Originally certified as a Tree Farm in 1994, the 245-acre property was once part of the estate of wealthy railroad magnate, Benjamin Kimball. In the late 1890's, he had Italian stone masons construct a stone mansion high on Locke's Hill overlooking what boaters know as “The Broads” on Lake Winnipesaukee. Some of the stone used in construction of the castle was quarried from the south side of Locke’s Hill – evidence of which is found along the property’s aptly named “Quarry Trail.” The castle is now privately owned.
Over time, the property passed to Benjamin’s daughter-in-law, Charlotte Kimball, who left the estate to a charitable foundation. Charlotte reportedly loved the land but hated the dark, musty castle. So it is appropriate that in 1981, the land was transferred to the Town of Gilford with the stipulation that the property be turned into a nature reserve for the study, enjoyment, and management of wildlife.
Not wasting any time, the town immediately commissioned Forest Land Improvement to develop a forest and wildlife management plan for the property (with plan updates in 2000 and once again in 2009). Since that time, the town has been a model for how involved citizens, town officials, and natural resource professionals can work together to manage a property for multiple objectives including: wildlife, timber, recreation, research, education, and more.
Just a few examples of the work that has occurred under the Town of Gilford’s tenure includes:
- 17 acres of site preparation in 1985 to encourage white pine regeneration
- Designation as a Town Forest in 1990
- Trail, landing, and woods road construction, with some of the labor provided by inmates from the New Hampshire State Prison “Shock Incarceration Program”
- Public parking lot construction off Route 11 in the mid-1990s
- Timber sales in 1994, ‘97, ‘98, ‘99, 2012, and 2016 which have yielded over a half-million board feet of timber and 2,400 tons of low-grade wood
- An ice storm assessment following 1998’s powerful storm
- Initiation of a crop tree study in partnership with researchers from the University of New Hampshire, as well as conducting a bird inventory in 2016
- A 10 acre prescribed burn to enhance wildlife habitat in 2018
- Ongoing maintenance of permanent openings for wildlife
- Hosting field trips for Gilford Elementary School students
One of the great attributes of the property is that it fosters community engagement and local pride. The Town of Gilford is a shining example of cooperation between engaged residents who make up the Kimball Wildlife Forest Committee, private consulting foresters from Forest Land Improvement, logging contractors, a supportive, engaged Town Administrator, Select Board and other town departments, and other entities and partners including UNH Cooperative Extension. The result is first-rate management and a great resource that serves both the community and the Kimball legacy.
The NH Tree Farm Committee will be hosting an educational tour and celebration of this accomplishment at the property later this year.
This article was adapted from the Granite State Tree Farmer. Pictured above are Sandy McGonagle and George LaBonte–Gilford residents and long-time volunteers on the Kimball Wildlife Forest Committee–along with the town’s consulting forester, Tim Nolin from Forest Land Improvement, accepting the award in front of a large crowd that included U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan and U.S. Representative Chris Pappas.