Robb on the Radar, Part III

The Saga Continues…

A boulder rising out of the waters of Robb Reservoir. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen))

The first flush of spring green on Robb Reservoir.
(photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

It’s another decade (and another century) since we left off with our story. The original owner of the Robb Reservoir property has passed away, and his daughter is now the point person for the cast of investors wishing to cash in on the property. In the summer of 2003, David Houghton came over from the Trust for Public Land’s Vermont-New Hampshire office to head NH Audubon. Early in his tenure, we discussed high-priority land protection projects in this neck of the woods, namely a parcel of land on Bald Mountain (“the Tamposi land”) and Robb Reservoir (“Stoddard Main”) — the two biggest properties abutting NH Audubon’s dePierrefeu-Willard Pond Sanctuary. I gave him a position paper I’d written at the suggestion of Paul Doscher of the Forest Society titled, “Landscape Scale Conservation: Convergence of Robb Reservoir and North Branch Headwaters.”

Land prices were rising closer to the landowners’ aspirations, and David seemed to have a knack for negotiating deals with landowners bent on building their fortunes. By 2005, he had struck deals for both properties and won preliminary approval for federal Forest Legacy grants for each one. Late that year, with the Willard Pond project largely wrapped up but Robb Reservoir still “in the oven,” he turned to his friend and former colleague Rodger Krussman at The Trust for Public Land (TPL) to help complete the project. In January of 2006, TPL took on the option to buy the Robb Reservoir property — with a price tag that was ten times the 1980s appraised value!

It’s Not Who Protects What, But What Gets Protected

Robb Reservoir with snowy banks. (photo © Meade Cadot)

A fresh coat of snow on the shoreline of Robb Reservoir. (photo © Meade Cadot)

TPL’s modus operandi differs from other national land trusts in that it does not retain ownership of any of the land it protects, nor does it hold conservation easements. So, the big question was: if TPL took on completion of the Robb Reservoir project, who would end up owning the land? Over the two and a half decades of building the SuperSanctuary, the Harris Center had worked cooperatively with and supported other organizations — including NH Audubon, SPNHF, NHFG, and The Nature Conservancy — on numerous nearby land protection projects. Our attitude had always been, “It’s not who protects what, but what gets protected.” In this case, however, all agreed that the Harris Center seemed the most logical owner.

This was in part because we had already protected some land around Robb Reservoir and Rye Pond, thanks to the Baker family and conservation easements donated by Jill Fish and Ken Henninger and by Ruth and Fred Ward. And it didn’t hurt our cause when our corporate council, Stephen Froling, sent a letter to TPL dated April 26, 2006, asking that we join the discussion about ownership. Thanks to a SuperSanctuary supporter, the letter also included a generous check towards the cost of the land, with the promise of another check once TPL made the purchase. Not surprisingly, Rodger then asked Stephen to head the fundraising committee responsible for reaching out to private donors for the Robb Reservoir project, while TPL took on the bulk of the work to get federal and state grants towards the costs of purchasing the land.

It Takes a Village

A team of birders scouts for spring migrants among the Robb Reservoir wetlands. (photo © Meade Cadot)

Stephen assembled a formidable crew for his committee, including George Cahill and Geoff Jones of Stoddard, Don Healy of Stoddard and New York City, Charlie Levesque of Antrim, and Don Stokes of Hancock, with me as staff representative. Geoff Jones was an early bright star. On May 10, leading up to Stoddard’s town meeting, he showed an illustrated PowerPoint presentation on the history of land conservation in Stoddard and the importance of now protecting Robb Reservoir. Stoddard is a small town, but when Town Meeting took place, the participants voted to contribute $50,000 to the project—and the vote was unanimous! On top of that, one of those citizens pledged (anonymously) to match the town’s contribution with 50 cents for every dollar.

So we were closing in on a resolution, at long last. Be sure to read the final installment of Robb on the Radar to see how three decades of efforts on behalf of this special place turned out!

–Meade Cadot