New Five Rivers director on mission to preserve
Beth McGuinn, Five Rivers First Full-Time Executive Director at Dimond Hill Farm in Concor.
(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
Beth McGuinn, Five Rivers Executive Director, at the Dimond Hill Farm.
(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
For years, Beth McGuinn picked up fresh vegetables and produce from the Dimond Hill Farm in Concord during her commute to work.
At the farm last week, she wore a pair of hiking boots and examined a trail map outlining the 7-mile mile path winding from Dimond Hill, through Rossview Farm, to Carter Hill Orchard.
“It’s really doable,” she said, looking at the wooden trail sign erected beside the farmstand.
Over the past several years, the Five Rivers Conservation Trust has preserved Carter Hill Orchard and Dimond Hill Farm under conservation easements, which protects the land from development, opens up trails for public use and maintains the farmland where local agriculture can flourish for decades to come, McGuinn said.
“It’s a community farm. People know Dimond Hill,” she said. “It is available to be a farm forever. It’s really special.”
McGuinn is now at the helm of the Concord-based conservation organization as its first-ever full-time executive director. She takes over at a time when the nonprofit has grown at a rapid pace: over the past four years, Five Rivers has nearly doubled its number of property easements, from 36 to 61.
With extensive experience in forestry and land conservation, McGuinn hopes to expand on Five Rivers’s success conserving open land in the Concord area, keeping a special eye on farms.
“When you are preserving prime agricultural soils, that is . . . a public benefit,”
she said. “We have seen an increase in interest in local foods and it’s really important to be able to source at least some of your food locally.”
Five Rivers Conservation Trust launched in 1988 as the Concord Conservation Trust, but in 2002 changed its name and expanded its mission. Five Rivers refers to the nonprofit’s geographic focus, between the Merrimack, Contoocook, Blackwater, Warner and Soucook Rivers, including Concord, Hopkinton, Bow, Hillsboro, Dunbarton and 10 more towns.
Since its inception, the group has conserved 3,873 acres across 13 towns, McGuinn said. Five Rivers’s growth over the past four years – during which time it completed a record number of conservation projects – in part led to the decision to hire a full-time executive director to replace the part-time position, which was held by Jay Haines.
Over the past few years, the organization has seen a growth of both properties put under easement and invitations by owners and municipalities to examine possible properties, Haines told the Monitor earlier this month. Some of the most recent projects include Marjory Swope Park in Concord, the Farley Farm in Dunbarton and Tioga Marsh in Belmont.
“We see ourselves reaching a certain tipping point where we cannot solely depend on volunteers to support the work we do,” he said. “This is where Beth comes in.”
McGuinn became interested in conservation as a young girl while growing up in Philadelphia. She spent time in the preserved green areas that dotted the urban landscape and, as a Girl Scout, learned to camp and backpack. McGuinn then attended the University of New Hampshire, and she has remained in the state ever since.
“Thirty-five years,” she said with a gasp.
Since graduating from UNH, McGuinn has worked at almost every level of land preservation for several organizations, including Fish and Game, the Forest Society and in the state parks. All the while, she has lived in the area: for six years in Concord, then 16 years in Hopkinton and for the past eight years in Canterbury in a home powered by solar panels with a yard where she keeps chickens, a garden and fruit trees.
“Sometimes you can’t see what your life is going to unfold to be, but when you get there you can see how it happened,” she said. “I love it here. There’s nothing better than doing land conservation in your own home.”
Going forward, McGuinn will oversee Five Rivers’s preservation efforts and shepherd the nonprofit through the multi-year, rigorous process of becoming an accredited land trust. That step, she said, will help the nonprofit grow.
“It gives more credibility to the organization,” she said. “It’s a stamp of approval.”
Another emphasis is stewardship – keeping up with the property owners to make sure they are following the guidelines of the easements.
“That is a forever responsibility,” she said. “You can file a piece of paper at the registry that says this is a conserved piece of property, but if you don’t do anything else after that who knows what happens.”
And as growth continues, McGuinn may oversee the organization’s transition from a group run purely by volunteers base to one that has a staffing presence. Throughout it, she will be working on the overarching mission of conserving more land in the Five Rivers area with a focus on locally important lands and working farms, two priorities outlined in the organization’s strategic plan, said Margaret Watkins, chairwoman of the organization’s board of trustees.
Conservation limits the possibility of development and keeps the character of the communities, McGuinn said. Preserving agricultural land is especially important because there is so little farmland left in the state, she said.
“So much has been paved over or reforested,” she said. “Every town should have a conserved farm in town to produce local food.”
Over the past week, McGuinn has slowly been moving into her new office on Warren Street, making it her own by setting up framed pictures: one of a sunflower and another of a farm she helped preserve.
Outside of the office, she will start getting to know the landowners and walking the parcels that Five Rivers has helped conserve.
Last Wednesday, as the afternoon thunder clouds crept across the sky overhead, McGuinn walked into the farmstand at Dimond Hill. She waved to her longtime friend Jane Abbott Presby, who operates the farm. Then, she turned her attention to the produce.
“Look at those cherries,” she said. “Wow!”
Correction: a previous version of this article misstated the founding year of Fiver Rivers, it began in 1988, and the organization has conserved 3,873 acres of land.
(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at email@example.com.)