- Staff photo by Don Himsel
Lucy St. John Carl Marshall discuss placement of a new sign at the Terrell Conservation Homestead Land Thursday, April 26, 2012.
- Pennichuck Middle School student Mirca Baez marks a waypoint on the field. Courtesy photo.
- Pennichuck students Kendra Sturdevant and Mirca Baez mark a waypoint on the trail. Courtesy photo.
Nashua officials to celebrate conservation, recreation land with sign ceremony Saturday
NASHUA – Some of the city’s oldest farmland is being mapped by some of the city’s youngest trail blazers. The result will give Nashua its newest passive recreation area.
Since December, 25 students from Pennichuck Middle School have walked the Terrell Homestead Conservation Area, consisting of more than 80 acres once owned by one of Nashua’s oldest farming families, to record what the land will look like for future hikers, bikers, and animal trackers.
On Saturday, city officials, the Conservation Commission, and students will gather to celebrate the next step in the process: the installation of signs sharing the history of the property and identifying what it now holds for the city.
“Here in southern New Hampshire, which is under such pressure for development and build up, here we have this neat green way that is now in place and is a substantial size for all to enjoy forever,” Conservation Commission Chairman Dave McLaughlin said. “It makes sense to acknowledge what we have here.”
Family descendents Albert and Rita Terrell sold two tracts of their family property dating back to the Revolutionary War era to the city over the last two years for $700,033 and $512,318, respectively. It was sold to be saved as city conservation land and to be used for passive recreation.
The land lies adjacent to the Groton Woods Conservation Easement and near Yudicky Farm, Lovewell’s Pond and the large Dunstable Land Trust.
It features vernal pools, a mix of wetlands and uplands, old growth forests and edge and field habitats.
Last year, a subcommittee of the Conservation Commission was formed to design a trail system for the land, and they found the trackers they needed in Pennichuck’s Outside Connections club, part of the school’s 21st Century Program.
“It’s a lot of fun because it gets the kids outside and gets us hiking out into the woods and nature,” Pennichuck guidance counselor Marianne O’Connor said, who leads the club. “They feel very invested in the work they’re doing. They feel valued that someone is going to listen to their opinions about this land.”
The middle schoolers spent more than 20 hours after school mapping the trails and roads left from the land’s farm days, battling December’s ice and cold and the strange heat wave of late March.
Armed with professional GPS equipment provided by the University of New Hampshire, and working with the city’s assessing department, the students trudged, plotted, and recorded the features of more than half the property to identify the paths that have been carved there since 1777.
“Each time that we went out there we would take a little bit of a different route,” O’Connor said.
The process they used is sort of like using a GPS backward, O’Connor said. The students click a GPS every step they walk to map trail coordinates, called “waypoints,” that are put into the city’s Geographic Information System that will ultimately pinpoint the paths.
During their visits, they identified animal tracks, including some bear prints, and watched wildlife such as ducks. They also took notes on the remains left by people, including old cars, mason jars, rusty barrels, and an old hunting platform.
Faced with piles of trash and tires, O’Connor said her students wanted to get the land cleaned right away.
“They really get emotionally attached to it,” O’Connor said. “I’ve done this kind of work for a couple years and it’s a way to help build land stewardship for kids. They do have a sense of ownership and care about this property.”
As part of the Terrell land deal, the board of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests accepted a conservation easement from the city. The society received $10,000 for a stewardship endowment to maintain the easement.
The stewardship extends to making sure conditions of the easement are followed. That means the land is not to be developed and remains closed to motor vehicles, plus other restrictions. The city is responsible for creating trails, removing trash, managing the forest and other duties.
With the trails plotted, the students’ drafted maps have been handed over to the city’s assessing department, O’Connor said. Their findings will be finalized by city officials and the Conservation Commission when the trails are ultimately mapped and named.
“The mapping was important because there are wetlands in various areas where you don’t necessarily want traffic because you could inadvertently destroy something we’re trying to preserve,” McLaughlin said. “Any sensitive area on that property has now been identified and now we can make sure we do what we can to preserve it.”
Trail naming will be further down the road, McLaughlin said, but the city hopes to have the land marked and identified for residents’ use by the fall.
The commission also plans on taking an inventory of the trees and landmarks on the property to maximize the public’s enjoyment of the land, McLaughlin said.
“The optimism, the energy, the can-do, really the altruistic spirit, in which the students volunteered their time, it is really fascinating,” McLaughlin said. “When you come across this opportunity, it is historic and it is exciting. It will be rewarding and generations from now, people will look on the Terrell Homestead Conservation Area much as they do with Mine Falls Park, which everyone recognizes as a beautiful asset of the city of Nashua.”
Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow Gill on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).