Steel Addition to Binney Hill

Help Add 15 Acres
to Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve

Northeast Wilderness Trust has a unique opportunity to expand a wild habitat core along New Hampshire’s southern border, but only if we can raise enough money to buy and conserve these 15 acres.

At the center point of New Hampshire’s southern border, Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve serves as a keystone within an approximately 6,000 acre block of uninterrupted forestland. The Preserve is a bridge between surrounding protected forests including the Watatic Mountain State Wildlife Area (Ashburnham, MA), the Wapack Wilderness (New Ipswich and Rindge, NH), Binney Pond Natural Area (New Ipswich, NH), and, further north, the Wapack National Wildlife Refuge (Greenfield, NH).

Northeast Wilderness Trust has been protecting land here for more than a decade, gathering the pieces to realize a forever-wild link in this essential wildlife corridor. Back in 2008, Hampshire Country School conserved 1,428 acres as the Wapack Wilderness through a forever-wild easement with the Wilderness Trust. In 2016, the Wilderness Trust purchased 488 adjacent acres to the south, creating Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve. And just this year, Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve grew by 47 acres with the addition of the Sawtelle parcel, thanks to Shirley Sawtelle and many dedicated supporters.

Northeast Wilderness Trust now has the chance to add another 15 strategic acres to this sweeping forever-wild landscape. With your help, wild nature will always come first on this land, and these 15 acres will join Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve as a rewilding forest of today…and an old-growth forest of the future.

Of the total $108,000 budget to secure this land’s forever-wild future, there is $94,000 left to raise. Will you help us get there?

When I learned about the Wildlands & Woodlands intiative, I thought ‘Wow, this is what we need!’

Virginia Steel, Landowner

Though small in scale, the Steel Addition is large in impact. The land abuts the eastern edge of Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve, on the northern side of Binney Hill Road.

For its small size, the property boasts an impressive amount of ecological diversity. A small wetland occupies the lowest elevations, forming the headwaters of a small stream. A second headwater stream skirts the southern boundary along Binney Hill Road.

Red oak and American beech offer up acorns and beechnuts in the fall to hungry wildlife. Sign of moose, deer, porcupine, and coyote have been found on initial site visits to the property, and it is likely that other wildlife like bobcat and bears also frequent this land. Since there are no visible signs of past logging, the forest has a good head start on its way to becoming old-growth.

Northeast Wilderness Trust has the opportunity to protect this land thanks to two women who cared deeply for it.

In the spring of 1980, Margaret Gunn moved from Ohio to join her daughter, Virginia Steel, in the outskirts of Boston. Yet she missed having land. Inspired by the woodstoves in her and her daughter’s homes, she bought a small woodlot in southern New Hampshire to supply her family with firewood. Virginia bought a utility trailer frame and built a box for it that would perfectly fit their firewood. Upon their first harvest of downed trees after an ice storm, however, the weight of the full load caused the trailer to sag and rub against the tires. They retired the idea in favor of foraging downed branches in their suburban neighborhood.

“But my mom loved the land anyway,” said Virginia. “She loved the ability to walk anywhere she wanted. After she couldn’t drive any longer, I would bring her up to visit it often.” Both avid naturalists, the mother and daughter duo loved finding signs of animals and identifying plants. In the springtime they would inventory the wildflowers, in wintertime they would have picnics together, and on hot summer days they would drink from the land’s “spring” with a long-handled dipper that Margaret had fashioned from an enameled measuring cup and a long wooden handle.

When Margaret could no longer hike, she would sit in a chair in her woodlands as Virginia explored with her dog, returning with treasures from the land. Photos courtesy Virginia Steel.

Near the end of Margaret’s long life, when she could no longer walk at all through the forest, her New Hampshire neighbors took her on a snowmobile ride to experience the land.

Eleven years ago, Margaret passed away and Virginia inherited her land. “I’ve always been interested in conservation of any type,” she said regarding the future of the woodlot. Virginia had been involved in her local conservation commission and trails groups, and her daughter now works in the conservation field. At her retirement community, she leads the Nature Program, writes a Naturalist Newsletter, and cares for the trails. When she attended a talk on the Wildlands & Woodlands initiative ( last winter, she says she immediately thought, “Wow, this is what we need!” The Wildlands & Woodlands vision calls for 70% of New England’s forested land to be permanently protected by 2060, with 10% of those forests conserved as wilderness.

Inspired to protect her family’s land, Virginia connected with Northeast Wilderness Trust. “I hadn’t known about Binney Hill, so it was remarkably good news that this land is important to protect” said Virginia. “I’ve been very happy to think this could be the outcome for the land.”

From here, the rest can be history…with your help. It will take $108,000 for Northeast Wilderness Trust to purchase and protect this land. Thanks to several generous donors, we currently have $94,000 left to raise. Will you support the Steel Addition to Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve with a gift today?

