A History of the HNA: 1994-2020
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The Hazen's Notch Association had, what one observer called - "an organic beginning". As with so many things, a combination of elements made fertile ground for starting the HNA. The first was a cross country ski center that Val Schadinger started in 1978. Val laid out a network of trails that thousands of people enjoyed over the years. The center developed a reputation for having ideal terrain, fabulous scenery and plentiful snow for cross country skiing.
Meanwhile Sharon Anderson and Rolf Anderson operated a separate business - Vermont Voyageur Expeditions - leading guided backpacking, canoeing, ski touring and winter camping trips in Vermont, New York, New Hampshire and Wyoming. They also designed and manufactured outdoor clothing and equipment which they sold through their own mail order catalog - Vermont Voyageur Equipment. Beginning in 1980 they created a successful business together guiding and teaching people techniques for minimum impact wilderness travel. They also became known for innovative and durable products used by backpackers, ski patrols and mountaineering schools such as NOLS, the National Outdoor Leadership School.
In 1986 Rolf and Sharon Anderson became aware of the threat to Vermont's famous Long Trail that passed along the ridge behind their house. The "LT", America's oldest long distance hiking trail, had since 1930 mainly crossed private land as it made its way from Massachusetts north to Quebec. By the 1980's when much of the trail in southern and central Vermont passed through the Green Mountain National Forest, in northern Vermont the Long Trail mainly crossed private land. The Green Mountain Club wanted to raise money to purchase the trail corridor. The GMC also needed volunteers to maintain the trail for hikers each summer. While the Andersons had been leading guided trips on trails maintained by groups such as the Green Mountain Club, the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club for many years, they knew that they owed these organizations a real debt. So they decided to volunteer their time in support of Vermont trails organizations.
At the same time Rolf and Sharon Anderson wondered how they could maintain their roles as outdoor educators in a marketplace that was increasingly driven by "adventure travel" businesses. Rolf's background as an instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School and Sharon's college studies in Biology and Environmental Sciences made them less inclined toward adventure travel and more interested in environmental education. They also questioned the long-term significance of guiding in protected wilderness areas people who were already committed to the environment. Wouldn't it be more important, they thought, to teach children in northern Vermont communities how to be good stewards of their home ground.
Gradually they developed the idea of transforming their for-profit guiding business into a non-profit conservation and education organization. They wondered what would be the best way to go about it. Rolf Anderson had grown up in northwestern Connecticut near several conservation and environmental education centers that had greatly influenced him as a teenager. These are the Flanders Nature Center in Woodbury, Conn., the Steep Rock Association and the Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington, Conn., and the White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield, Conn. He and Sharon decided to revisit these places with the idea of studying how they had formed and become so successful.
The stories of the respective founders - Natalie Van Vleck at Flanders, Ehrick Rossiter at Steep Rock, Edmund Swigart at IAIS and Alain White at White Memorial were both insightful and inspiring. The energy of these visionaries seemed to come from a source that the Andersons had also discovered. The Executive Directors of all four of these Connecticut organizations encouraged them and provided important information to them on how to get started. The land at the nature preserves, the wildlife they supported and the communities they enhanced served as further impetus to Rolf and Sharon. They returned to Vermont excited to get started.
While the idea for an environmental education center seemed like a good one, the question remained where to start it. Rolf and Sharon Anderson turned to their friend Val Schadinger at the Hazen's Notch cross country ski center. They asked Val what he thought the chances were that the ski center would be around in another 10 or 20 years. Not likely, he thought. Development would fragment the trail network and irresponsible logging would damage the beauty of the forests that held the trails. Sure enough both were happening as he spoke. Val suggested that Rolf and Sharon Anderson buy a 100-acre parcel that was slated for subdivision. The resulting house lots, if developed, would block access to over 10 miles of trails. This could be the start of their nature center, they thought. They approached the developer and reached an agreement to purchase the property before it could be divided and sold. Now the Hazen's Notch Association would have a place to call home. The Anderson's named it the Bear Paw Pond Conservation Area, after its most prominent feature - Bear Paw Pond.
After reading about how to form a non-profit organization, Rolf and Sharon Anderson decided that it would be easy to get started. However after talking with executive directors who ran successful non-profits, they realized that it would be much more difficult to survive past the early years. The key they thought would be to learn from leading organizations, both established ones and young start-ups. So they immersed themselves in volunteering for groups such as the Green Mountain Club, the Catamount Trail Association, the Northeast Herbal Association, and other environmental organizations. Out of her apprenticeship with Rosemary Gladstar at Sage Mountain, Sharon became one of the founders of the Northeast Herbal Association. Rolf served on the board of the Catamount Trail Association for over 10 years. Both Sharon and Rolf worked as volunteer trail maintainers for the Catamount Trail and the Long Trail. Rolf was on the board of the Green Mountain Club for 10 years, serving as President of the GMC from 1997-2000. All of this experience helped the couple develop their plans for the HNA.
