Above, retired Forest Society president and forester Jane Difley is surprised to hear the honor she received Saturday. PAULA TRACY photo
Above, Nigel Manley of Bethlehem a longtime Forest Society staffer, hoists a pint of the new Rocks Red Ale at the celebration of the rebirth of The Rocks with Ian Dowling of Rek’-Lis Brewery and Mike Didio at the 122 annual meeting of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests Saturday. PAULA TRACY photo
By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
BETHLEHEM — About 240 members of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests gathered at The Rocks for the unveiling of its new North Country headquarters during its 122nd Annual Meeting here Saturday.
The state’s largest conservation organization has undertaken an $8.5 million, multi-year renovation of the grounds and carriage house on the Bethlehem property following a 2019 fire of its “tool building” which was, in reality, the Rocks Estate’s headquarters.
No cause of the fire was ever determined.
The destruction of the 1904 building actually was the start of a new chapter for both the property and the organization.
In the coming weeks The Rocks will become its North Country operations base and a campus that will be a satellite for the organization’s headquarters on the banks of the Merrimack River in Concord.
During the meeting, it was announced it received an anonymous $1 million gift and with that has raised $7.1 million for the project with $1.4 outstanding.
Jack Savage, president and forester said the organization is “lifting our eyes to the future” and said he believes climate change will be the greatest concern in the years to come.
The campus has a net-zero goal, and with the help of Revision Energy and Cushing and Son, it designed a solar array and geothermal heating.
The redesign of the landscape was handled by Leigh B. Starer LLC of Franconia and the building by Samyn-Delia Architects of Holderness.
The construction was handled by Milestone Engineering & Construction.
“We set about, not just to gain back a classroom and welcoming lobby but to reshape the campus into a unified space that advantaged the views,” Savage said.
The Tract, known for its growing of Christmas trees, was given in 1978 to the Society by John Jacob and Frances Glessner, whose family had owned it since 1883 and used the 1,400 acre estate as a recuperative retreat with active agriculture and innovation.
“I hope you all agree that we are continuing that tradition today,” said Savage.
He said he had some initial misgivings about the ambitious plan to build indoor spaces after COVID-19 hit and he found himself walking through a largely dark and silent Concord headquarters, with employees working from home. The project then encountered supply chain issues, skyrocketing construction costs which thwarted the effort in 2020 and 2021.
“But what has kept us focused and on the goal is the support we have enjoyed from all of you. You told us to keep going, that we are on the right path,” Savage said.
The organization now has conserved more than 60,000 acres across the state and is continuing to grow its impact on the state with imminent plans to acquire a large tract in the nearby Mahoosuc Range of Coos County.
Above, The view towards Mount Starr King from The Rocks in Bethlehem. Paula Tracy photo
Now that view is the centerpiece, at The Rocks from the rolling lawns dotted with growing Christmas trees to outdoor amphitheater made of granite blocks and Adirondack Chairs set in the direction of the view to the 3,907-foot Mount Starr King in Coos County, the property has a new focus and meaning for the organization.
Members got a sneak peak at the converted carriage barn which will soon serve as the Forest Society’s North Country center of operations, including office space and a classroom it named during the meeting for the retired Forester and President Jane Difley who was in attendance.
She called the honor “incredibly moving.”
“Most people don’t get something named after them when they are still alive,” she said. That a room for education should be named “where children and adults and local groups will gather,” was a lasting and marvelous gift and she noted. And she said, as a forester, she was really pleased that the sign was made out of wood, and she was told from one of the trees on the organization’s many protected tracts.
Difley was president when the building burned and recalled how devastating it seemed, “until we saw the view,” and that while the board decided to renovate during her tenure, it was Savage and the continued support of the board that should get the credit.
The organization plans to continue The Rocks’ long tradition as a Christmas Tree Farm, host the NH Maple Experience and Museum, become an education center, and continue as a recreation destination with sweeping views of the White Mountains.
After lunch under a massive tent the conservationist of the year awards were presented to Midge and Tim Eliassen of Sunapee.
“Every minute spent working with organizations like this comes back tenfold,” said Midge Eliassen.
There were 57 members honored for their 50th anniversary.
Members also enjoyed a free pint and etched pint glass from Rek’-Lis Brewing Company of Bethlehem which created a new Rocks Red Ale in honor of the rebirth of the property. Co-owner Ian Dowling was there, pouring the ale himself while members enjoyed after the meeting “A Journey to the White Mountains in Words and Music” with author Howard Mansfield and musician Ben Cosgrove in the outdoor amphitheater overlooking the White Mountains.
In the morning, field trips were also offered at Hilary and Ross’ Underhill Acres Tree Farm, the Ammonoosuc River Forest, a horse-drawn history and wildlife tour of the property and a Christmas tree farm tour.
There was also a presentation on “The Path to Net Zero and Energy Efficiency.”
The Forest Society owns property in over 100 communities across the state and has over 190 forest reservations.
It currently holds more than 750 conservation easements statewide, thus together permanently protecting more than 190,000 acres of New Hampshire’s landscapes for the benefit of nature and people.
For more information on the organization visit https://forestsociety.org/
Above, Three board directors honored former President and Forester Jane Difley with the naming of the Rocks new classroom in her honor. From left are Deanna Howard, Difley, current director Drew Kellner and Bill “Tuck” Tucker. PAULA TRACY photo
Above, The renovated Carriage House at The Rocks in Bethlehem. PAULA TRACY photo.
Above, Allyson Hicks of Concord, named the Forest Society’s incoming Treasurer, tastes the Rocks Red Ale from Rek’-Lis Brewing Company in honor of the newly renovated Rocks North Country Headquarters. PAULA TRACY photo