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Wilton family agrees to protect Abbott Hill

Union Leader Correspondent

May 01. 2013 10:11PM
Historic farmland atop Abbott Hill in Wilton is being preserved for use by the Temple-Wilton Community Farm, the High Mowing School, and the town of Wilton through a new effort currently in the works. (Nancy Bean Foster PHOTO)

WILTON -- ONE OF THE town's founding families has agreed to part with more than 100 acres of pristine farmland in order to preserve its heritage on Abbott Hill, and an effort is under way to raise the money necessary to fund the project.

For seven generations, the Frye family has owned a large swath of land atop Abbott Hill, according to Ian McSweeney, who is overseeing the project. The land was secured by the family in the mid-1700s as a land grant from Gov. Benning Wentworth, and the Frye's have stubbornly protected the land from development.

In the 1940s, part of the Frye land was sold to a woman named Beulah Hepburn Emmett so she could found the High Mowing School, the oldest Waldorf high school in the country that draws students from around the world to the Wilton hilltop.

Abbott Hill is also home to the Temple-Wilton Community Farm, the first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm in New Hampshire and now the oldest continually running CSA model farm in the country, founded by farmers Lincoln Geiger, Anthony Graham and Trauger Groh.

For years, the farm and the school have been closely watching the remaining 105 acres owned by Gary, Gail and Austin Frye, concerned that the property might be sold for development. Offers were made to the Fryes from time to time, said McSweeney, but the family wasn't interested in selling. However, the family has had a change of heart and, providing that the land will be preserved and used for open space and agriculture just as it has since the 1700s, they've agreed to sell.

Now the effort is on to raise the $1.6 million to purchase the 105 acres from the Fryes, and to conserve an additional 54 acres of land owned by High Mowing School to create a massive tract of protected fields and forest at the top of Abbott Hill.

McSweeney said the project has already received some serious money.

"Three weeks ago we received $800,000 from the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program," McSweeney said. "Having them as a partner will make it easier to raise other funds."

The school board for High Mowing has agreed to give $200,000 to the project, and the town of Wilton is considering using conservation funds as well. The rest of the funds will have to be raised through grants and public and private donations, McSweeney said, but with a strong financial foundation already laid, he's confident the money can be found.

While some of the land will continue to serve the same purposes it does currently - fields for haying, and forests - the school and the Temple-Wilton Community Farm will be using some of the property for agricultural education.

High Mowing teacher Brad Miller, who has been instrumental in constructing the land deal with the Frye family, is currently running a small CSA farm with students at the school. McSweeney said the land purchase will allow Miller to expand his program to offer more educational opportunities for the students.

And the Temple-Wilton Community Farm would like to use some of the land to grow organic hay and straw, a commodity that has to be shipped in from other parts of the country because it's not easy to find in New Hampshire, McSweeney said.

The town of Wilton would like to use some of the land to expand its trails along the river that runs through town, and there's a hill on the property that would make a perfect location for an outdoor amphitheater for performances and concerts.

"Right now it's just a matter of getting the money together," said McSweeney. "We need to raise at least another $300,000 in the next 12 to 14 months."

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