Canterbury’s Upper Merrimack Oxbow Conserved
Town of Canterbury partners with Forest Society and five government agencies
to protect site once proposed for regional landfill
The Merrimack River meanders in long, lazy loops through forests and farms from Franklin to Concord. Over the past several years, the Forest Society and other conservation groups have conserved great stretches of this riverfront to safeguard water quality, valuable wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and unspoiled scenery.
Now, with the help of the citizens of Canterbury, Forest Society members, and five state and federal agencies, the Forest Society was able to add another two miles of shoreline and 294 acres toward a vision of linking protected lands along the river.
“The Merrimack River is a high-profile resource in New Hampshire’s cultural identity,” said Forest Society President/Forester Jane Difley. “When a corridor of permanently protected land grows, as it has along the Merrimack River from Concord north, the contribution of each protected property incrementally enhances New Hampshire’s quality of life.”
The Upper Merrimack Oxbow is prized for its scenic forested shoreline, unusual sand plains, and stunning river bluffs. The “Muchyedo Banks,” a pair of 60- to 80-foot high sand banks that rise from the river, are the property’s most stunning landmarks.
In addition to its scenic value, the Upper Merrimack Oxbow has been enjoyed by the residents of Canterbury and neighboring communities for hiking, snowshoeing, fishing, and hunting. With the land’s protection, these activities are forever protected.
The property is well known not only for its exceptional natural and recreational resources, but also for the near loss of those resources to a proposed landfill ten years ago.
When the Upper Merrimack Oxbow was suggested as the site of a regional landfill around 2000, the land became a rallying point throughout the region. The citizens and activists of the Town of Canterbury and surrounding communities could not accept that the highest and best use of this property was as an industrial facility for processing solid waste. Many opposed the landfill use due to its potential impact upon the natural resources of the land and river and upon the community’s quality of life.
A local citizen group, the Oxbow Initiative, coalesced around the issue and worked to bring together the information and resources needed to remove the landfill proposal from consideration. These events heightened local and regional awareness of the property and its resources and created a groundswell of support for its permanent conservation.
Having succeeded in averting a solid waste facility, the group was equally vigorous in raising funds for the land’s permanent conservation. Earlier this year, the Town of Canterbury voted to invest $45,000 toward the land’s protection.
The Forest Society secured an agreement to purchase the land, arranged for NH Fish & Game to hold the fee ownership, and purchased a conservation easement on the property, NH Department of Fish and Game biologists are well positioned to ensure that the property continues to protect its rare species, natural communities, and unusual land forms. The Department’s participation was made possible through a program administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The land’s forest, wetlands, and shoreline supply the right mix of habitats for waterfowl, migrating songbirds, turtles, amphibians, and the occasional bald eagle and osprey, among other wildlife.
Ecologically rare species – including bank swallows, a species of special concern –make their homes among the land’s dry river bluff, sand dunes, and silver maple floodplain forest – all are dentified as high priority natural communities for conservation by the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Inventory.
The land also protects the underlying aquifer formed 10,000 years ago by glacial Lake Merrimack.
The New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) contributed to the project, accepting an executory interest in the conservation easement as well as a guarantee of public access. In addition, the Upper Merrimack Oxbow became the first project to receive funding through the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Aquatic Resource Mitigation Fund, which will ensure the protection of the land’s aquatic resources and mitigate wetland impacts elsewhere in the Merrimack River watershed..
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also participated in the project with the goal of restoring anadromous fish to the Merrimack River watershed. The woody debris and shading contributed by the property, as well as the protection of the river bed itself, all contribute to safe passage of anadromous fish from the ocean to headwaters spawning grounds.
“Each agency had a specialized mission to accomplish, and each worked with the others to make the whole so much greater than the sum of the parts,” said Forest Society President/Forester Jane Difley. “The Oxbow project demonstrates that local, state, and federal conservation interests can combine forces to do great work.”
Join the Forest Society, citizens of Canterbury, New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game, and other project partners next Wednesday, September 22, as we celebration the conservation of the Canterbury Oxbow at 11 am. For details, contact email@example.com or call 603-224-9945.
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 Forest Society’s mission is to perpetuate the state’s forests by promoting land conservation and sustainable forestry. For more information, visit www.forestsociety.org.