A Few Profiles about the People Behind PLC's Protected Lands
People & Their Places: Binny and Zandy Clark
by John McCausland
This story of 100 acres of protected land on the shoulder of Joe English Hill in New Boston begins with a couple of tow-headed boys playing with tadpoles several decades ago. How so? Let me tell you…
In 2007 Alexander “Zandy” Clark spent a day walking with a land surveyor over property he and his brother, Winfield (aka “Binny”), had inherited from their mother. It would make a nice 15 lots, convenient to Manchester and beyond. But as Zandy walked down the old class VI road back to his car that day, he spied a boy playing with tadpoles in a tiny brook flowing through a 200-year old stone culvert – just as he and Binny themselves had done years before.
Development would replace the ancient culvert with a $100,000 bridge, a 12-foot steel pipe, and four feet of fill. Gone would be the culvert, the tadpoles, the deep woods and the meadows. It took Zandy only a moment to decide – the land must be preserved! Preserved forever – for little boys and girls to play with tadpoles and for bigger boys and girls, men and women to walk its paths and enjoy its wildlife and beauty.
In 1919, Zandy and Binny's grandparents had purchased a 1760 farmhouse on a hill above New Boston village. Back then, their grandparents lived in Manchester, where their grandfather, Winfield Shaw, was a mill manager. The farm they bought was failing, like many others, and was originally their summer home. But when Mr. Shaw retired, he and his wife added plumbing and electricity and moved there to live year round. Their daughter Rhoda raised the five Clark children in a house just down the lane, moving to Claremont during their school years. When the grandparents died, Rhoda, then widowed, moved back into the big farmhouse. And there she died last year, just three weeks shy of age 100. Now Binny and his sister Cathy live in the rambling farmhouse, which remains a family center, welcoming 22 Clark relatives last Christmas.
Conserving land is a Clark family tradition. A 26-acre tract of meadow and woods just to the west of the farmhouse, with views of Crotched Mountain and the Lyndeborough hills, was under easement when Binny and Zandy’s mother purchased it some years ago. And back in the 1960s, Mrs. Clark bought close to another 100 acres, once the Lewis family farm, on nearby Joe English Road. That parcel, the one Zandy walked with the surveyor a few years back, is the one the brothers protected with two conservation easements in 2008. A sign now designates the Alexander and Winfield Clark Conservation Area, which features two beaver ponds, a lovely waterfall, and a diverse hardwood and softwood forest. A recent visitor spotted deer, a blue heron, ducks, cardinal flowers, and water lilies.
When the Clark brothers roamed the woods and fields as children on their way to the old stone culvert with its tempting frogs and tadpoles, they had to pass the tumble-down farmhouse of an old recluse. Today the same house, beautifully remodeled, sits by the lane on which they walked, now a paved driveway. And in that house lives the tow-headed boy Zandy spied five years ago, setting in motion the protection forever of 100 acres and all its wonders – tadpoles included!
Editor's note: Binny Clark passed away in May 2016
Directions to Harry’s Trail on the Clark Easements, New Boston:
From the center of New Boston, head up Meetinghouse Hill Road (between the Fire Station and Town Hall). At the T, turn left onto Joe English Road. In 3/10th of a mile there is a sign for the Clark easements on the left. Take the next left onto Lewis Road. Park anywhere along Lewis Road and walk the rest of the way down and continue on the woodland track. As the track slopes uphill, you will see the trail entrance on your left. Please respect the private lands that border this easement. Enjoy!
People & Their Places: Lillian Sizemore
by John McCausland
Every one of the 90 properties that PLC protects has a distinct story to tell: a story of its forest, fields, streams or wetlands, its wildlife and plants -- but also a story about the people with vision who made a commitment to protect their land forever from habitat destruction and development.
The trails on PLC’s Dow-Sizemore Wildlife Preserve on Dudley Brook Road in Weare have their own, ever unfolding, stories to tell, and so does Lillian Sizemore, the generous and farsighted woman who donated a conservation easement on the property to PLC some 25 years ago. She and her husband, Bob, moved to Weare in 1974. Bob had just retired from the Air Force as a career officer, serving as a fighter pilot in Korea and Vietnam. Although the couple was from Memphis, where they had known each other as children, they were looking for a retirement home in rural New England – a refuge from the horrors of war that Bob had experienced.
