By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — After 37 years of fundraising and negotiating for several tracts of land in the Belknap Mountain Range, the Conservation Commission has entered into a purchase-and-sales agreement for the summit of Piper Mountain.
For the Conservation Commission, which works in conjunction with the Lakes Region Conservation Trust, and the Gilford Land Conservation Task Force, the summit has been the choice piece of property that has, until now, eluded the town.
"This is amazing. Big time," said Everett McLaughlin who has been working on getting this piece of property into conservation for about 37 years. "This ties all those properties together. It's fabulous."
"All those properties" refers to other parcels of private property that Gilford Conservation Commission has purchased over the years with the help of the Lakes Region Conservation Trust.
In 1979, the town approved a bond for the purchase of the "Powell" property and the thinking at the time was that Piper Mountain, including the summit, was included in that purchase. But it wasn't.
But with that piece in conservation, the Conservation Commission next pursued the "Gage" property or a 327-acre tract of land they called the Gage/Menighin/Cullinane parcel for $210,000 in 2013.
With the summit surrounded on three sides by the previous two purchases, McLaughlin said he and Ernie Houle, the owner of the 273-acre parcel at the Piper Mountain summit, began discussions about its conservation and preservation.
McLaughlin said all of the parcels on Piper Mountain are ripe for conservation, as an ecological study commissioned by the Gilford Land Conservation Task Force shows the land is remote and pristine, is host to a wide variety of natural wildlife, and has a high likelihood of having some exotic plant life.
Piper Mountain summit is also home to a couple of stone thrones built by unknown people on both the east and west sides where people are often photographed. McLaughlin added that the summit is loaded with low-bush or wild blueberries, which are smaller than cultivated ones but much sweeter.
According to Sandy McLaughlin, there is also an Australian shepherd named after Piper Mountain. She said the first mountain in the Belknap Range climbed by Piper's owner was Piper Mountain and he liked it so much that when he got a puppy, it became the dog's name. She said they are regulars on the trail and the summit.
There will be a public hearing on Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. so the Conservation Commission can take input. McLaughlin said up to $115,000 from Gilford Conservation Fund will be used toward the $220,000 purchase. He said there is some other funds from the Lakes Region Land Trust for the purchase as well.
After the Conservation Commission hearing, the matter moves to the selectmen, who are authorized to spend money from the Gilford Conservation Fund.
Anyone wishing to contribute to the purchase of the property can contribute by sending a check to the Town of Gilford Conservation Fund. Include "Piper Mountain" in the memo section. The closing date is scheduled for Jan. 17.
Piper, an Australian shepherd, stands with Everett and Sandy McLaughlin’s friend Fatemah on one of the stone thrones atop Piper Mountain, now set to enter conservation status. (Courtesy Sandy McLaughlin)