Saturday, August 23, 2014

Travelogue – conservation

I left the White Mountains this morning. Most of today's trip was on two lane roads, some faster than others. I made a stop in Meredith alongside Lake Winnipesaukee. Then on through Lebanon (on a bit of Interstate!).

My picnic lunch stop, not far into Vermont, was at the Quechee Gorge. There is a pleasant trail along the gorge, but with one problem – a chainlink fence between the path and the edge of the drop. No place to get a good view until one hiked a half mile. Then that view wasn't all the way back to the bridge. I finally found the best view of the gorge was from the bridge itself.

I drove down the road just a bit to the town of Woodstock (VT, not NY) for a 2:00 tour at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Mansion. But I couldn't find the turnoff! I finally stopped at the Visitor Info in the Village Green. It was closed, but offered a map. I got to the mansion's visitor center after 2:00. I found out a few things. Today was Community Day so tours were free. The 2:00 tour wasn't a full tour, but a short one for the community. The desk person was puzzled why a reservation had been accepted for that time (though my name did come up on the computer). And, yes, there was space on the 3:00 tour.

Alas, that mixup with reservations and my difficulty in finding the place meant I didn't have time for the next-door Billings Farm Museum.

I asked about the signs to the place. Vermont has banned billboards and has a system of signs for attractions. Turn this way for the mansion. But does it mean turn now and drive 0.3 miles or does it mean drive for 0.3 miles and then turn? If the turn is more than a mile away why tell me about it now? If the turn is now where is the street?

The mansion is the main feature of the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park. The primary purpose of the park is the teaching of environmentalism, conservation, and sustainability. And we get to tour a cool mansion along with the lessons.

The house (part of the current mansion) was built by the parents of George Marsh. His fame (though not widespread) is his book Man and Nature, published in 1864. This is perhaps the earliest book that spelled out that man's actions affect nature and not always for the better. Cut down the trees on a hill and erosion will increase, muddying up streams, and reducing the number of fish. The great naturalist John Muir had a copy of Marsh's book with lots of notations in the margins.

The house and grounds were bought by Frederick Billings. He incorporated Marsh's ideas into research on how to farm sustainably. His farm was intended to serve as a model on best farming practices, and still serves that goal today. Billings also served as the head of the Northern Pacific Railway and there is a town in Montana named for him.

Billings' granddaughter Mary married Laurance Rockefeller, grandson of John D. Rockefeller of the Standard Oil fortune. Laurance followed his father (John D. Jr.) into conservation. JD Jr. used his money to expand the national park system (Acadia, Great Smokies, Grand Tetons, and lots more). Laurance did a few donations of his own. He was a consultant to lots of environmental bills and a guide to Lady Bird Johnson and her efforts to beautify America. He is the only conservationist to earn a Congressional Medal of Honor. He donated this estate to the National Park System with its mandate of environmentalism. The mansion is maintained the way the couple left it when they turned over the keys in the 1990s. It amused me to see the TV with VCR in the family room.

I'm currently in a small motel in the tiny town of Mendon, Vermont. It gets a motel because this is a ski area. Directions for restaurants were in terms of “uphill” and “downhill.” In my room I could connect to wi-fi but it didn't connect to the wider internet. To do that I have to sit in the motel lobby.

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