Annual Meeting Kicks Off Re-Opening of The Rocks

Anna Berry | October 2, 2023
The Rocks
Attendees watch the meeting from under the tent.

The audience at The Rocks was one of the largest ever for an annual meeting. (Photo: Ryan Smith)

Nearly 250 people attended the Forest Society's 122nd annual meeting on September 23 in Bethlehem, which kicked off the re-opening of The Rocks after a multi-year campaign to rebuild and re-envision the campus. Field trips took attendees on walks at Underhill Acres Tree Farm and Ammonoosuc River Forest in Bethlehem and across The Rocks' campus to learn about Christmas tree farming, the history of The Rocks, and the path to adding green energy to the property.


President Jack Savage welcomed Forest Society members, supporters, and community friends to Forest Society North at The Rocks.

"Today is a better day than Feb. 13, 2019, when a devastating fire burned the Tool Building that was our Rocks center of operations," he said. "For those who knew the property well, it came as a tremendous shock. But after absorbing that shock, the most common observation has been that while we lost historic buildings, we gained a grander view of the White Mountains. A view that was, if there ever is such a thing, the proverbial ‘silver lining’.

"As we gather here today in a re-envisioned landscape, I’d like to suggest that there was a more important silver lining to the loss from the fire. Since that day, we as an organization, which is in turn a part of a local community and a broader region in New Hampshire, were presented with an opportunity to draw on the collective vision of those communities, our members, our board and our staff to re-set our goals here at the Rocks and north of the notches and, based on the input of many voices, create a campus that advances those goals."

Savage updated the audience on the progress of the Forest Society North campaign and shared breaking news about the completion of an important land conservation project.

"I am very pleased to announce that we’ve received several generous gifts just recently, including our largest gift to date, an anonymous $1 million pledge to the Rocks campaign," Savage said. "That puts us at $7.1 million to date leaving us with $1.4 million left to raise to achieve the $8.5 million milestone.

"Given where we are today, and given that we have Anne Truslow, Susanne Kibler-Hacker and an active board on our side, we will meet our goal... Most importantly, the real work of the Forest Society is still to come. Investing in the Rocks is ultimately about pursuing our mission north of the notches. We are determined to make good on our promise to do more work — land protection, stewardship, advocacy, education — in the North Country."

Just the day before, the Forest Society completed the Mahoosucs initiative, and Savage was excited to share the news for the first time with the crowd:

"Taken as a whole the 3700 acres is our second largest forest reservation after Mt Monadnock, and with this acquisition the Forest Society now owns more than 60,000 acres across the state," he said. "I want to thank the Conservation Fund and the Shelburne Conservation Commission for partnering with us. I also want to congratulate Brian Hotz, our VP of Land Conservation, for being the champion of this project. We raised $3.4 million, even as we were soliciting funds for the Rocks."

Savage also joined with past and present board chairs — Deanna Howard, "Tuck" Tucker, and Drew Kellner — to formally dedicate the Jane A. Difley classroom in honor of the Forest Society's former President/Forester.

Board chairs past and present and Jack and Jane pose with the sign.
Left to right: Deanna Howard, Jane Difley, Drew Kellner, and Bill "Tuck" Tucker pose with the new sign. (Photo: Ryan Smith)

"For those of you who don’t know, these are the chairs of our board over the last 7 years, which includes February 2019, when the fire took the Tool Building, and throughout the subsequent deliberations, decisions, and determined fundraising to renovate the Rocks," Savage said. "At our Annual Meeting in September 2019, Deanna announced that the board had raised, at that point, $460,000 in from donors who wanted to honor Jane Difley’s 23 years of dedicated service as our President/Forester. And furthermore, that the board had voted to name a new classroom at the Rocks the Jane A. Difley classroom in recognition of her accomplishments over that time as the head of the Forest Society.

"I remember Jane bringing me to the Rocks in my first few days at the Forest Society in 2005 and telling me that it was among her very favorite Forest Society reservations. And so, as part of the final completion of the building, we’d like to unveil this sign which will be installed over the interior entrance to the classroom so that all who enter will be reminded of Jane and her contributions to keeping forests as forests in New Hampshire."

Jack Savage speaks on stage.
Savage also presented the Conservationist of the Year Award during the program. This prestigious award honors people whose work to promote and achieve conservation is exemplary; people whose actions have made a difference not just in their own backyards, but also have advanced the protection and stewardship of land statewide.

This year, Midge and Tim Eliassen of Sunapee were honored as the Conservationists of the Year in recognition of their longtime activism, leadership and support of lake issues, forest conservation, recreation trails, and land conservation in the Lake Sunapee and Mount Kearsarge region. 

Tim and Midge Eliassen pose with their award with Christmas tree fields in the background.
Tim Eliassen, President Jack Savage, and Midge Eliassen. (Photo Ryan Smith)

“Midge and Tim are literally and figuratively, trailblazers,” states Jack Savage, president of the Forest Society. “They devote countless hours to helping to strengthen and prepare local and statewide conservation, advocacy, and recreation organizations to chart a greener future in New Hampshire. Both have contributed in so many ways, not only to the Forest Society, but to the lakes and forests of New Hampshire.”

