Published DateALTON — Speaking at the foot of Mount Major yesterday, Jane Difley, president of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF), and Don Berry, president of the Lakes Region Conservation Trust, announced a major initiative to preserve public access to the popular peak, as well as other stretches of the Belknap Range.
The two partners have entered a purchase and sale agreements to acquire 950 acres from four private landowners and launched a campaign to raise the $1.8 million required to close the transactions by December 1.
The Belknap Range Conservation Coalition (BRCC), established to preserve open space, promote responsible stewardship and ensure public access to the Belknap Mountain Range, together with the Conservation Commissions of Alton, Gilford and Gilmanton are contributors to the fundraising reform.
Russ Wilder of the BRCC said that altogether the four parcels cover 30 square miles of land crisscrossed by more than 70 miles of hiking trails. Three of the parcels lie on or near Mount Major in Alton. These include some 75 acres that straddle the two major trails leading up the mountain from the parking area off Route 11, owned by Dave Roberts, who has hiked, mapped, photographed and chronicled the Belknap Range for years. When the property appeared on the market, Roberts purchased it with the intention of holding it for the SPNHF.
The second property, 100 acres owned by the Jensen family, abuts the 60-acre Mount Major State Forest at the summit. The 455 acres to the west of the summit owned by the Hertel family is the largest of all the parcels.
The fourth parcel, 331 acres in Gilford owned by Peggy Gage, Peter Meneghin and John Cullinane, lies on the eastern reach of the Belknap Range on the slope of Piper Mountain at the head of Moulton Valley, which is riven by the falling waters of Moulton Brook.
The SPNHF intends to own and manage three parcels around Mount Major, while ownership and management of the property in Gilford will fall to the LRCT.
Difley said that Mount Major rivals Mount Monadnock as the most frequently climbed peak in the state and more often than not is the first mountain young climbers tackle. Yet, she noted that most who scramble to the summit to capture the expansive views of Lake Winnipesaukee fail to realize that the trails cross privately owned land and their way to the top depends on the generosity of these landowners.
Moreover, Difley stressed that like other "iconic landscapes" around the state, the Belknap Range representing a breathtaking backdrop the Lake Winnipesaukee, offering spectacular views as well as as abundant recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat.
Echoing Difley, Don Berry of the LRCT said that if these parcels change hands, the new owners could restrict or deny access. He added that the forests blanketing the Belknap Range, like those of the Ossipee Mountains, protect the water quality of Lake Winnipesaukee. "Protecting these these uplands has been a priority for many years," he said.
Difley said that the SPNHF has applied for several grants and expects to announce commitments for as much of $385,000 shortly. Wilder, who serves on the Alton Conservation Commission, said that a public hearing on a proposal to contribute to the project will be held on July 2 while Everett McLaughlin of the Gilford Conservation Commission said that it intends to invest toward the purchase of the Gage property.
As Jack Savage, vice-president of SPNHF, extolled the popularity of Mount Major among youth organizations, a group of girls from a science camp in Raymond came to the trailhead. "I couldn't have ordered this," he remarked.
"This is it," said one of the counselors leading the group. "We don't want it ever to change."
"We're working on that," Savage replied.
CAPTION: At the foot of Mt. Major, Jan Difley (center), president of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshiure Forests, flanked by Don Berry of the Lakes Region Conservation Trust (left) and Russ Wilder of the Belknap Range Conservation Coalition (right) announced an initiative to acquire and preserve 950 acres with more than 70 miles of hiking trails in the Belknap Range to ensure access to the public in perpetuity. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch) i