Wildlife Refuge

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When the Air Force announced in 1988 that they would be closing Pease AFB within three years, NH State officials strong-armed their way onto the scene and attempted to seize the entire 4,253 acre facility, two thirds of which had been part of Newington since the early seventeenth century. In fact, to make way for the Air Force in 1952, nearly half of Newington's population lost their homes.

Pease's six mile shoreline along Great Bay and Little Bay was of particular concern, for its fate would determine the future character of much of the estuary. Would the shoreline be preserved in its natural state? Or would it be lined with pricey McMansions? Newington officials soon engaged State government in an epic struggle for control of Pease's shoreline.

The State's power was formidable. In their corner was the Bechtel Corporation, professional lobbyists, various political lackeys, entrenched bureaucrats, well-heeled real estate developers, US Senator Warren Rudman, and Congressman William Zeliff.

On the other hand, Newington's proposal for a refuge had widespread support among Seacoast residents, active backing from environmental organizations throughout New Hampshire, and support from US Senator Gordon Humphrey and NH House Speaker Douglas Scamman. The cause was assisted by a massive letter writing campaign from school children throughout the seacoast. The letters were directed to President George H. W. Bush.

In the end, Newington succeeded in persuading the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to step in and protect this land from our State government. Our special emissary to the Pentagon then succeeded in convincing the Air Force to agree to the land transfer. The Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the first such refuge in New Hampshire, was formally dedicated on October 9, 1992.

The 1,100 acre refuge boasts several hiking trails. The trail heads can be reached by motor vehicle via Arboretum Drive, or by bicycle along Arboretum or through Newington's Old Town Center Historic District. The refuge is well worth a visit.