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Saturday, October 11, 2003

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A sign was posted to at a Milton Mills farm to provide an example of an overdeveloped neighborhood. Steve Drozell/Staff photographer

Conservationistsí spoof in Milton Mills points out need to protect land

By NATE PARDUE

Democrat Staff Writer

MILTON ó Motorists driving past Branch Hill Farm on Sunday afternoon may have been surprised to note the start of construction of 24 single-family homes on what was once a pristine stretch of land.

Project developers could be seen pounding posts into the ground and mapping out roadways leading to what they said would soon become four-bedroom suites and multistory supermarkets.

And just past the neighboring forest stood towering trees soon to be uprooted to make room for a world-class golf course, fittingly known as Whispering Pines Resort.

Of course, it was all just a joke.

The ruse, designed by Portsmouth artist Tim Gaudreau, was all part of the inaugural Hoof-n-Wheeze Among the Trees, a fund-raiser held to benefit two local conservation groups ó Moose Mountain Regional Greenways and The Wentworth Hunt.

Gaudreau designed the spoof subdivision as a way to bring attention to the plight of conservationists who seek to preserve land before it is purchased and used for developments and multifamily housing.

Although Branch Hill Farm is already protected land, Gaudreau said many other open spaces in the area are not, generally leaving homeowners shocked and surprised when subdivisions are suddenly built in the fields around their homes.

"Our landscape is being developed at quite a rapid pace," Gaudreau said. "We wanted people to react to the visual impact of someone paving over beautiful farmland."

Along with the staged construction work, Gaudreau sent out volunteers acting as salesmen to "pitch" the development to startled horseback riders and mountain bikers just looking for a peaceful afternoon with nature.

Even Tracy Wagner, a volunteer at the farm, was taken in by the practical joke.

"I tried to be really polite to her until she looked at me and told me they were going to build a golf course," Wagner said of one of the "salesmen." "I couldnít believe it."

Along with getting people together for a day of hiking, horseback riding, and biking, the event was also designed to bring attention to the work of the two conservation groups.

Moose Mountain Executive Director Brad Anderson said his group has worked for four years to purchase and connect protected lands into contiguous blocks in communities such as Middleton, Brookfield, New Durham and Alton.

"Itís important to be aware of the risks of waiting too long to conserve land before it is too late," Anderson said.

Through donations of cash, land or easements, Anderson said places such as Branch Hill Farm can be maintained and used for outdoor recreation.

Todd Balf of Beverly, Mass., was one of the many who came to the farm to enjoy a day of mountain biking while recognizing a good cause.

"I think you generally donít have events like this," Balf said, joking that horseback riders and bicyclists do not typically mingle with one another. "We donít understand each other all that well."

The event also featured a silent auction, live music and pumpkin painting.

Democrat Staff Writer Nate Pardue can be reached at 332-2200, Ext. 5021, or npardue@fosters.com

© 2003 Geo. J. Foster Company

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