This letter was written to MMRG by Ken and Joan Gatto, donors of one of the properties that now makes up the Prentice Woods Preserve.
My family has been spending summers at Province Lake since 1948. We lived in a large tent in Butler Field, eight of us — siblings, cousins and two mothers — ten of us when the dads came up from work in the Boston area on weekends.
Not able to renew our Butler Field campsite, we moved around the lake to Towle Farm Road in 1953. Mr. Willian Ames was selling lots there, and four friends took the opportunity to buy together. Which lot went to which family was decided by slips of paper pulled from a hat. Over several years, camps replaced tents as the living quarters.
The lots were narrow but long, and there were matching lots behind and abutting each of ours. In 1958, Mr. Ames decided he would not build a second road giving access to these lots, and he offered to sell them to us. The offer was quickly taken up. For us, especially the kids, it meant more woods! More to walk, to run in, to explore.
Mr. Ames’ remaining land passed on to his daughter, Natalie, upon his passing. Natalie Prentice cherished and respected the land as valuable in itself, and even more valuable to the lake its runoff feeds into.
In the late 1970’s, Natalie sold a large portion of her land to Danny Ring. He developed a lot plan of some very large lots as well as smaller ones, with a proposed road connecting Bonnyman Road to Bragdon Farm Road.
By 1980 my wife and I better understood how land might end up being used around the lake area. We purchased a large lot that abutted our Towle Farm property, as well as the property of friends and relatives. It offered protection and we thought we could be good stewards of the area until decided how we might use it.
We cut a couple of trails, developed a small tent site with a fire pit, and marched with our two young boys one late afternoon to spend several days “in the wilderness.” In fact, the partially completed new road was 50 yards away, but it felt fairly isolated and quiet. The spell was broken a few hours later when numerous extended family followed our trail and came to see the tenters. So we shared a campfire and had a few days of peace thereafter.
In 1982 we bought an adjoining lot and merged the two to form a 9.6 acre area that offered a few different habitats. The road was eventually completed to Bragdon Farm Road. In 1995, when the Town of Wakefield needed unique names for all its roads, we submitted Prentice Woods as the road name and were pleased when it was accepted. Natalie and her family were delighted and grateful to be honored by the name which she expressed in a note to us.
The land supports oaks, mostly red but some white, beech, birch, maple, white pine and lately, lots of hemlock. Alder, hobblebush are around the wetlands. There is a seasonal vernal pool that used to feature a myriad of frogs, but now occasional toads are seen. The water that collects in the Spring flows to the west to low lying land that is not part of this donation, thence under Prentice Woods Road to the land donated to MMRG by the Bakey family. From there it feeds into Province Lake. We dropped a small, ladder style bridge across a narrow section of the stream to make it easier to cross.
Various types of mushrooms pop up throughout the land. There are a few coppiced areas, steep terrains, and large erratic rocks assumed to have been dropped by the last glacier. One area of almost all large boulders we knew as Rock City. A presumed animal den or two can be seen. It made for a wonderful place for kids to explore. Some of the area must have been worked for granite — drill and cut lines are evident in some exposed rocks.
Circa 2010 Wendy Scribner, Carroll County Forestry Field Specialist, walked the woods with us and the Bakey’s. She spoke about the natural features, tree and plant types, and good forest management. Wendy enjoyed the outing so much she came back that evening and joined a campfire with s’mores and we talked more.
Nowadays we walk the land with grandchildren, talking with them about things we did and saw with their fathers, and pointing out trees, plants, mushrooms and the vernal area (“the swamp”).
As the years have passed by it became clear that we were not going to build any structures on the land, either for ourselves or family. We were holding the land in conservation until we decided on next steps.
We have seen how land around the lake is used nowadays. Preservation for the good of the lake and for its own sake has become even more important. The opportunity that Moose Mountain Regional Greenways has given us to preserve, protect and gently use the land is beyond any value or use that someone may put to it.
We look forward to sharing the land and its lessons with others who enjoy and honor its true value.
Ken and Joan Gatto
We need your help to permanently conserve the Prentice Woods Preserve! Although the Gatto and Bakey families have donated their lands to make the Preserve, we must raise $22,000 for legal and other fees. Contributions are welcomed either online or by mail. To give online, please visit our easy, secure funding platform at https://bit.ly/prenticewoods. Donations via check can be made payable to Moose Mountain Regional Greenways and sent to our office at: Moose Mountains Regional Greenways, P.O. Box 191, Union, NH 03887