Unitil and City of Concord Partner with Forest Society to Complete Merrimack River Greenway

April 15, 2009

Unitil and City of Concord Partner with Forest Society to Complete Merrimack River Greenway

In partnership with Unitil Energy Systems and the City of Concord, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests has conserved 139 acres in East Concord.

Strategically located within a 700-plus acre block of conservation land, this property is the final link in a chain that conserves one of the last large undeveloped landscapes along the Merrimack River in Concord. This area includes some of the best farm soils in the nation, prime wildlife habitat, excellent recreation opportunities, access to the river, and some of the state’s most significant archeological resources. 

“Not only will this project guarantee the preservation of more than a mile of frontage along the Merrimack River, but it also effects the conservation of an additional 132 acres further down the road,” said Forest Society President/Forester Jane Difley. “Wildlife, outdoorspeople, and the local economy will all benefit from this creative collaboration between Unitil, the City of Concord, and the Forest Society.”

Several years in the making, this conservation easement was one key component of a complex land swap between Unitil and the City of Concord. 

Unitil Energy Systems originally acquired the property from Concord Electric Company, which had operated the Sewalls Falls hydropower station. With the hydropower station out of use, Unitil no longer needed the riverside property. However, the company did need a site upon which to build a substation to upgrade its power grids that serve the greater Concord area.

The City of Concord owned property off Broken Ground Road near Unitil’s existing power structures. An agreement was reached: the City would swap its Broken Ground parcel for Unitil’s land along the Merrimack River. As part of the agreement, Unitil agreed to conserve both the riverfront property and those portions of the Broken Ground property unencumbered by the substation.

“It was a win-win situation,” said John Bonazoli, Unitil Energy Systems manager of distribution engineering. “We worked with the Forest Society to create the conservation easement. It will be great for the public to have access to those nice trails along the river.”

The City of Concord now owns the 139 acres along the river, upon which the Forest Society holds the conservation easement.

“Protecting the land along the Merrimack River has been one of the Conservation Commission's highest priorities for many years,” said Concord Conservation Commission Chair Kit Morgan. “This parcel is an important link in the chain of riverfront lands. We appreciate the help of the Forest Society in working closely with Unitil to make this happen.”

Unitil now owns the Broken Ground parcel, and the City of Concord holds a conservation easement on 132 acres of that parcel. The Broken Ground conservation easement also allows public access. 

The new conservation land along the Merrimack River secures more than one mile of undeveloped river frontage and will retain the scenic character of this stretch of river, well-used by recreational boaters.  Together with the adjacent Sewalls Falls Wildlife Management Area, the 558 adjacent acres owned by the City of Concord, and the State Prison farm ownerships, well over two miles on both sides of the river are now permanently conserved or in long-term conservation use. This riparian habitat is enjoyed by migrating waterfowl, bald eagles, and other animals that depend on this large and productive block of open space.

This riverfront property also features rich, fertile farming soils: 87 percent of the land is made up of soils of prime, statewide, or local importance. Twenty acres of the site are currently under agricultural lease and managed for sod and corn. These outstanding agricultural soils have likely been farmed since prehistoric times. This site appears to have seen extensive use by Native Americans for more than 3,000 years, right up through the period of contact with English settlers approximately 300 years ago.

The City’s preliminary plans are to continue the current agricultural lease with a farmer for the near future and to develop recreational footpaths on the property and along the river over time. 

Unitil Energy Systems is a subsidiary of Unitil Corporation is a public utility holding company headquartered in Hampton, New Hampshire. Unitil Energy Systems provides electric distribution service to more than 72,500 customers in the Capital and Seacoast regions of New Hampshire.

Founded in 1901, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests is the state's oldest and largest non-profit land conservation organization. Supported by 10,000 families and businesses, the Society's mission is to perpetuate the forests of New Hampshire by establishing permanent conservation areas and promoting the wise stewardship of private lands. For more information, visit www.forestsociety.org.

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