Hanover looking for help with 200 acres it’s responsible for in Lebanon

  • A map of the area west of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., shows conservation easements and trails that are maintained by the Town of Hanover. (Courtesy Town of Hanover)

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, February 18, 2019

LEBANON — The town of Hanover is seeking a partner to care for roughly 200 acres of trail, pond and conservation easements it oversees in neighboring Lebanon.

Hanover town officials said they would like to focus efforts on the 105 miles of municipally maintained trails in its own borders rather than spend time and money on easements in Lebanon, which protect a corridor from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to Sachem Village.

“We’ve got our hands full with lots of trails and some big projects that have recently happened,” Hanover Trails Committee Chairman Bill Mlacak told the Lebanon Conservation Commission last week.

The easements protect the 130-acre Indian Ridge, a trailhead north of DHMC and a pond near Route 120.

They also cover a system of hiking trails that connect the properties to Sachem Fields and the city-owned Boston Lot Conservation Area.

While the land is in Lebanon, it’s unlikely the city will take on its stewardship anytime soon.

“The policy has been we don’t own easements,” Mark Goodwin, a city planner who works in conservation, said on Friday. “It mainly came about in response to when we were putting easements on some of our own properties. There’s no one to protect you from yourselves.”

Whatever entity owns an easement has to be willing to defend it, and Lebanon hasn’t always been willing to take on that role, he said.

Hanover has held several easements in Lebanon since 1987, when it transferred ownership of several properties to Dartmouth College.

The land swap provided the college with space for DHMC, which was completed in 1991.

In return, the town got some of the playing fields near Route 10 and land under the James W. Campion III Rink.

“At the time, there were trails on the ground, and the town wanted to make sure those trails were preserved,” Mlacak said in an audio recording of Thursday’s meeting. “So some of those easements are on places where there are trails, and some of them are on places where people thought it would be nice to have trails.”

With the help of the Upper Valley Trails Alliance, Hanover has contractually cared for and surveyed the easements. Work crews recently installed signs, blazed trails and fixed a bridge through the woods, Mlacak said.

But because Lebanon owns several nearby conservation lands, it might be better for the city to take responsibility for the trails, he said.

At the same time, the city also should discuss relaxing restrictions on the easements, many of which prohibit mountain bikes, Mlacak said.

Rules forbidding bikes were common in the ’80s, but mountain bike groups since have proven themselves good stewards and partners, he said.

“If you guys had the easements and ownership of the easements, we would be happy to come in and be able to be a participant in being able to enforce these easements (and) take care of the land,” said Brian Riordan, president of the Upper Valley Mountain Bike Association, during the meeting.

With the city unwilling to take the easements, Mlacak said on Friday that he might consider contacting the Upper Valley Land Trust or another group capable of protecting the land.

For the ownership transfer to occur this year, he has to have a partner selected by April, so that a warrant could be drafted for Town Meeting in May.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.