In April we had a family emergency that required us to travel a bit. It was one of those long, forced march drives. The kind that break your kids, and mine were troopers! So on the way home we decided we needed a slower pace and maybe some fun, to help the kids recover. That’s when we realized that there were TWO NPS sites an hour away from our first overnight stop in New Hampshire. AMAZING. This was actually our second stop of the day, but I am just that excited about it. Why you ask? Well, usually when you see the names of the wealthy industrial capitalists besmirching a site something terrible has happened. At least in Pittsburgh. When someone’s name is on a building here whether it’s Frick, Heinz or Carnegie, the working class paid dearly for whatever pittance reward we have been offered. And I say this a huge lover of the Carnegie Library System, but it was seriously the least the Carnegies could do. This NHP was not like that at all. Marsh Billings Rockefellar is an exercise in conservation and is working sustainable logging park.
Everyone probably knows the Rockefeller name, this particular Rockefeller was Laurance who was married to the granddaughter of Fredrick Billings the Railroad Tycoon. George Perkins Marsh was actually the grandfather of man-made climate change, isn’t that refreshing? He basically used his powers of observation to observe that deforested land changed and became barren, growing up in Vermont he saw this first hand and then was stationed as a diplomat around the world which helped him deepen his theories which he published in 1864 in a book called Man and Nature. Fredrick Billings bought the Marsh Farm specifically because he respected the work of George Marsh, which I am sure was impacted by his own experiences in developing the West and opening frontier country with railroading. Billings is the same Billings of Montana fame. Billings actually hired a forester and they worked together to improve the land and replant. He also built carriage trails so that people could enjoy nature, and planned his land to support farming, logging and recreation with the least amount of impact to nature. After his death his wife and three daughters continued to run the farm through the depression, and managed to keep the conservation practices active. Mary French, granddaughter of Marsh, married Laurance Rockefeller and continued to run the land in the same manner. At this point the Rockefellers were known for their conservation efforts being responsible for funding a number of NPS acquisitions including Acadia and picking up the shortfall for The Great Smoky Mountains. After Mary’s death Laurance signed over the farm in 1992 to become Vermont’s FIRST and ONLY National Park unit and it continues to function with renewable logging and for recreation.
The recreation trails are still maintained and are groomed for Cross country skiing. You can tour the Mansion, which was closed during our visit, and the Ranger on duty told us about Fall Out Fridays when you can tour the bunkers Laurance had installed during the cold war! The grounds are absolutely beautiful, and I am glad it is close to a family house because it is definitely worth revisiting. The park was actually closed when we were there, but it didn’t stop the Rangers from digging out the Junior Ranger books and sending the kids out to the trail. They also opened up their viewing room and started the movie for us. I really enjoyed the movie but it was very historic and about 30 minutes which is a touch longer than they could stand. While much of the visitors center (in the old carriage house) was in disarray you could still find some neat educational things for the younger kids, like coloring etc, and wood samples like the labeled stools pictured above. Also the visitors center is furnished with furniture built from their own sustainably logged wood!
This was an incredibly nice and welcoming site, that we really enjoyed. It sounds like they have a lot of community programs and the Rangers were extra friendly even though they weren’t technically open to visitors. They dug up not only their badge, which is gorgeous and made from sustainably logged cherry from their own forest, but St. Gauden’s badges as well which will make more sense in my next post!