Out on the Skinny Branches
“If we get out on the skinny branches, the universe usually supports us.”
Thus speaks Harris Center founder Eleanor Briggs, a woman who is both brave and impassioned. It has been said that Eleanor leads with action, but she also leads with her heart. The Harris Center for Conservation Education was borne of her singular vision and generosity.
Eleanor grew up on Long Island, NY, and summered at her grandmother’s house (now the Harris Center) in Hancock, NH. She watched her part of Long Island, a magical section of the North Shore, give way to development in the 1960s.
An Idea Takes Root
“The idea for the Harris Center came out of a terrible anxiety that Hancock could go the way of Long Island, and a desire to protect it.”
Her father had sold her grandmother’s Hancock house to a developer. Eleanor, age 29, found a way to buy it back. Not only did she prevent the developer from changing Hancock’s landscape forever, but she conceived of the best use for the big, old house: an environmental education center.
“I wanted to convince other people that we live in an exceptional place, get them to fall in love with where we live, and to want to protect it.”
She named the center after her cat, Harris. “He was a wonderful cat – a soulful explorer.”
A Vision for the Monadnock Region
From those first days, Eleanor insisted that the Harris Center focus on the Monadnock Region – a narrow enough focus to “get things done!” Eleanor helped guide the young organization, serving as the Board Chair for its first 18 years. She did all the fundraising and led the way in setting strategy for many years. The Harris Center is built around Eleanor’s vision of reaching every person in the Monadnock Region from ages 1 through 90, of being a place of inclusivity.
The Harris Center has indeed grown to be an inclusive place, where things most assuredly get done! Harris Center teacher-naturalists have provided transformative environmental education experiences to thousands of Monadnock Region children for almost three generations now. Each child who has been inspired to love and care for nature has gone out into the world, carrying those ripples even further. The SuperSanctuary now stitches together 35,000 acres of protected land across the region. And Harris Center community education and citizen science programs connect people to the natural world in meaningful and ever widening circles.
“The Harris Center has become bigger and better than I’d ever imagined!” said Eleanor. “In our society, we’ve gotten disconnected from nature. The Harris Center can reconnect us.”
The Monadnock Region — and the world beyond — has benefited from the Harris Center’s good work for 50 years, and we owe Eleanor a tremendous debt of gratitude: for her vision, for her generosity, for her heart.
For more information on the Harris Center’s 50th anniversary celebrations, please contact Lisa Murray at (603) 525-3394 or by email.