Thanks to Kirsten Gehl and Kate Wilcox for photos of the Leary Field and Forest land.

MMRG is delighted to announce that we have received a 2017 New Hampshire Land & Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) grant award to conserve 63+ acres of field and forest on Bob and Debbie Leary’s family farm on Hornetown Road, in a rural section of Farmington. At the December 4 LCHIP award ceremony in Concord, MMRG Executive Director Patti Connaughton-Burns accepted the $100,000 grant award for Leary Field & Forest, one of 42 different LCHIP awards for projects across the state, totaling 3.6 million dollars this year.

During early discussions with the Learys in Spring 2017, MMRG quickly noted that the conservation attributes of the land extend well beyond those of a working farm and forest. The property is located in the headwaters of the Mad and Cocheco Rivers and abuts existing conservation land, and the Leary’s welcome hikers and snowshoers on their land and trails. To fund this exciting project, we enthusiastically applied to three major grantors and now have approval from all three: Natural Resources Conservation Service for the Agricultural Lands Easement (ALES), NH State Conservation Commission’s (NHSCC) Moose Plate grant program, and most recently New Hampshire’s Land Community and Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP)’s Natural Resource grant program. The Farmington Conservation Commission is also a donor and will hold an executory interest in the conservation easement on the property. With these grants, we have achieved 90% of our fundraising goal for the easement purchase, transactional fees, and long-term stewardship of Leary Field & Forest. We are now looking to raise the final $28,090 and we need Your Help to accomplish that!

By conserving these 63+ acres, the Learys seek to honor the three generations of Bob Leary’s family who have farmed, sugared and forested this land on the Farmington Ridge. Bob’s passion for this land was passed down from his father who had once said that he hoped that the farm would continue to grow crops forever. Bob and Debbie Leary are not strangers to land conservation — they worked previously with the state Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to put the adjoining 73 acres into a Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) easement in 2010.

MMRG’s new Conservation Plan and resources maps show multiple high conservation values along the Farmington Ridge. Much of the land, including the Leary parcel, boasts the highest quality agricultural soils in New Hampshire and even nation-wide, which is especially important since farmland to the south continues to be developed. This land also supports a valuable oak-pine forest that, when left undeveloped, protects local drinking water resources, the Cocheco River watershed, and wildlife habitat. The Nature Conservancy’s 2016 Climate Change Resiliency studies rate the Farmington Ridge as above average for protection against storm-caused flooding and preservation of wildlife corridors that provide safe passage for native animals to migrate from threats like disease and habitat alterations. These documented wildlife conservation values do not surprise the Learys, but simply confirm decades of their sightings of unique species like the bobolink and native brook trout.

The Leary property contributes to an evolving greenway of nearly 1,000 acres extending from the Farmington and New Durham ridges, and south to Strafford and Barnstead. Neighbor Rod Thompson, who has conserved his 190 acres and his neighbor Victor Piekarski, of WidowMaker Farm applaud the Leary’s decision to conserve their land and extend the greenway. Conservationists value greenways that provide corridors for wildlife to migrate from threats and disperse genetic code, which increases the species’ resiliency. Greenways can also provide trails for recreation. On the Leary parcel, over two miles of well-groomed trails wrap around the hay fields to hilltops with stupendous views of 7 peaks and as far as the seacoast. The trails also extend into the shaded forest area of the existing WRP easement that is etched with tributaries and quaint bridges crossing sections of the Clay Pit Brook. While the primary purpose of the trails is for farm and forest management, they also provide for delightful hikes. The Learys encourage trail use for those who are respectful of the land and will use it lightly for hiking, snowshoeing, birding or photography.

If you have any questions about the Leary Field & Forest conservation project, feel free to contact Patti at (603) 473-2020.
Please consider a donation to help conserve Leary Field & Forest: