In the course of researching a book about fresh water in New England I saw how the health of rivers, lakes and ponds can be determined largely by what happens on the lands that surround them.

For example: runoff from parking lots and other impermeable surfaces, fertilizer residue washing in from farms, seepage from chemical storage tanks and leaks from septic systems.

One can similarly link the health of communities to what happens on the land that surrounds them. It can make a difference to the tone and quality of community life if the land on the outskirts is green and inviting or, on the other hand, is disturbed by the glow of lights, the vibrations of traffic and signs that say “No Trespassing.”

That difference came to mind recently when I heard about an effort to permanently conserve nearly 1,400 acres of forest, hills, streams, bogs and ponds in Surry and Gilsum.

The property, a home to bear, bobcat and other wildlife, is remarkable for both its wild state and the possibility that it could soon go on the market if conservation-minded interests aren’t able to come up with $3.6 million that’s needed to sign a binding contract by Dec. 31 to buy the land.

The campaign to raise that sum, led by The Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire, has already won more than $2 million in commitments from a variety of state government sources.

Reflecting the idea that land can help protect water, one of those state sources is a drinking water trust fund that was financed from a court judgment against Exxon-Mobil, a maker of the gasoline additive MtBE that wound up in wells. In this instance the government-managed trust fund would effectively protect 251 acres in the Surry Mountain property that are in a wellhead protection area for Keene.

The remainder of the target sum is being raised from private donors and foundations.

Conservationists have had their eyes on the property for decades. The owner is a family trust from out of state that began acquiring the land, which is mostly in Gilsum, as an investment in the 1960s. The trust recently decided that it was time to sell, and it offered The Nature Conservancy an end-of-year deadline that’s now only weeks away. The fund drive is $246,000 short of its goal.

Meeting that goal can mean a guaranteed future of sustainable forest management, trail-building, clean water, fresh air and outdoor recreation.

You can help make that happen. The Nature Conservancy ( can be reached at 224-5853.

Going on the idea that nothing in nature is isolated, a contribution to this cause would do more than help conserve a single piece of property. It would also help expand a 50,000-acre network of interconnected natural landscapes in the area. It would help guard the land’s waters from spoil, including water that people in Keene drink. And it would help permanently reinforce the notion that our communities are about more than houses, shops, schools and streets; they’re about our natural surroundings, too.

Jim Rousmaniere, a resident of Roxbury and retired editor of The Sentinel, is author of the recently published “Water Connections — What fresh water means to us, what we mean to water.”