Grater Woods to gain 44 acres

MERRIMACK – One of the town’s largest plots of protected land is on track to grow even bigger.

Town councilors Thursday approved the Merrimack Conservation Commission’s request to buy 44 acres near the Amherst town line.

The plot is the last piece of a four-parcel land acquisition that will add a total of 97 acres to the Grater Woods Conservation Area, expanding it to a total of 480 acres of protected space.

Conservation commission President Andy Powell said Friday that the parcels – which abut one another and fall under the Grater Family Conservation Trust – were former farmlands. When the family stopped farming, he said, the land became wooded again and has remained so for 100 years.

The terrain includes two interconnected large beaver ponds and “excellent” habitat for deer, moose and bear, Powell said. One parcel offers a small hill and a view of the surrounding area.

Acquiring those lands, he added, has been an eight-year effort. But just over the last few months, the commission has gained approval to buy two 5-acre pieces at $20,000 each; a 43-acre piece for $150,000, which will be funded by the Chelsea Property Group; and the 44-acre piece discussed Thursday for $210,000.

The commission will tap $250,000 from a fund fueled by land use change taxes, collected when a piece of land is taken out of protected status for development.

Chelsea comes into play because some wetland areas will be filled to make way for its outlet mall off Industrial Drive. In exchange, Chelsea agreed to buy Grater Woods acreage.

With approvals in place, Powell hopes to wrap up all purchasing in April.