CHESTERFIELD, N.H. -- A 300-acre swath of land in Chesterfield was recently conserved and set aside for timber harvesting and recreational uses.
"This property can draw recreationists from beyond the region," said Ryan Owens, the executive director of the Monadnock Conservancy in Keene. "It's a great place to go for a hike."
Most importantly, he said, the conservation easement protects the headwaters of the California Brook, a major tributary of the Ashuelot River.
The parcel, formerly known as the Colony property, is now part of the 3,500-acre California Brook Natural Area and includes 30 acres of wetlands and a small heron rookery, as well as mature stands of hemlock and hardwood timber.
Now known as the California Brook Headwaters, the easement greatly expands the Conservancy's efforts to establish a protected greenway corridor between Keene and Pisgah State Park.
"This is the centerpiece of a project that began in the late 1990s," said Tom Duston, chairman of the Chesterfield Conservation Committee.
The Colony property had been in the Colony family of Harrisville since about 1904, he said.
The parcel, now owned by Forecastle Timber, is less than a mile south of Route 9, on the border of Keene and Chesterfield, and is accessed by Lincoln Road or Atherton Hill Road.
While the property doesn't border Pisgah State Park, the Conservancy is currently working on an easement on the Yankee Arrowhead property,
The easements are all part of a grander project creating a trail network in the Monadnock Region, said Owens.
"We've been working on it for years and we will continue to work on it," said Owens. "This property fits a pretty key gap in that corridor."
On Oct. 20, there will be an official opening of a trail connecting the Horatio Colony Preserve on Daniels Hill Road in Keene with Pisgah State Park, said Duston. The trail is on land that has been preserved in Keene, Swanzey and Chesterfield and on several Class 6 roads, he said.
Using that trail and the recently completed trail between Mount Wantastiquet, in Hinsdale, and Pisgah, a hiker could conceivably walk between Keene and Brattleboro in a day or two.
The walk from Keene to Pisgah is a nice level hike, said Duston, but between Pisgah and Hinsdale there are some significant "ups and downs."
"The trail is on almost all preserved lands with a couple of small private parcels," he said.
The Colony property is the second easement Forecastle has negotiated with the Conservancy. In 2006, it sold the easement on a property that borders Swanzey just south of the Headwaters parcel.
Phil Blake, a partner in Forecastle Timber, said he bought the two properties mainly as an investment interest.
"But my partner and I really appreciate and enjoy the beauty of the forests in New Hampshire," he said, from his office in Wisconsin.
Blake said he visits New Hampshire on a regular basis, especially to hike around the countryside.
He was particularly enchanted by the two parcels his company purchased in Chesterfield.
"It's really very pretty," said Blake.
A forester is in the process of creating a management plan for the parcel, which will dictate the harvesting schedule, he said.
"He'll do an inventory and based on that we'll project timber stand by timber stand what makes sense going forward," said Blake.
The land also will remain open for hunting, he said.
"We have no problem with uses that don't detract from the quality of the land and the timber," said Blake.
Soon, said Owens, people will be able to hike or ski between Brattleboro and Mount Monadnock.
Purchase of easements by the Conservancy is part of a plan that includes the proposed Wantastiquet to Monadnock Trail and the Metacomet-Monadnock-Sunapee-Mattabesett Trail.
"The Wantastiquet to Monadnock Trail is part of a greater vision that is still some years to fruition and the Keene to Monadnock trail is going to take more work," said Owens. "It's primarily working with landowners, but to pull it off it requires the support, both financially and politically, of the community."
Over its 23 years, the Monadnock Conservancy has protected about 17,000 acres in 35 towns between the Connecticut River to the eastern side of Mount Monadnock.
Forecastle and the Conservancy worked with a a diverse set of supporters to accomplish the Colony easement, including the town of Chesterfield, which appropriated $100,000 from its Conservation Fund for the easement purchase.
"When lands go out of current use, for example when a farm is sold for development, 10 percent of the new value of the property goes into the town's conservation fund," said Duston.
In addition, the N.H. Department of Environmental Services' Aquatic Resource Mitigation grant fund, an anonymous family foundation and the N.H. Land and Community Heritage Investment Program assisted in the process.
Transaction funding for the project was provided by the Quabbin to Cardigan Partnership, a public/private effort to protect the Monadnock Highlands of western New Hampshire and north central Massachusetts.
To learn more about the Quabbin to Cardigan Partnership , visit ww.q2cpartnership.org.
For more information on the conservancy, call 603-357-0600 or visit www.MonadnockConservancy.org.
Bob Audette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.