November 21, 2010

Peak preserve

Beech Hill in Rockport beckons with its gorgeous views and its charming old tea house.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

ROCKPORT - Beech Hill Preserve is unusual for many reasons, but perhaps the most talked about one is the vantage point from that amazing "tea hut" on the hilltop.

click image to enlarge

The view from the stone hut at the Beech Hill Preserve in Rockport takes in nearby mountains. The house, called Beech Nut, and the hill it sits atop have been protected by the Coastal Mountains Land Trust for almost 25 years.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Sweeping views of Penobscot Bay draw visitors to the preserve.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Beech Hill Preserve, Coastal Mountains Land Trust's cornerstone preserve and an unusual place in the midcoast region.

WHEN: The preserve is open year-round; the hut is open two days a week from May through October.

WHERE: In Rockport off Beech Hill Road, between routes 1 and 17.

HIKING IT: It's just three-quarters of a mile on the old farm road from the parking area to the stone hut.

WHAT ELSE: Walkers must stay on the path and dogs must be on leashes. This is important to allow the land trust to continue the organic farming effort on the blueberry fields.

LEARN MORE: Go to tinyurl.com/39lo27r and maineolmsted.com/ad/heistad.html.

"Part of what is special about this place is the spectacular views. It's the feeling in this place that's very unusual. But for many people it's the historic and romantic stone hut with the sod roof, and the great views," said Scott Dickerson, executive director of Coastal Mountains Land Trust.

When Coastal Mountains Land Trust turns 25 years old next year its cornerstone preserve is likely to be visited by many well-wishers.

The land trust formed in 1986 to protect Beech Hill from the threat of development.

The next year a conservation easement around the hill was transferred to the land trust. And in 2003, Coastal Mountains purchased Beech Hill Preserve with help from Land for Maine's Future funds.

The preserve sits on a diminutive knoll with just 295 acres open to the public. However, what it lacks in size it more than makes up in charm, character, even attitude.

The distinctive hill with its stark pine grove and unusual tea house has been used by mariners as a landmark since the stone hut was built in 1915 by an associate of the famous Olmsted landscape designers.

The preserve is on the Maine Birding Trail, and more than 100 species of birds have been documented there.

There are 25 acres managed for organic blueberries, putting Beech Hill well in the minority among Maine's blueberry producers.

And if that's not enough, the bald hilltop and recently renovated house are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Dickerson says the views are why most people come here. Atop Beech Hill, in any direction one can see ocean, islands, mountains, lakes or fields.

"Because of the blueberry field, it has a 360-degree spectacular view. With just about all the other views in the region, there is a forest or some other obstruction. It is our busiest preserve" of Coastal Mountains' 58 preserves, Dickerson said.

And probably the best distinction about the romantic preserve is that it is not rented for weddings or other events.

For 365 days a year, it is open to the public.

"We could make a lot of money. But our board made a decision to not (rent it out)," said Kristen Lindquist, Coastal Mountains Land Trust's development director.

The preserve's remarkable hut, called Beech Nut, was designed by Hans Heistad, a landscape designer with the Olmsted Brothers, renowned for their work in Acadia and Yosemite national parks, among others. Heistad built Beech Nut for the Gribbell family, who spent summers on Deadman's Point in Rockport and wanted a tea house on their farmland.

In the summer, the house's sod roof fills with black-eyed Susan, day lilies and Queen Anne's lace.

The top of Beech Hill has views to Mount Battie, Ragged Mountain, Bald Mountain and far off Hatchett Mountain in Hope, all places where the land trust has helped protect open space.

And yet this plateau is easy to get to by taking a slow half-hour stroll from the parking area.

Heistad designed the old dirt farm road to wrap around and slowly take in the scenery, with the tea hut coming into view last.

Not surprisingly, the folks at Coastal Mountains Land Trust in Camden say Beech Hill Preserve is seldom empty.

"It is a large grassland that has been kept open. It has a diverse habitat, with woods and shrubs that are important for the shrub land bird populations. And it's a very revered preserve, with a lot of visitors," Dickerson said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

 

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

The sod roof on the recently renovated stone tea house at Beech Hill Preserve fills with flowers during the summer. The house was built in 1915 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Joe Zipparo, stewardship project manager for Coastal Mountains Land Trust, takes in the open space around the house at Beech Hill Preserve in Rockport.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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The stone house is an easy, three-quarters of a mile stroll from the parking lot at the Beech Hill Preserve.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Zipparo and Kristen Lindquist, development director for the land trust, walk down a trail at the preserve, which is open to the public 365 days a year.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

  


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