Water Company Lands

The lands surrounding the three reservoirs in Hanover are approximately 1,250 acres in size. In an act of farsighted planning for the public good in the 1880s, this land was protected from development to ensure a safe water supply for the town and Dartmouth College. Owned and managed by the Hanover Water Works Company as a public water supply and silviculture resource, the property also serves as a major wildlife preserve in the middle of the town. The company's assets are jointly owned by the Town of Hanover (49%) and Dartmouth College (51%). 

The water company land abuts the Appalachian Trail corridor as well as Oak Hill, the public recreation property owned by Dartmouth College. The water company property was an active recreation area for residents until the late 1970s, when it was closed to public access to prevent contamination of the municipal water supply. 

With changing technologies and a greater regulatory emphasis on developing groundwater for public supply instead of open reservoirs, it is possible that the water company lands will not be needed in the future. The Town of Hanover should actively formulate a long-range plan to purchase the land around the reservoirs and protect it from development. The prospect of a multiple-use, 1,000-plus-acre park/wilderness/recreation area on the outskirts of downtown is truly stunning - a gem that could be matched by few other communities. Here, at the start of the 21st century, we have the opportunity to show the same farsighted planning for the public good that our predecessors did in the 1880s. 

Hanover's water system survives as one of New Hampshire's few water systems that still utilizes unfiltered surface water. It does so under a periodically reviewed exception to both state and federal regulations. Should this exception lapse, Hanover would have to establish a filtration system, shift to a groundwater source, or both. If a groundwater source were chosen, the rush to develop the water company land could be immediate and intense. 

It is important to note the high priority of retaining this land as a conserved resource for the community, and, to take action to conserve it. The example of Central Park in New York City comes to mind as an object lesson. As New York City's nineteenth-century planners did, we need to anticipate the conservation needs of the future, and take decisive action.

Open Space Benefits

  • Water Supply - The three reservoirs, containing about 500 million gallons of water at normal level, constitute the entire public water supply of Hanover. In general, unmanaged or sustainably managed forestland tends to be the most protective land use in terms of water quality. Since the town and Dartmouth College currently rely on unfiltered surface water for their public water supply, the cumulative impacts of land clearing, road construction, and residential development threaten the quality of our community's water resources.
  • Surface Water - Situated on two separate tracts totaling about 1,250 acres, the three reservoirs themselves cover approximately 110 acres.
  • Wetlands - Two small areas, totaling perhaps 10 acres within the protected watersheds, are designated wetlands. In addition, there are about 50 acres of hydric soils as designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Grafton County Soil Survey.
  • Wildlife Habitat - Although fenced to keep people out, the area provides very attractive habitat to birds and animals, who thrive because of the undisturbed character of the area.
  • Biodiversity - Threats to this [area] include fragmentation from residential development and inappropriate timber harvesting... Biodiversity should be encouraged as a management goal in at least some of the forest in this [area]. (Natural Communities and Rare Plants of Hanover, New Hampshire, 1999)
  • Productive Soils - Approximately half of the 1,250 acres is designated as federally recognized prime agricultural land by the USDA Grafton County Soil Survey of 1982.
  • Recreation - Although recreation is currently banned, the potential for outdoor activities is enormous if the watershed is returned to public use. Boating, swimming, hiking, camping, cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing could easily be accommodated. The size of the area guarantees that a great variety of recreation facilities could be provided, ranging from very public and easily accessible to relatively remote.
  • Connections and Buffers - The property shares boundaries with the Appalachian Trail corridor and with the Oak Hill property. Its central location in Hanover guarantees that it would be easy to establish connections to other conservation/recreation areas such as Lord's Hill and the Appalachian Trail (AT).
  • Class VI Roads - More than three miles of Class VI roads pass through the reservoir area, including sections of the Wolfeboro, Knapp and Paine Roads.
  • Scenic Assets - The area features a variety of landscape features, including open water, shorelines, wetlands, and varied woodland. The water company lands are included in the Scenic Locales High Priority Action List.
  • Historic Sites and Cultural Landscapes - Wolfeboro Road is one of the most historic Class VI roads in Hanover, having been built to carry the Governor of New Hampshire to the first graduation exercise at Dartmouth College.
  • Education - The area could be used for ecological studies at all levels. It is easily accessible from the Ray School and relatively densely populated residential neighborhoods. A table summarizing the degree to which each of the conservation/recreation action areas fulfills the open space benefits criteria follows. Hanover's forests and fields, plentiful water and varied topography provide excellent wildlife habitat. Meadow along Greensboro Road (Photo in print edition) Moose on Moose Mountain (Photo in print edition)