Lillian wanted a view, but they quickly discovered that their budget didn’t extend to that. Bob wanted woods, but not evergreens; he loved New Hampshire’s fall foliage, but didn’t like conifers. Their real estate agent showed them dozens of properties, but none suited them until they came upon the old Dow home on a gravel back road along Dudley Brook in Weare. “This is it,” Bob decreed, leaving Lillian sputtering over how to cope with the antiquated kitchen. The house was heated only by wood cut from the 10-acre lot across the road. Although the land had handsome, large, white pines, these were offset by enough maples, oaks, birch, and other deciduous trees to satisfy Bob.
Over the years that the Sizemores lived in the old Dow house, Bob devoted his days to their woodland. He built a system of trails gracefully winding through the woods and over its gentle grades. When Lillian would propose travel to some distant spot, Bob would reply that the “happiest I ever am is on my little red tractor in the middle of my own woods.” He was always glad to come home. Bob lovingly tended the tiny old Dow cemetery by the road at the corner of the property, running a hose from the house in a futile effort to grow grass on the shaded, moss-covered graves.
In 1988 Bob Sizemore died and was buried in the Dow cemetery, with space beside him for Lillian when her time comes. A neighbor down the road had recently sold off some of his property to development, distressing the Sizemores at the impairment of the rural character of their neighborhood. Although Lillian was moving to Maine to be in a small house near friends, she didn’t want to see her beloved woods developed. So she turned to an acquaintance, Bobby Reeve, the Weare town forester. Bobby brought in the PLC, and a donation of the property was arranged.
Today a rustic sign welcomes walkers to the trails Bob Sizemore built. The woods are unusually attractive, a pleasing example of an old growth forest. The Dow-Sizemore trails link to others that extend south along Dudley Brook over adjacent properties. A snowmobile trail is being planned by the Weare Winter Wanderers that, with PLC approval and Lillian Sizemore’s blessing, will utilize a small corner of the Dow-Sizemore trails to better connect Weare with Henniker for winter recreation.
Today, telling me the tale of her and Bob’s beloved woods from her cozy home on the Maine coast, Lillian Sizemore glows with happiness at the pleasure others derive from the property that meant so much to her and her late husband.
People & Their Places: Verna Martin and Alicia Walker
by John McCausland
Verna Martin and Alicia Walker have been friends and neighbors on Mount Dearborn Road in Weare for 48 years. Now in their nineties, the two were born just 20 days apart. Both have protected their land with PLC conservation easements, but their stories are quite different and represent the varied motivations people have in protecting their land.
Verna was born in the room she still sleeps in and hopes to die in. Her old farmhouse came into the family in the 1850s, when her great grandfather, James Grant, a tenant on the farm, married the widow who owned it. James passed the property to his son Hiram, and Hiram to his son Leon, Verna’s father. Leon was the last family member to actively farm the property, giving up farming in 1938 to start the first Ford dealership in New Hampshire, now Grant Family Motors in Manchester. The Grants continued to live on their property and run a maple syrup operation, which Verna’s cousin continues to this day. Verna remembers her father telling her, “Never sell your land!” The land was always there, good times or hard.
That ethic, that rooted sense of continuity and security, is shared by Verna’s three children, including Terry Knowles, who with her husband Craig lives just down the road. As Terry explains, “No one in the family ever thought of dividing our land.” As Verna grew older, she and her family turned to PLC a few years ago to discuss putting easements on three parcels, totaling 85 acres, that will ultimately make up the Grant Family Farm Conservation Area. The first two easements were completed last year; the last is in the planning stage. The approach has been a combination of gifts and bargain sales – the latter to provide some cash to support home health care for Verna. Not only has she thus been able to stay in her home, but she also has peace of mind of knowing the family legacy will endure after she is gone.
Alicia Walker, unlike Verna Martin, was born elsewhere – in Connecticut. “We were foreigners,” she says with a chuckle, remembering when she, her late husband Raymond, and their six children moved to their rambling old farmhouse in 1963, just up the road from Verna. “We were looking for country living and a place we could afford with seven bedrooms,” explains Alicia. They bought the Dearborn homestead, one of the oldest homes in Weare. Their 114 acres includes the summit of Mount Dearborn, the highest point in town.
The Walkers planted Christmas trees in their open fields, a few of which remain as towering giants. “We got 1000 seedlings from the state nursery,” Alicia recounts. Interested in environmentalism even before they moved to New Hampshire, Alicia and Raymond were early members of the PLC. They and their children were enthusiastic about putting the land under conservation. Today, from her front porch, Alicia can look out over miles and miles of rolling hills and mountains to the south. While the property will pass from her family after she is gone, it will remain intact, protected forever, as it was when the Walkers found it, and when the Dearborn family homesteaded there in the 1760s.
