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The Meaning of Small Things… A Spring Night Discovery Spawns a Land-Saving Decision

“Country living takes the edge off life,” say both Ken and Vicki Coffin, landowners of a 55-acre property in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, which is now a permanently protected wildlife sanctuary. When they first found the property, they were seeking a peaceful place to live, even though it would mean a much longer commute to work. They even overlooked the fact that the property was only being offered for rent, because the land itself was exactly what they wanted.

“As soon as I got to the place, I felt there was something about it,” says Ken, “I walked out onto the brook’s little bridge extending halfway out to the rocks, and I was mesmerized by the beauty the whole time I was there.” After having made frequent moves, Vicki says she was “looking for a place to put down some heavy roots,” and wanted “someplace quiet and by a brook.”

Their land offers the kind of quiet that allows nature’s voices to be heard—like the owls Vicki listened to one November night, hooting to one another from across the valley, and then, as though they had come together in a circle around the house, singing her to sleep. Moose and black bears flourish here, too, as the land provides a corridor for wildlife between several larger protected lands. Its latitude and elevation allow for great diversity in habitat, so it supports a wide array of trees and plants. Located on a migratory flyway, the sanctuary is also a welcome stopover for migratory birds.

While Ken and Vicki were renting the property, Ken tried to think of ways to afford purchasing it. He briefly contemplated whether he might recover some of the cost of the purchase by selling a portion of the land, or, perhaps, by allowing some logging or other activity. He knew he’d have to find a way to replace the retirement money required for the purchase.

“All those possibilities had gone through my mind,” says Ken. “But one night, in early April, I was reading David Carroll’s Swampwalker’s Journal, and he was describing a vernal pool where spotted salamanders can be seen, but only once a year on a rainy spring night. I was fascinated, so I got a flashlight, walked out to a vernal pool on our land, and I saw yellow spots everywhere!”

“Here was a species I’d never heard of and never seen before—never knew anything about it—and I realized there’s just so much here that we don’t even see and never take notice of,” he says. “It opened my eyes to that aspect of the land, and from then on, our only focus was to save this property, and we started looking for ways to do that.”

After purchasing the property, the Coffins coordinated with Five Rivers Conservation Trust and the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust—with support from the Russell Foundation and the Quabbin to Cardigan Initiative—to protect the land and wildlife and secure funds for permanent stewardship. “HSWLT is the organization whose primary interest is to protect the animals,” says Ken, “That’s why we were so glad to have it involved. We needed that extra layer of protection to prohibit hunting and trapping.”

Recognizing that other landowners have limited financial resources, too, Ken encourages seeking similar cooperative arrangements for land protection. “Find several organizations to partner with,” he says, “and get it done. Just keep trying, and don’t give up!” As to what launched the search for partners to protect this land for wildlife, we must remember a silent, but significant, partner—a six- or seven-inch spotted salamander, serving as messenger for the vast, mysterious, and wonderful world on which it depends.

Spotted Salamander

Spotted salamanders are difficult to find. Adults spend most of their day hiding underground or beneath rocks and logs. But you can see more and read about them here.

 

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