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Budget to save land, keep the past alive in N.H. is announced

Buildings from past eras and remote land received new life yesterday after an independent state authority announced the 18 grants it will award next year to help preserve the state’s history and natural beauty.

Led by the $100,000 earmarked for land and forest along Oyster River, the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, also known as LCHIP, officially unveiled the winners among 51 applicants vying for $475,000 in grant money.

And while the money allocated fell far short of the sum in past years, reflecting the recent weak economic times, a celebratory mood filled the lobby during a press conference at the Legislative Office Building.

Meeting halls and homes, some built before the Revolutionary War, were on the list, as well as wooded and grassy areas known for recreational use.

Locally, the Five Rivers Conservation Trust will receive $22,500 of the $45,000 it asked for to purchase the Twigg Property, 41 acres of agricultural and forest land in Gilmanton. The total cost to protect the area is nearly $1.2 million, the third costliest project on the list.

Also, the Fells Historic Estate and Gardens in Newbury will get half of the $50,000 it sought for a $120,100 effort to preserve a honeymoon cottage, built in 1914, along Route 103A.

Representatives from most of the organization that were awarded grants stood in the lobby during the presentation. Dijit Taylor, the executive director of LCHIP, announced the recipients, adding a brief description of each project. Rusty McLear, chairman of the LCHIP board, and Rep. David Hess of Hooksett, finishing his sixth year on the board, also spoke.

“Today is as always the most fun day if you’re a participant in LCHIP,” said Hess, standing behind a podium. “It’s a day of celebration, for you folks who have been recipients of the grants granted this year, it’s a celebration for us who have been participating in the process who make this a success, and indeed it’s a celebration for the entire LCHIP community.”

LCHIP began 12 years ago with a legislatively-mandated mission to provide matching funds to New Hampshire communities and non-profits to protect and preserve the state’s vital natural, cultural and historic resources. The board annually consists of two members from each Legislative chamber, plus private individuals and members of various state agencies.

The organization remains a unifying institution, as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have shown support for the cause through the years. To date, the organization has helped 126 buildings in 141 towns, plus 263,000 acres, raising $27 million in the process.

Still, in a time of recession and tight budgets, the LCHIP did not receive any state funding this year or for 2013, relying instead on past grants that were never ultimately used, totaling $475,000. The overall bill to complete the 18 projects is more than $11 million; recipients had asked for $872,000.

“You are the heroes,” Taylor told the assembled group. “We give you the money and you find the rest of the money and do all the hard work.”

Taylor moved through each project, highlighting facts to place the historic values into perspective.

For example, $11,000 of a $200,000 price tag will help stabilize the garrison section of the Gilman Garrison House in Exeter, built in 1709 and used to protect its occupants with huge hewn logs. Also, the Belknap Mill in Laconia, built in 1832 and known as the oldest unaltered brick textile building in the country, will receive $12,000 from LCHIP to help with the $32,000 face-lift.

And the New Durham Meetinghouse, built in 1772 as a two-story building before it was reduced to one story due to the enforcement of separation of church and state policies, is wobbly and will receive $13,000, half of what the town sought.

Local towns denied funding in what was labeled a competitive process were: Dunbarton for restoration of its town hall and theater; Hillsboro for its Fuller Library/Smith House; Epsom for its historic meetinghouse; and Suncook for restoration of its village clock tower.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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