Hanover hopes to transfer Lebanon trails and conservation back to town

by Grayce Gibbs | 2/28/19 2:50am

After over 30 years of caring for 200 acres of land under trail, pond and conservation easements in the City of Lebanon, the town of Hanover is hoping to move away from its management of the acreage.

In a Feb. 14 presentation to the Lebanon Conservation Commission, Hanover Trails Committee chair Bill Mlacak wrote that Hanover hopes to transfer the trail and conservation easements that it owns in Lebanon — which specify the usage of the land and are separate from ownership of the land itself — back to Lebanon.

According to Mark Goodwin, city staff representative for the Lebanon Conservation Commission, Lebanon is not interested in taking over those easements, so the Hanover Trails Committee must find another interested entity, likely a conservation organization such as the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests or the Upper Valley Land Trust. 

In 1987, Dartmouth wanted a portion of Indian Ridge — the land under easement — to build the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. The town of Hanover, the landowner at the time, traded ownership of the land to Dartmouth in return for land that the College owned in Sachem Village, but retained the right to use and take care of the land through an easement.

Though Hanover has cared for the land since 1987, the town’s Conservation Commission — responsible for conservation and trail easements — would now prefer to focus within Hanover’s town limits, according to the Hanover Trails Committee proposal.

The land rights that Hanover wants to transfer to Lebanon are adjacent to conservation lands managed by the Lebanon Conservation Commission. Transferring the easements to Lebanon would allow for “coherent, rather than fragmented management,” which is preferred “from both the natural-resource and administrative standpoints,” according to Hanover’s proposal. 

However, Goodwin explained that for the past decade, Lebanon has moved away from owning the easements on its conservation properties. He said that Lebanon’s stance to not take the Indian Ridge easement is based more on its policy than the merits of the property.

Holding both the property rights and the easement means that “you would not be able to protect the property from yourself,” Goodwin said. 

“There would be no third-party oversight, so if the Lebanon Conservation Commission held the easement on property that they own and they weren’t holding up the terms of that easement, there is the potential that no one would call them out,” he said. “There’s no one watching.”

Since Lebanon does not want to take over management of the land, a third party will likely take over. 

“I don’t think anyone is taking over those easements yet,” Upper Valley Trails Alliance executive director Russell Hirshcler said. “There are a couple of land conservation organizations in the region that could be approached to be asked to take them on, but I don’t think there have been any formal discussions.”

Goodwin said that the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests is a possibility.

“The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests feels like the starting point because [Lebanon owns] the property that abuts Indian Ridge ... and the easement is held by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, so it could almost be viewed as an expansion,” Goodwin said. 

He added that the Upper Valley Land Trust is another organization that could take over the land.

Hirshcler noted that the land includes both conservation easements and trail easements. Though the majority of land is under conservation easements, which are generally held by land conservation organizations, there are a series of trail corridor easements in the area, which the Upper Valley Trails Alliance could take. 

“Because we are a trails alliance, our only role in this would be to potentially hold the trail corridor easements, which are different from the conservation easements,” Hirshcler said.