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Commission eyes 122 acres along Merrimack

HOOKSETT - The Hooksett Conservation Commission is raising money to purchase 122 acres of undeveloped land along the Merrimack River where it hopes to create a 1,000 to 2,000-foot protective "natural buffer" on the river's east bank.

The purchase, designated the Merrimack Riverfront Project by the Commission, is designed to "protect the Merrimack River by permanently preserving the property's wildlife habitats and natural communities, while providing easily accessible outdoor recreation to the public and an outdoor classroom for elementary, secondary and college students and their teachers."

The commission lists a number of New Hampshire endangered species with habitats within a mile of the land, including: Blanding's turtle, eastern hognose snake, sweet golden-rod, and golden heather. Threatened species with habitats in the area include the bald eagle and wild lupine.

Should the property be purchased, the land will be placed under protection through a conservation easement held by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

The purchase will cover a 3/4-mile stretch between the Hooksett Dam and the Allenstown town line, including a 2-acre island, parcels of corn field, hayfield, floodplain forest, and the former site of Head Brickyard, which sourced the construction of Amoskeag Millyard in Manchester as well as other Southern New England millyards. A 3.5-acre parcel of abandoned railroad bed is also being donated by the Manchester Sand and Gravel Co., which the commission plans to use in support of trails overlooking the river, as well as to provide access for swimming and paddling in the river. The land is currently owned by the Brown Trust and the Craig Trust. A purchase-and-sale agreement has been made with a deadline of December of 2012, though the terms allow for an extension should the funds not be secured in time.

Overall, the project is slated to cost $468,000. According to the conservation commission, $155,400 has been raised so far in grants and private contributions, including an $80,000 grant from the New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, and an anonymous $20,000 challenge-match grant which agrees to match every dollar contributed by a local citizen or business. Another $125,000 in grant applications is pending.

The project has been well received by a number of town departments and organizations. Endorsements for the project have been issued by the Hooksett Town Council, School Board, Planning Board, Historical Society, and Heritage Commission.

The conservation commission lists its supporters as the Hooksett Kiwanis, Hooksett Lions, Audubon Society, Southern New Hampshire University, Amoskeag Rowing Club, and Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission.

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