The Green Guy
Dave Birchenough found his way to New Hampshire after spending his early life and career in New York. Raised in Slingerlands, a small suburb of Albany, Dave attended Hartwick College in Oneonta where he earned a degree in physics. After graduation, he worked his entire career for Rochester (NY) Telephone and its subsidiaries as a data communications engineering manager. When he decided to retire early at the age of 48, Dave began looking for his dream home.
“During my youth, I spent every summer at Lake George, New York, so when I retired, I searched for paradise on a clear lake like Lake George, surrounded by forests on a dead-end dirt road. After a year of research (that’s the engineer in me), I found Nubanusit Lake and was fortunate to negotiate a reasonable price for the only year-round home available. I moved to the Nelson end of Nubanusit in 1994.”
Dave lost no time in getting involved in environmental issues after the move. He joined the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF), volunteering with their Land Steward Program. This was also his first introduction to the Harris Center, as SPNHF’s six-month training course for stewardship volunteers was held here.
“Other than vacations on Lake George, suburban living never exposed me to the value of protected land, clean water, or environmental education. My move to Nubanusit Lake in Nelson connected me with nature. Whenever we have guests at Nubanusit, I’m always touting the Harris Center’s accomplishments, with land protection being high on the list. From our viewscape, we can see all they have done to protect Nubanusit, the clearest lake in the state.”
A Deep Dive on the Board
Nubanusit Lake is surrounded by lands protected by the Harris Center, which fortified Dave’s connection to the organization, as he soon became active in the Nubanusit Lake Association. Dave’s work as a SPNHF Land Steward put him in frequent contact with Harris Center Trustee Roger Sweet, who recruited Dave to join the Harris Center Board in September 1999.
“[Roger] was very persuasive, and I couldn’t refuse. I retired from the Harris Center Board in 2008.”
During Dave’s long tenure on the Board, he was at the helm of our major building renovation as chair of the Building Committee. As “Clerk of the Works,” he spent time with architects, the construction manager, suppliers, staff, and many other Harris Center committees – in short, it was a monumental role! On top of all that, he was involved in coordinating telecommunications for the staff’s year-long move to Jaffrey while the Harris Center building was under construction.
When the Board and architects pointed the Harris Center in the direction of green alternatives for its heating and ventilation systems, Dave became deeply engrossed with renewable energy options for the new building. He was definitely up to the challenge!
“A highlight was our success in installing the first public building pellet boiler in New Hampshire. Some of my favorite activities included coordinating field trips to Vermont Law School, Bensonwood Design, Vermont Soapstone to get custom bathroom counters, and Tarm USA (pellet boilers) in Lyme, New Hampshire.”
Dave had his share of adventures and laughs as the renovation work progressed. There’s likely a story behind every piece of wood used in the renovated building!
“I’ll never forget when Tedd Benson asked us to find just eight bent trees from our vast forest properties that could be used for the Babbitt Room knee braces. They would be far superior than the usual glue laminated braces. We scoured the countryside for bent trees that were close to a highway to allow transport for months.
Guess what? Trees don’t grow in an arc unless they’ve been stressed by flood or hurricane! Specimens were finally delivered, and his employees beat them with rubber mallets and high pressure water to debark them without leaving any scars from sharp tools.
Another great memory is when our architect, Bruce Coldham, had a great vision of using retrieved ‘sinker cypress’ logs for the entranceway to the building. These were logs that sank to the bottom of a lake or river during harvest and were bacterially infected more than a century ago. A group of volunteers drove to Amherst, Massachusetts, where Bruce had a shop. We cut out animal and bird patterns into sinker cypress slabs for balusters to bring an educational opportunity to our main entrance.”
Work That Stands the Test of Time
Due to Dave’s tireless efforts and leadership, as well as that of all of the other committee members, volunteers, staff, and Board members, the Harris Center is a superb example of a green building. It’s loaded with innovative products like natural lighting, repurposed flooring, triple-glazed windows, composting toilets, kitchen flooring made from recycled tires, newspaper insulation, pellet heating, a heat recovery ventilation system, and recycled rafters and purlins in the new meeting room, to name a few. It’s now almost 20 years old and has well stood the test of time.
Dave’s ‘green’ efforts with the Harris Center impelled him to spend a number of years helping to restart the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association (NHSEA) by serving on its Board beginning in April 2006. At the time, the organization was an all-volunteer effort. NHSEA is now called Clean Energy New Hampshire (CENH) and has grown into a successful voice for renewable energy in the state, with six employees and a half-million dollar budget. And Dave’s environmental efforts haven’t stopped there!
“I love to attend the Harris Center’s extensive variety of programs and have been serving on the Harris Center Land Committee since retiring from the Board [in 2008] to the present. I’m active with the Nelson Trails Committee, and we have achieved much success working closely with the Harris Center. I am so proud of the Harris Center. Led by a wonderful and caring staff and board, I’m certain the Harris Center will flourish for many years and continue to connect people to the natural world.”
Dave was absolutely indispensable to the successful outcome of the building renovation and continues to be a great supporter of the Harris Center in so many ways, including joining the Bobcats Forever Legacy Society. We owe Dave a tremendous debt of gratitude for everything he’s done for our green building and so much more!
For more information on the Harris Center’s 50th anniversary celebrations, please contact Lisa Murray at (603) 525-3394 or by email.