A small group of dedicated volunteers that reached a tremendous goal

Barbara Richter, Executive Director, NH Association of Conservation Commissions

When the Stoddard Conservation Commission learned about the sale of 40 acres of forest and 4,000 feet of rare undeveloped  shoreland along Highland Lake they knew they had to act fast to preserve the property. “Failure was not an option” became their motto and they set out to protect the property. They were unable to find a land trust willing to take on the project, yet, undaunted they moved forward alone to ensure this property would be protected for future generations. They had to take on all aspects of the land conservation project from negotiating the purchase and sale, coordinating the fundraising efforts and writing grants.

This past summer the commission was successful in their mission to preserve the 40 acres of pristine beauty on Highland Lake in Stoddard, New Hampshire. Thanks to the generous contributions and grants from US Forest Service, NH Land and Community Investment Program, Mooseplate, and private foundations, the commission raised an astounding $1.5 million, to purchase the land and forever protect it as the Little Big Forest. Funds raised also create a stewardship endowment to help manage and protect the land in the future.

This ecological treasure maybe small in size but it provides critical habitat for wildlife that depend on its sheltered shoreland for food, water, cover and safety.  Ducks, geese, loons, blue herons, otters, and beaver are frequent visitors to the shoreland. The site is also important for bear, coyotes; moose, deer, that frequent the land, and bald eagles and osprey use the white pine canopy along the shore. The property is a key component of a wildlife corridor that connects protected lands on both sides of Highland Lake.

To fund the purchase of the property, the conservation commission established a local fund raising campaign and applied for numerous grants. The project required skills and experience from every member of the conservation commission. The chair of the commission is a licensed forester and he was able to conduct an ecological assessment. Other members of the commission provided skills and talents including GIS mapping, photography, promotional programs, and public speaking. Fundraising campaigns pulled together both little and big efforts like grant writing, movie nights and hot dog sales and even basketmaking classes.

The next step was to identify a reliable group of volunteers to help support the conservation commission efforts and expand local talents. The commission hired a videographer to create promotional video to help with fundraising and outreach. The effort involved one federal agency, two state agencies, two banks, four foundations, four charitable funds and 274 individuals.

Volunteers at Big Little Forest

Volunteers, community members, and students have all played an important role in helping to conserve Stoddard's Little Big Forest.

The purchase of this ecological treasure is just the first step towards long-term preservation. As the new owners of the land, the Town of Stoddard has a responsibility to future generations to ensure they have opportunity to explore the forest, learn about the importance of conservation, and seek peace in the natural landscape. The Stoddard Conservation Commission has plans to open the site to the public, establish a  trail system and boat launch for canoes and kayaks. The Little Big Forest also offers excellent access for educational programs. An existing cabin will be converted into a classroom for the James Faulkner Elementary School. Campsites will be added for Kroka Expeditions, a local wilderness school and other youth groups to enjoy. The commission will be developing a stewardship plan to ensure the proper use and protection of the natural resources on the site. Two public listening sessions were held in September to seek feedback and input from the community on how the Little Big Forest can best serve the needs of both people and wildlife. Public feedback sessions are an important step in creating a stewardship plan supported by the community.

Students at Big Little Forest

An existing cabin will be converted into a classroom for the James Faulkner Elementary School.

The Little Big Forest stands as a testament to the power of community and the dedication to environmental conservation. The community of Stoddard joined together to ensure that this pristine shoreland of wilderness will thrive and remain untouched for generations to come. With its rich biodiversity, picturesque landscapes, and tranquil atmosphere, the Little Big Forest has now become a sanctuary for both wildlife and nature enthusiasts alike.

Learn more about the Little Big Forest.