Wenny Baker Mountaintop Legacy Conserved

September 22, 2012

Mountaintop Legacy Conserved

By Lori Johnson and Betsy B. Wenny

If you were to hike to the top of Thompson Hill in Hillsborough today, you might notice Mount Monadnock in the distance or the cairns along the trails, the tallest at nearly eight feet, close to the summit. However, if you were a member of the Wenny family, you would notice a different view entirely. Through their eyes, you would see the family history in the landscape, now protected thanks to their generous donation of 375 acres to the Forest Society.

Douglas and Betsy Baker Wenny contacted the Forest Society last year expressing their wish to donate this special mountain to the organization. The land extends up and over Thompson Hill, containing the entire summit at 1,760 feet, and includes numerous hiking trails, many of which were former cow trails when the land was used mainly as pasture. Now mostly forested, one main trail leads to the mountain’s summit, where several overlooks offer dramatic views to the West, South and East. A well-managed registered tree farm, the property has seen several improvement harvests over past years. Going forward, this land, now known as the Wenny-Baker Forest on Thompson Hill, will be owned and managed by the Forest Society, Looking backward, it reflects the story of a family’s past.

Betsy Wenny’s Baker grandparents fell in love with New Hampshire just after the turn of the 20th century and spent their summers here, finally building a cottage on Contention Pond in 1919, which has a view of Thompson Hill. The Bakers hiked and explored all over Thompson Hill. As boys, Donald Baker and his brother Richard built a rock tower near the summit that still stands. Years later Donald, with his wife Margaret, honeymooned at a campsite on Thompson Hill after getting permission from Walter Murdough, who lived on a farm at the base of the hill. All four of Donald and Margaret’s children knew the hill well, hiked there often, and even picked out house sites, never dreaming that one of them would ever own this wonderful hill.

Moving forward to 1964, Doug and Betsy Wenny eagerly bought the mountain when it came up for sale, and proceeded to camp there with their four children for 16 years. Both teachers from Wilmington, Del., they relished their summers and “relaxed” by back-packing all supplies to a campsite part way up the hill to live in a 10’x12’ tent for the summer. They cooked meals over an open fire, picked berries, created and maintained trails, and got their water from natural springs on the land that they worked to clean out and maintain, all with the help of Betsy’s parents, who lived in Hillsboro all year round after Donald retired and built a winterized house on the hill above their Contention Pond cottage.

The Wenny children spent much time creating individual tree houses and one child as a teen built his own hideaway with sleeping loft. There were weekly trips to town for laundry and supplies, and many trips to the Contention Pond cottage to go swimming. The main challenges of living on the hill came from weather, insects, mice, coons, skunks, and porcupines. Although Betsy and Doug are now retired and the Wenny children are now grown and living across the country, conserving this piece of their past was important to all of them, as well as to the town.

Conserving this land was important to others too, including the Hillsborough Conservation Commission, which provided a grant of $17,000 to help cover some of the transaction costs related to the project. Abutting Lowe State Forest, the land is also a priority of the Quabbin-to-Cardigan (Q2C) conservation initiative.

At 375 acres, this woodlot is the second largest Forest Society reservation in Hillsborough. “It’s truly inspiring to see large land gifts still coming in,” said Brian Hotz, SPNHF’s senior director of strategic projects – land protection. “It’s also encouraging to see the Hillsborough Conservation Commission supporting these conservation-minded donors by helping to cover project costs.”

At last, the land that was the source of so many happy memories will now be protected in perpetuity.