College sells farm to be added to the Appalachian Trail

by Debora Hyemin Han | 4/11/17 2:15am

On March 22, Dartmouth and The Trust for Public Land, in collaboration with the town of Hanover and Hanover Conservancy, completed a $1.84 million transaction to sell the College’s Hudson Farm property to the TPL. The TPL, which is a nonprofit organization, then transferred the property to the National Park Service to add it to the Appalachian Trail, which spans from Maine to Georgia.

The 175-acre property, located in Etna, was added to Dartmouth’s endowment in 1963 as an outdoor and recreational asset, according to Ellen Arnold, director of real estate and associate general counsel for campus services.

According to Hanover town manager Julia Griffin, the town had long been interested in conserving the Hudson Farm property. The farm is part of a recreation and wildlife corridor called “green pearls” that begins at the Lebanon town line, wraps around downtown Hanover and connects to the Connecticut River. She said town members regularly expressed concerns regarding the future of the property, given its popular trails and its view of Mount Ascutney.

This continued interest in the property led to the beginning of communications regarding conservation of the land began between Griffin and the College in 2012. Griffin reached out to the Hanover Conservancy, a nonprofit that had assisted the town with previous conservation projects, for advice on how to go about protecting the property. According to executive director of the Hanover Conservancy Adair Mulligan the organization referred Griffin to the TPL and ultimately began working with TPL senior project manager J.T. Horn, who has had extensive experience with AT projects in the past. The TPL facilitates conservation acquisitions with a stated mission of maintaining land for people, working with real estate problem solving, fundraising and acting as an intermediary between a private land owner and a public agency, Horn said.

According to Horn, the price for the Hudson Farm was more than the town could afford on its own. The TPL helped construct an acquisition strategy that would conserve the property and provide Dartmouth a fair market value for the property. Once the TPL understood that the College was a willing seller, it entered into negotiations with the College’s NPS office. The organization also reached out to NPS to confirm that it would be interested in owning the property and adding it to the AT.

After initiating negotiations during the first year, the TPL went through a two-and-a-half-year process to service money for the acquisition, which ultimately came from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a Congressional act that redirects a small percentage of offshore oil and gas revenue to a fund for federal and state land acquisition and land protection. LWCF funds are mostly directed toward protecting parks and recreation resources. Horn said that much of the process of this sale was building political support to obtain this federal funding. In collaboration with the Hanover Conservancy and the town, the TPL led the effort to gain the support of the New Hampshire Congressional delegation for the conservation project.

“Without someone pushing for the Congressional appropriations, without someone helping with the real estate due diligence, without somebody helping with the community relationships, this kind of a project probably wouldn’t have a chance,” Horn said.

Mulligan added that President Donald Trump is considering a budget cut of about $120 million for the LWCF, which essentially made the acquisition possible, and that it is imperative for people to reach out to their congressional delegations.

Griffin noted that the College “graciously agreed” to accept the price determined by appraisers hired by NPS, which was lower than the original asking price.

In addition to finding funding for the acquisition costs of the land itself, the TPL paid for the transaction costs of the process, which included paying for the appraiser, surveyor and parking lot use. It also worked extensively with the town and the Hanover Conservancy to create an endowment for the property that would be used to maintain the land once it was acquired. The Hanover Conservancy contributed a significant amount of financial support to the endowment and worked with the family of local environmentalist Audrey McCullom, who agreed to redirect individual gifts sent to them in her honor to the Hudson Farm. According to Mulligan, the U.S. Forest Service in the White Mountain area will be overseeing the property, but locally, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy will be keeping an eye on the management.

Horn said that the entire community will benefit from the property remaining an open space and being available for hiking and wildlife habitats.

Griffin, Horn and Mulligan said that the Hudson Farm acquisition would not have been possible without the College’s willingness to hold the property off the market.

“The College was a very, very patient landowner,” Horn said. “To work on a land acquisition for five years is very unusual, and the College was very generous to stick with the process for as long as they did.”