Beaver Brook’s Davies retiring

HOLLIS – Thom Davies, who has been the volunteer executive director at Beaver Brook Nature Center in Hollis for nine years, has announced he’s retiring – sort of.

“I made the decision a long time ago,” he said, “long before COVID was a part of our existence here. The primary reason was because the number of my grandchildren was increasing and my age was increasing.”

Davies said he has a number of irons in the fire, including a five-days-a-week job doing deliveries for Meals On Wheels.

“I’m on the Hollis Conservation Commission and I’m active in my church,” he said. “So, with an additional granddaughter on the way at the time, I decided to give them a year’s notice of my planned retirement. It’s been nine years which I think is second in terms of the number of year by any one executive director and still the longest by any volunteer executive director. That may be a record that’s going to stand forever.”

So with giving notice, Davies had planned on retiring on Feb. 1, but then COVID arrived.

“I must admit that I’ve never been as busy in this position as I have over the course of this year,” he said. “And it’s been a good busy. I feel like we’ve done the right things. We shut down the trails at one point in time because the trail heads and parking lots were too crowded.”

Davies said it was advised by the director of emergency management in Hollis that it could serve as a super-spreader type of event.

People were flocking to Beaver Brook from south of the border — as evidenced by the number of out-of-state license plates.

“Most people understood why we shut the trails down,” he noted. “We did get a few grumbling comments on Facebook and elsewhere, but that was a decision that we made.”

Beaver Brook then had to determine how the non-profit nature center was going to recoup some $80,000 in revenue losses.

“We weren’t able to have our summer camp,” Davis said. “And we were unable to have fundraising events. It was a challenge and something that involved all-hands-on-deck. But we survived quite well.”

The trails were reopened soon thereafter, which created an oasis for those who wanted to get out of their houses and spend some recreational time outdoors. Davies chocked it up to people wanting to stay healthy and enjoy the scenery.

According to Davies, the response from the public was great in their efforts to make donations to the nature center.

“Our memberships are actually up,” he said. “We’re open sun-up to sun-down 365 days a year, free of charge to the public. But we do depend to some extent, on memberships and events. People have been particularly kind in their support.”

Davies said it’s a little complicated sometimes to elicit donations from folks, since Beaver Brook isn’t a typical charity as a non-profit.

“We’re not a project,” he said. “It’s nature. People don’t automatically think of sending their charity dollars to nature, which puts us at the tail-end of people’s consideration. Unless of course, they’re familiar with the place and value it and appreciate as much as many of our supporters do.”

It’s not just people who make donations, Davies said, but also the sheer dedication to Beaver Brook by its many volunteers.

“It’s a chance for people to get outdoors and do a little work,” he said. “People needed an out and this has been an outlet for them. And people come here to volunteer, driving great distances to do so. People discover that this is a place where they can go and walk their dog and they can be socially distanced from others.”

With over 40 miles of hiking trails, Beaver Brook has been a place of respite from the COVID weary.

While Davies and his wife are both fully vaccinated, they have no plans to travel at this time.

“Now that we’re allowed to spend more time with our granddaughters – we have three – we’re going to stick close to home,” he said. The Davies recently welcomed their third granddaughter two months ago.

No baby boys, yet.

“I’m still holding out hope, I guess,” he said with a laugh. “I can’t imagine being wrapped around the finger of a little boy any more than I can imagine being wrapped around the finger of a little girl. We’re very happy.”