So, two wonderful women, two families, two stories, each with its different personal twists. But out of them, thanks to PLC, emerges one common legacy for the future. And these neighbors on Mount Dearborn Road have inspired a quiet movement on what they call “the block.” PLC members Neal and Heleen Kurk spearheaded the effort to put properties on the road into a historic district to help preserve their architectural character. There are other large holdings in the area which, if put under easement in the future, can connect to the Peacock Marsh wildlife preserve below Mount Dearborn Road, which would then form one of the largest contiguous protected parcels in the Piscataquog Watershed. Thank you, Verna, Alicia, and all the others who, working together, are making such projects possible.
Editor's note: Verna Martin passed away in October 2011 and Alicia Walker passed away in January 2014. The Grant Family Farm Conservation Area and the Walker Conservation Easement serve as perpetual reminders of their commitment to conservation.
People & Their Places: Great Meadow
by Bob Todd
My favorite place in the watershed is the Great Meadow. This notable landmark is my source of connectivity with family heritage, town history, ecological awareness, natural beauty, and recreation. My most memorable experiences with this wetland have instilled deep feelings tying me to this place.
I was introduced to the Great Meadow at a very young age, perhaps 7 years old, when I accompanied my father on cold winter days to the red maple swamp at the southwestern part of the meadow. He harnessed Dick and Jerry, his team of Percherons, to the scoot and we went to the meadow to haul back red maple cordwood that had been previously cut and bucked into four foot pieces and split for easy handling. Dad wore ice creepers on his boots and the horses had sharp cleats screwed to their shoes for traction. For years this part of the meadow, owned by my family, was a source of firewood.
The proximity of the Great Meadow to my ancestral home provided me access to splendid adventures during my youth for nature observance, fishing, and hunting. I hunted the deer that were attracted to all edges of the Meadow. I also hunted the colorful wood duck that nested in tree cavities over the shallow water in the southwest portion of the Meadow. Using a long bamboo pole with line and hook baited with worms from the garden, I caught brook trout, which my grandmother cooked for me. It was pretty darned good fishing where the Buxton Brook flowed between the old bridge abutments on the John Newton Dodge Road. In the summer when the Buxton Brook was at low flow I struggled upstream from the old bridge along the muddy bank of the brook and caught bullfrogs with a forked spear. My grandmother pan-fried tasty frog legs, but my mother wouldn’t touch them.
My connection with Great Meadow continued after I graduated from High School. For over two years I worked at the Great Meadows Farm owned by Elliott and Linda Hersey. An experience gained during that time is etched in my mind for life. On the northwesterly edge of the flowage there was a lowland area that had apparently been dry enough to support a white pine forest with trees that reached a height of 60 to 80 feet. Due to earth and stone that had been used as fill between the old bridge abutments at the outlet about ten years prior, the water level was raised and the pine trees died. The stems were secure and top limbs made excellent nest platforms for the great blue heron rookery that settled there during my stay at the farm.
I awoke at five in the morning to assist with milking the Holstein herd. In the spring I did not need an alarm clock. About that time all the heron mothers were busily providing breakfast to their hungry chicks, 4-5 in each nest – what a racket!
The heron rookery attracted the attention of Hamilton Rice of Goffstown. (a long-time supporter and founding member of PWA/PLC), and Mr. Rice, an avid wildlife photographer, was interested in setting up a blind as close to the rookery as he could without interrupting the extravaganza that was staged there every morning. He counted fifty nests there with the aid of his telescopic lens. I think of him often and wonder what happened to his collection of photos after he passed away.
In the evenings each spring there was another song from the meadow; the deep bass vocals of bullfrogs. I was amazed that creatures so small could make such a booming summons to mates. In proportion to their size it must be one of the loudest mating calls in the animal kingdom.
There is so much more I could say about Great Meadow. Today the importance of my favorite wetland plays out in a role different from 275 years ago. Then it contributed to the survival of families in town; today it is the largest wetland in the town and its functions and values, though different from what they were fifty years ago may exceed the functions and values of all others. About 42 acres of the meadow are owned by the town and approximately three quarters of its upland perimeter is protected by conservation easements held by the PLC.
How does this wetland compare with other habitats in the state? The N.H. Wildlife Action Plan recognizes the Great Meadow as being part of the highest ranked wildlife habitat in NH (2010). That the Great Meadow is as highly ranked as an ecological superstar pleases me greatly. The Great Meadow has helped nurture the seed from which grew my understanding at a young age that this neighborhood is where my home is.
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