Above: The new Carriage Barn under construction. Below: The tool building, prior to the fire. (Courtesy of The Rocks)
The Rocks, a historic estate nestled in Bethlehem, is known by many NH families who venture there annually to pick out their Christmas tree and by the many couples who held weddings there. When a fire destroyed the more than century-old tool building in 2019, it was a devastating blow to the wedding venue that also held the North Country Conservation and Education Center, all owned by the Society for the Protection of NH Forests.
The Forest Society is in the middle of a campaign to reimagine The Rocks, visited by an average of 14,000 people annually, for future generations to enjoy, says Forest Society President Jack Savage. The project is focused on renovating the Carriage Barn. “More importantly it’s about reinvigorating our conservation advocacy and our stewardship work north of the notches,” says Savage, adding that the tool building site that burned was turned into an outdoor amphitheater. “We took a sad event and recognized that with that building gone, the view opened to a greater degree. We’re hoping that will drive other partners and groups, along with ourselves, to host events. Or just for a cool concert outside on a summer night.”
The Forest Society, a nonprofit land trust and forestry organization that holds more than 750 conservation easements statewide and protects more than 190,000 acres of NH land, was awarded $300,000 in tax credits through the Community Development Finance Authority Tax Credit Program in December 2022 to support the Carriage Barn renovation.
As of late December, the campaign raised $5 million of its $8.5 million goal. “It’s a matter of faith, and it’s going to be fabulous,” Savage says, adding that new staff and a new events coordinator will be working out of the renovated building sometime in the summer of 2023. The renovation will retain the historic exterior of the building and convert the interior into a net-zero energy efficient structure featuring geothermal and solar photovoltaic systems. “This will be tied in with our Christmas tree farm, our wedding venue and maple museum.”
Pictured Right: The new outdoor amphitheater. (Courtesy of The Rocks)
Through the CDFA Tax Credit Program, businesses purchase the credits, resulting in the nonprofit receiving a donation and the company receiving a 75% NH state tax credit against the Business Profits Tax, Business Enterprise Tax, or Insurance Premium Tax. “We can do a lot as a state-wide organization from our headquarters in Concord, and we can do even more by being present in the notch. We can work not only in the immediate area but all the way to the border,” Savage says. The Forest Society will be seeking additional businesses to make contributions through the tax credit program for 2023. For more information, visit forestsociety.org.