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Land Gift Helps Protect Lake Morey

  • Mike Ackerman, of North Haverhill, N.H., grew up in Fairlee, Vt., accompanies his grandsons Ethan Ackerman, 7, left, and Gavin Ackerman, 4, both of Piermont, N.H., to swimming lessons at Lake Morey on July 26, 2018, in Fairlee. The Lake Morey Foundation recently purchased 148 acres on Morey Mountain, in the background, and gave it to Upper Valley Land Trust for conservation and management. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A trail leads to the Upper Valley Land Trust-owned property Cliff’s Cliff at the Palisades in Fairlee, Vt., on July 26, 2018. The Lake Morey Foundation recently purchased 148 acres on Morey Mountain in Fairlee and gave it to UVLT for conservation and management. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Lake Morey Foundation raised more than $400,000 in 2017 to purchase 148 acres on Mount Morey in Fairlee, Vt. The foundation gave the land to the Upper Valley Land Trust to own and manage. (Lake Morey Foundation - Smith Reed)



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, July 29, 2018

Fairlee — If every lake were to lay claim to its own monster, Lake Morey’s might best be represented by the hulking presence of Morey Mountain, the 900-foot behemoth across Lake Morey Road from the lake’s southeast shore. Thanks to a huge community effort, Morey’s monster is now conserved and protected.

The Lake Morey Foundation last month gifted a 148-acre property on Morey Mountain to the Upper Valley Land Trust, which plans to manage it, in part, for future public recreation and education. Nearly abutting the popular Palisades trail, the property adds to a growing network of protected woodlands in Fairlee, which also includes more than 1,500 acres within various lands making up the Fairlee Forest forest lands.

After a grassroots effort to raise more than $400,000 from mid-July to September last year, the Lake Morey Foundation acquired the property from Swamp Brook Associates, LLC, in March. That company, owned by a family that no longer lives in the area, had an original asking price about 10 years ago of around $1.5 million, according to LMF president Bruce Durgin. The Lake Morey Foundation — formed in the 1980s to protect and enhance Lake Morey and its watershed — considered that unattainable, and still did when the price had dropped to between $500,000 and$600,000 in 2012.

Once members of the Lake Morey Foundation and another organization, the 111-year-old Lake Morey Protective Association, saw the price had dropped to just under $400,000 last year, they made a pact to rally and purchase the land and protect it from future development.

“It was at the Lake Morey Protective Association’s annual meeting on the second Saturday in July last year,” Durgin said in a Thursday interview at Fairlee Town Beach, where Morey Mountain appears a towering sentinel watching over swimmers.

“One of (the Lake Morey Foundation’s) board members, Ray Clark, is on UVLT’s conservation advisory board, and he did a lot for the project. We put together a four-person a steering committee. We had a lot of meetings where we asked each other, ‘Can we do this ?’ As it turned out, we definitely could. The amount of support we got was amazing.”

By September, the foundation had enough pledged to acquire the Morey Mountain property, thanks to contributions from 97 donors. Every landowner, resident or businesses that was asked made some form of donation, Durgin said, and the organization also received grant money from the Hanover-based Byrne Foundation as well as support from the Aloha Foundation, which runs a pair of camps on the lake.

“That really helped us establish a base endowment,” said Durgin. “The Byrne Foundation pledged a $25,000 match, so it gave us a lot of confidence and incentive to fund-raise. We needed that extra boost.”

Because of the high value of the timber on Morey Mountain — mixed hardwood, including swaths of hemlock and red oak — a new owner insensitive to the aesthetics of the Lake Morey area could have feasibly clear-cut it, creating an uncharacteristic eyesore. Potentially even more detrimental might have been issues related to water runoff and erosion if Morey Mountain’s steep surface were developed.

Patty Armstrong, a seasonal Lake Morey resident and the foundation’s secretary, was particularly concerned about water quality issues.

“With our changing climate, intense storm events have increased noticeably, especially in the last 10-15 years,” Armstrong said. “Runoff from large parcels of developed land can have a very significant impact on water quality, and what impressed me the most was how much the community at large understood and appreciated that. It’s not only people who own property on the lake who care about this. It was an inspiring grassroots effort.”

UVLT hopes by this fall to conduct a natural resource inventory of the property, which lies within a larger area identified as a hot spot by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources because of its abundance of rare, endangered or threatened species. It contains a rare hemlock-sphagnum acidic basin swamp and rare vascular (swamp-based) plants, according to UVLT literature, and its eastern portion buffers an active nesting area for peregrine falcons.

After its assessment, UVLT will begin plans for low-impact recreation that may include trails and a summit lookout. UVLT vice president of conservation Peg Merrens hopes the area will host research and education outings such as school field trips.

“There are a lot of sensitive areas in there, which is why it’s so important that we do the assessment first,” Merrens said. “After that, we certainly hope it will be a place that everyone can enjoy.”

There are currently about 35 miles of mapped, signed and blazed trails in Fairlee forest lands, according to the Friends of the Fairlee Forest. That includes the aforementioned Palisades trail, several paths leading to 1,776-foot Bald Top Mountain, about three miles west of Lake Morey, and 1,238-foot Echo Mountain, just above Morey’s central western shore.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.