Thanks to a $50,000 challenge grant from the Russell Farm and Forest Conservation Foundation, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests is on its way to raising the $190,000 needed to forever conserve over 500 acres of forest lands owned by the Wilkins family, the eighth-generation owners of Wilkins Lumber Company in Milford.
Tom and Sally Wilkins are selling five conservation easements on 14 separate parcels in Amherst and Mont Vernon to the Forest Society at a bargain rate. The easements will allow the family to continue harvesting timber for its sawmill on the lands while guaranteeing that the lands will remain undeveloped and open to the public for pedestrian access.
The easements will protect forests, wetlands and streams that feed the Souhegan and Piscataquog rivers in the Merrimack River watershed. Like any well-managed working forest, the Wilkins acreage is home to diverse wildlife such as songbirds, amphibians, deer, moose and bears. The easements will ensure that these lands remain intact to continue to provide high-quality wildlife habitat.
Members of the public are invited to tour the sawmill and one of the forests to be conserved on May 11 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“The tour is an opportunity for members of the community to learn about the long history of the family business and the high conservation value of these lands to the towns of Mount Vernon and Amherst,” said Brian Hotz, senior director of strategic projects with the Forest Society. “Participants will gain an understanding of what good forest management practices look like as well as the challenges and benefits of running a timber mill in southern New Hampshire.”
The Forest Society is seeking tax-deductible donations for the project, with a target fundraising goal of $190,000 by Sept. 30. The total includes the modest purchase price in addition to surveying, legal and other transaction costs. The Russell Farm and Forest Conservation Foundation challenge grant will match contributions, dollar for dollar, up to $50,000. So far, the Forest Society has raised $20,000 in donations.
The Russell Foundation chose to support the project because of the Wilkins family’s longstanding stewardship of the lands as well as their location in a fast-growing area of the state, said Ian McSweeney, the nonprofit’s executive director.
“The family’s protection of this land through their longterm stewardship and active management to provide lumber for this region speaks volumes as to how they view and treat the land,” he said. “And the locations of these parcels add to existing conserved land in an area with high development pressure and in a part of the state where the majority of the population lives. People care a lot about what happens in their own back yards, and there are a lot of backyards impacted by this project.”
Wilkins Lumber was founded in 1808 by E.L. Hartshorn, who built a sawmill next to the brook on his farm in Milford. In the late 1800s, Hartshorn descendants married into the Wilkins family, who continued to operate and improve the mill. Always a source of local lumber, Wilkins Lumber has survived the Great Depression, the Hurricane of ’38, a fire started by a lightning strike and ongoing market challenges. Acquiring their own working timberlands and managing them well has been vital to the family business’s longevity.
Wilkins Lumber is located at 495 Mont Vernon St. in Milford. For more information about the free tour or the project, please call the Forest Society at 224-9945 or go to forestsociety.org.
Founded in 1901, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests is the state’s oldest and largest non-profit land conservation organization. Supported by 10,000 families and businesses, the Forest Society’s mission is to perpetuate the state’s forests by promoting land conservation and sustainable forestry. For more information, visit www.forestsociety.org.