long into the future.

Tim Scott

Mount Washington Valley Community & USVLT Board Member

Jackson, New Hampshire

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