You can donate securely online (select “Steel Addition” from the drop-down menu below) or by sending a check to Northeast Wilderness Trust with “Steel” in the memo line to:

Northeast Wilderness Trust
17 State St., Suite 302
Montpelier, VT 05602

And thank you!

Photography by Shelby Perry

Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve

Binney Hill
Wilderness Preserve

The Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve protects 535 acres, including the entirety of Binney Pond and its shoreline, more than a mile of the historic Wapack Trail, and habitat for moose, bobcat, and other wandering wildlife.

The Binney Hill property was purchased by Northeast Wilderness Trust in October 2016, protecting 488 acres across four parcels in southern New Hampshire that preserve connectivity for wildlife and people in this region. This land abuts the Binney Pond Natural Area to the north and Ashburnham State Forest to the south, and connects our own Wapack Wilderness easement with the protected areas surrounding Mount Watatic in Massachusetts.

This land is a key connector in a major forest block, tying together a total of 6,000 acres straddling the New Hampshire–Massachusetts border. This land is home to moose, bobcat, black bear, and deer. In addition, more than a mile of the historic Wapack Trail traverses the Binney Hill parcels. This project ensures ongoing access for hikers, runners, and nature lovers alike.

Community support from the Friends of the Wapack (a volunteer group dedicated to preserving the Wapack Trail), Town of New Ipswich Conservation Commission, foundations, and private citizens allowed NWT to successfully close on this project.  Thank you to everyone who has donated and helped in this effort!

If you are interested in hunting on the Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve, please visit our Hunting Program page.

The Steel Addition

Northeast Wilderness Trust is currently fundraising to purchase an additional 15 acres to expand Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve. The Steel property abuts the Preserve’s eastern boundary. To learn more about this exciting initiative and make a gift to protect this land, click here.

The Wapack Trail

The historic Wapack Trail runs through the Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve. This 21.5 mile trail was created in 1923 Marion Davis of New Ipswich, NH, Allen Chamberlain, and Frank Robbins of Rindge, NH. The skyline trail runs from Mt. Watatic to North Pack Monadnock–the origins of the trail’s portmanteau name.

Though the trail was used by many in its early days, it fell into disrepair by World War II. The rebirth of the Wapack Trail was led by the Friends of the Wapack, founded in 1980. Although the Friends rehabilitated the trail and helped it regain popularity, much of it remained vulnerable to development, without any legal protection.

Over the years, protections have been pieced together along Wapack Trail to safeguard both habitat and access, but there is still work to be done. The Wilderness Trust has been a part of rewilding and protecting the land surrounding the trail through the Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve, its Sawtelle Addition (below), and the Wapack Wilderness easement on 1,428 acres.

The Sawtelle Addition

The Sawtelle Addition geographically links the forever-wild forests of Binney Hill to the Wapack Wilderness. It holds a beautiful section of the Wapack Trail and serves as a critical migration route for wildlife. Alongside the State of New Hampshire’s Binney Pond Natural Area, the protection of this tract means that now, the entire Binney Pond shoreline is safe from development.

The Sawtelle Addition is in a location where the movement of species in response to climate change is concentrated through a narrow area. Game cameras on the Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve confirm that a variety of species use this corridor regularly, including moose, bobcats, coyotes, and other mammals. In 2015, the State of New Hampshire identified this area as the highest ranked habitat in the region in its Wildlife Action Plan.

Ken and Shirley Sawtelle purchased this property on Binney Hill Road in the 1970s for recreation and a source of firewood. They enjoyed hiking on the Wapack Trail, taking in the view of Binney Hill Pond, and in the spring, the wildflowers put on breathtaking shows of mountain laurel, trailing arbutus, lady slippers and trillium. In 1986, they built their dream home and settled in with the wildlife. After Kenneth’s passing in 2018, a portion of the land was offered for sale to the Northeast Wilderness Trust. The Wilderness Trust officially purchased the property in early 2020, adding it to Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve.

The State of New Hampshire has identified this area as the highest ranked habitat in the region in its Wildlife Action Plan.

The family of beavers that Shirley has come to love on her property have been making travel difficult on West Binney Hill Road, one of the primary ways to access the Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve. History shows us that when beavers interfere with roadways, the beavers often lose. As part of this proposed conservation project, the Wilderness Trust has installed a beaver deceiver, which allows the beavers to continue living on both sides of the road, while regulating the water depth to maintain access to the Preserve.

Though the parcel is a modest 47 acres, its value for nature and people far outsizes its small acreage. Since it sits exactly between the Wapack Wilderness forever-wild easement property, and Binney Hill, it creates a contiguous protected area of more than 2,000 acres of wilderness. It also safeguards the historic Wapack Trail for future generations, since the trail meanders past the pond over beautiful boardwalks built by the Ashby Boy Scouts in 2001. The boardwalks afford a pleasant hiking experience above the wet terrain, views of the pond, and protection for the fragile wetland soils and natural water flow.

Binney Pond landscape and hiker by Zack Porter | Moose by Daryl Burtnett | Snowy pond by Rick Blanchette