Beaver Brook Association in Hollis celebrates 50 years

HOLLIS – Beaver Brook Association was founded 50 years ago, and is celebrating the milestone in many ways, big and small.

There are updated trail maps, a redesigned logo and new signage, to name a few recent changes, as well as plans for a community birthday party. A barbecue will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, May 31 under the tents at Maple Hill Gardens.

The party will be catered by Greenhouse Café, and will also include horse-drawn hayrides, old-fashioned games, live music by T’Acadie, guided hikes, tours of the historic Maple Hill Farmhouse and presentation of awards for longtime Friends of Beaver Brook.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event,” said Executive Director Thom Davies, “so we are throwing a birthday party for ourselves.”

The event is a celebration rather than a fundraiser, so tickets are only $10 per person to cover the cost of the catering. Tickets must be purchased in advance, and only 350 will be sold. Davies hopes it will be an affordable, fun activity for many families.

Those who attend will also receive a copy of the new booklet, “50 Things to See at Beaver Brook.” Copies of the booklet will also be available at the gift shop.

Humble beginnings and growth

BBA was founded in May 1964 by Hollis residents and cousins Hollis P. Nichols and Jeffrey P. Smith as a nonprofit educational organization. The country was still reeling from the assassination of President Kennedy six months earlier, the Vietnam Was raged on, the Beatles made their debut on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” and “Mary Poppins” and “My Fair Lady” ruled the box office. The first celebration of Earth Day was still six years in the future.

According to Davies, Smith was a naturalist and Nichols was a businessman, a combination that worked well. They combined a 20-acre parcel known as the Colburn Lot with an 18-acre lot and building on Love Lane and began holding classes on managing natural resources in the Lodge on Love Lane.

Together, with Henry Hildreth, then-director of the Conservation Commission, the cousins often financed the purchase of land for the price of back taxes. BBA now protects 1,887 acres of land in Hollis, 100 acres in Brookline and 200 acres in Milford. Not all the property is continuous.

“We have close to 10 percent of the town’s acreage in permanent protection,” Davies said, “but it is also a regional center. Lots of Massachusetts towns come here for field trips because we have so much to offer.”

The Maple Hill Farm on Ridge Road is the main headquarters, and was renovated to provide office space for the staff of three full-time and four part-time employees. The Spear Room provides much-needed classroom space. Today, the association relies on 12 corporate partners, 489 donors and 149 volunteers to keep the grounds maintained and programs running smoothly.

Educational programs

Beaver Brook is a popular destination for school field trips, and in 2013, hosted 5,400 students. Roxbury Latin School has held an orientation campout every year since 1970. Other students are able to visit thanks to the donations that help pay for their transportation to Hollis.

“If you could only see the faces of some of these kids who come from urban places,” Davies said. “They get off the bus and get immersed in nature.”

More than 700 students visit in March and throughout the spring. Nature is reawakening, and it’s maple sugaring season. Then it’s time for spring flowers and hikes, and summer camp before the cycle begins again. October and November is another busy time, since that’s when classes are studying units on Native Americans. The winter is a slower time for field trips, but Davies said that many people still come for snowshoeing and winter tracking classes. There are even moonlight snowshoeing events.

Other programs include wildflower identification and photography, wild edibles and classes in survival skills. Then there are trail activities, like fitness hiking with your dog.

“We have 35 miles of trails now,” Davies said. “They are open from sunup to sundown, 365 days a year.”

The next half century

Beaver Brook’s mission statement is to promote the understanding of interrelationships in the natural world and to encourage conservation of natural resources through education and land stewardship. As it moves into its second half-century, how will it continue to fulfill that mission?

One of the newer programs is an attempt to develop a disease-resistant American chestnut tree. The once-plentiful chestnut was used for flooring in colonial times, but blight has all but eliminated mature chestnut trees. BBA is a registered tree farm, and as such, is providing the land and upkeep to grow the experimental strain of chestnut trees.

Protection of the waters of Beaver Brook and the Nissitissit River is ongoing.

“Our protection contributes to the clean water going downstream, so there is a regional advantage,” Davies said.

And as more and more programs compete for summer campers, Beaver Brook remains an attractive option due to the open space and quality of offerings.

“There are many things happening here, not just the party,” Davies said. “We are a growing organization, and not just limited to Hollis and Brookline. There are people from all around the country that have a connection and give for a variety of reasons. If we are to keep growing and support and maintain our facilities and land, we need to get people here. We don’t want to ruin the solemnity with overcrowding, but our mission is to educate people, so we need to bring them here for the recreation we offer.”