Beginning in the Spring of 1990 and continuing through the Fall of 1994, Rolf and Sharon Anderson worked to improve the land at Bear Paw Pond. With federal cost-sharing funds from the Stewardship Incentive Program, the Andersons restored damaged woods roads, made selective thinnings of their trees to improve forest health and developed a stewardship management plan with Roger Sternberg. Rolf had met Roger in his role as forester to the Green Mountain Club. Susan Shea of Brookfield, Vermont, Deborah Benjamin of Eden, Vermont and Gustav W. Verderber of Lowell, Vermont served as founding board members along with Rolf and Sharon. Rolf had met Susan Shea at the Green Mountain Club where she headed the club's Land Protection Program. Sharon met Debbie Benjamin on a New England Wildflower Society field trip in search of rare ferns. Gustav lived in Montgomery at the time where he was developing his career as a nature photographer and writer. Together these five people developed the organizational documents and the vision that would guide the Hazen's Notch Association in the future.
The First Year
1994 was the first summer that the HNA welcomed campers to Bear Paw Pond. The magic started right from the beginning as campers were treated to views of wildlife feeding and nesting along the restored trails through the forest. Bear Paw Pond refreshed the children while the tipis that Sharon made proved alluring to everyone who walked up to the camp by the edge of Coyote Meadow. Rolf, Sharon and Debbie began offering education programs to schools in the Fall. These were well received by students, teachers and chaperones who spread the word to other communities in northern Vermont. Soon the trio had their hands full and sought help. They turned to Sara Kunkel who had studied Environmental Sciences at UVM and worked for the Green Mountain Club for two summers. Sara came to Hazen's Notch in the Fall of 1995 and stayed for 7 years. While she now lives in Richford and teaches Science at Montgomery Elementary School, Sara's contribution to the Hazen's Notch Association is not forgotten. Together Sara Kunkel and Debbie Benjamin provided the knowledge, enthusiasm and committment that helped Rolf and Sharon realize their goals.
Hazen's Notch Conservation Lands
As years passed, the HNA and its programs grew in popularity. Soon thousands of students were coming by the busload each year for natural science field trips. Over 150 children attended the ecology camp each summer. It was obvious that the HNA could use additional space for environmental learning. In 1997 the opportunity came to purchase the former Dodge Farm on the Rossier Road. The Anderson Family eventually purchased 200 acres here that included a mature forest, two orchards, a pasture, an old hayfield, a spruce plantation and numerous beaver ponds. There was also a small, old house that hadn't been lived in for quite a while. They named this former Vermont hill farm the High Ponds Farm after the numerous beaver ponds on the property.
Rolf and Sharon Anderson then purchased an adjacent 160 acres on Burnt Mountain to protect important wildlife habitat on the mountain and to assure public access to the trail to the summit. The Andersons set about restoring the woods roads, orchards, pasture, hayfield, stonewalls and the old house. A reproduction of a carriage barn was built to house bathrooms for school groups that visit in spring and fall as well as for campers and hikers in summer. The lumber for the building came from trees that were harvested by a logger who used draft horses for the job. The logs were then sawn on site with a portable sawmill. Now with the 100-acre Bear Paw Pond area the Anderson Family owned 500 acres that supported the HNA's programs. These combined private properties came to be known as the Hazen's Notch Conservation Lands.
Fifteen years since the first campers and school groups visited Bear Paw Pond, the HNA has accomplished a great deal. Over 10,000 students from 40 schools in Vermont and elsewhere have benefited from natural science field programs taught by HNA educators. 1,500 children have attended week-long sessions of ecology and adventure camp at Hazen's Notch. Many thousands of people from Vermont and beyond have enjoyed cross country skiing, snowshoeing and hiking on the trails that are maintained by the Hazen's Notch Association. Nearly 1,200 contiguous acres in Hazen's Notch are being managed according to Stewardship Management Plans that emphasize protection of natural resources. The HNA has become active as a land trust for the town of Montgomery, encouraging landowners to permanently conserve important landscape features and natural resources to benefit wildlife and the public. With a growing membership of nearly 400 supporters, a dedicated board of directors and a professional staff of environmental educators and natural resource managers, the Hazen's Notch Association has every reason to look forward to the next 15 years.
Many factors have contributed to the success of the Hazen's Notch Association. We are indebted to our many donors, cooperating landowners, staff, board members, volunteers, partner organizations, private foundations and government agencies whose support has encouraged us from the beginning. Thank you all.
"People inevitably change their environment even as they search for a balance between their needs and what nature can afford to give. When we exceed the capacity of nature's wellspring, we don't just harm the environment - we harm ourselves. For we are not apart from the environment, rather we are the environment. The sooner we understand that fact and act in a positive way to decrease our taking - to minimize our impact, the better off we and our environment will be."
- Rolf Anderson, 2009