The business meeting saw members approve two nominees for their first three-year term on the board of trustees — Susan Arnold, of Stafford; and Jamey French, of Portsmouth — and also approve the nominations of Don Floyd, of Concord, for a second 3-year term; Deb Buxton of Greenfield, for a third three-year term; and Peter Fauver, of North Conway, for a third three-year term. President Drew Kellner honored the two trustees retiring from the board: Bill Crangle and Andy Smith.

According to Forest Society's by-laws, the members elect the Secretary and the Board of Trustees. The Leadership and Governance Committee nominated Trustee Allyson Hicks to the office of Secretary and the members approved the nomination.

ReVision Energy VP Dan Weeks explains the technology behind the solar array to the attendees.
Dan Weeks, ReVision Energy VP of Business Development (middle), shared his expertise with attendees. The solar array, installed last year comprises 180 photovoltaic solar panels.

Ben Cosgrove and Howard Mansfield pose before their performance.
Ben Cosgrove and Howard Mansfield provided the inaugural performance in the amphitheater. (Photo: Ryan Smith)

More highlights include the presentations of the Volunteer of the Year and the President's awards.

The Rocks Senior Outreach Manager and retired Christmas tree farmer Nigel Manley presented the 2023 Trish Churchill Volunteer of the Year to Sam Chase.

“I met Sam in 1993, when he signed up to be a docent at The Rocks,” Manley said. “The docent training program was a course you paid for yourself, and we would reimburse the cost of the program after a person volunteered a set number of hours. Well, Sam got his money back right away because of the number of programs he taught and participated in that first year and the 30 years since. He is an invaluable volunteer here at The Rocks and a dear friend and I am honored to recognize him as our Volunteer of the Year.”

The President's Award was given by Savage to former Forest Society Vice President of Public Policy & Reservation Stewardship Will Abbott. Since his "retirement" in 2020, Abbott stayed on at the Forest Society to serve as project manager of construction at The Rocks as the campus was re-envisioned and the Carrige Barn underwent renovations for more than a year.

"This year I’ve chosen to give a President’s Award to someone who I believe is more than deserving, and I think that everyone in this room will heartily agree," Savage said. "As the Forest Society’s Vice President of Policy and Land Management, [Will Abbott] oversaw the management of our Forest Reservations and guided our advocacy. Will was most notably the driving force behind the Forest Society’s strategy to oppose Northern Pass, which at its core was an attempt by a corporation to bully its way across a landscape to achieve profit over community good. If you haven’t heard, we won that fight, thanks to many but especially thanks to Will.

Will Abbott was honored at the event.

"Will planned to retire a couple years ago, but has continued to work as our clerk of the works overseeing and coordinating the design and construction of the Rocks. As with Northern Pass, our success is thanks to many, but I’m not sure it happens successfully without Will."

The afternoon also included a taste of Rocks Red Ale, brewed by Rek-lis Brewing Company in Bethlehem as a tribute to the iconic North Country treasure, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Forest Society North campaign.

The day's program was capped off by a performance of "A Journey to the White Mountains in Words and Music" in The Rocks' new amphitheater by author Howard Mansfield and musician Ben Cosgrove.

Thanks To Our Annual Meeting Sponsors!

  • Badger Peabody & Smith
  • BCM Environmental & Land Law
  • Leigh B. Starer, LLC Landscape Architect
  • Milestone Engineering & Construction
  • New England Private Wealth Advisors
  • ReVision Energy
  • Samyn-d’Elia Architects PA


The horse drawn wagon pauses in the Christmas tree fields.
Attendees explored the Christmas tree farm by horse-drawn wagon. (Photo: Ryan Smith)

Attendees of the Ammonsoosuc River Forest field trip pose together in the woods.
Many people chose to explore Ammonsoosuc River Forest by foot before the meeting with trip leader Carrie Deegan.

The field trip attendees pose at Underhill Acres.
One group visited “Underhill Acres” — which has been carefully managed as a NH Tree Farm for over 67 years — and learned how the family is preparing to donate a conservation easement there.

Attendees and staff mingle inside the buidling.
Forest Society members and friends toured the newly renovated Carriage Barn, opening soon to the public.

Rek-lis staff and annual meeting attendee pose together with beer.
Rek-lis Brewing Company provided Red Rocks Ale for the occasion. (Left: Brewer and Rek-lis Co-Owner Ian Dowling with Forest Society member Mike Didio.)

Jane Difley reacts to the classroom sign and says a few words on stage.
Former Forest Society President/Forester Jane Difley was surprised by the sign in her honor that will go in the Jane Difley Classroom. (Photo: Ryan Smith)

Ben Cosgrove and Howard Mansfield during their performance.
“Pioneering artists in the 19th Century taught Americans how to look at the wilderness,” Howard Mansfield (right) said. (Photo: Ryan Smith)

The 50 year members pose with their awards.
Many 50 year members were honored for their support. Left to right: Roger Murray, Daniel Brand, President Jack Savage, Peter and Debbie Rhoades, John T. B. Mudge, and Mary Fowler. Not pictured: Dan Fowler, Linda Murray, and Brad and Sue Wyman.

Dave Savage pauses between songs to pose for a photo.
Dave J. Savage, Jr. serenaded the visitors to the Carriage Barn. (Photo: Frank Allen)

A birds eye view of the campus during the annual meeting.
A bird