Of Rye Pond and Wry Humor

A Housewarming Party for Rye Pond

A "flock" of Rose Pogonia orchids in the Virginia Baker Natural Area at Rye Pond. (photo © Meade Cadot)

A “flock” of rose pogonia orchids in the Virginia Baker Natural Area at Rye Pond. (photo © Meade Cadot)

Rye Pond isn’t large, maybe 13 acres, but it lies in three towns and two counties. And it’s bounded on the west by a biologically diverse “bog”— actually an acid fen. With a plethora of rose pogonia orchids thriving among a variety of other uncommon bog flora, the area has long been recognized as an important natural community by the Native Plant Trust and the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau.

Thanks to the underwriting of Virginia Baker, in the mid-1990s the Harris Center was able to purchase a property straddling the Antrim-Nelson town line which contained most of the bog mat. But it also included hillside land with a simple summer cottage, and that was a problem. Because the land included a residential building, it did not qualify for current use taxation and so was taxable at the high rate of a house lot.

The old house at Rye Pond engulfed in flames on a snowy winter day. (photo © Meade Cadot)

The Rye Pond “house-warming” party of 1996!
(photo © Meade Cadot)

Solution? In the winter of 1996, we contacted a group of volunteers in Nelson and Stoddard regarding the potential for a training exercise. Soon thereafter, on a sunny day with plenty of snow cover, we had a “house-warming party”! Thanks to two fire departments, the property was “de-developed,” house-free, and eligible for current use. Now it’s an oft-visited, -photographed, and -painted part of a larger conserved block with SuperSanctuary signs proclaiming it as the Virginia Baker Natural Area.

“Throwing Up” Old Town Road

A photo of an old woods road with a gate across it. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

One of several old roads that have been “thrown up” (discontinued and gated) in the SuperSanctuary.
(photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

A short raven flight from Rye Pond over SuperSanctuary lands is the Briggs Preserve, with three wild and scenic backcountry ponds: Jack’s, Shadrach, and Tenney, which straddles the Nelson-Hancock town line. As of March 1997, a little-used section of Old Town Road still wound through the Preserve’s backcountry from near Lake Nubanusit out to Shadrach and Tenney Ponds.

In the 1990s this back road had been discovered by teenagers in search of an out-of-the-way place to party, with resulting litter and risky campfire building. Although it was out of sight of any houses, the party noise was definitely within earshot of the Walsh house, not far from the junction of Old Town Road and the private road down to Nubanusit.

Dave Walsh, Sr. became very concerned and decided to see about having that section of the road discontinued and gated. The legal process to discontinue, a.k.a. “throw up,” a road entails getting the okay from all the landowners on the road and then taking it to town meeting for a vote. The first part was easy since there was only one landowner, Harris Center founder Eleanor Briggs! However, townspeople at town meetings are notorious for voting “nay” regarding any loss of public access.

At the 1997 Hancock town meeting, Dave Walsh did a fine job of pleading the case for closure, and it appeared he’d been very persuasive. But just before the moderator called for the vote, long-time resident Bud Adams stood up and said, “You know, I’m not getting any younger, and I might need to drive up that road to get my deer out.” I thought then and there that this was going down to defeat. But Harris Center easement donor Howie Weston, a deer hunting peer and maybe even a little older, stood up and shouted, “Cut it in half, Bud!”

The vote to discontinue was unanimous.

—Meade Cadot